Things Truly Happened in Kansas Smitty’s

The popular London bar has a house band influenced by Django Reinhardt and Ahmad Jamal. Chris Daly takes a look at their new album.
By    July 22, 2020

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Chris Daly‘s house band only plays Shalamar covers.

For the uninitiated and/or easily confused, Kansas Smitty’s is both an East London bar/music club and it’s accompanying seven-piece jazz ensemble house band. The band is composed of alto-saxophonist/clarinettist Giacomo Smith, pianist Joe Webb, drummer Will Cleasby, bassist Ferg Ireland and a bevy of up-and-comers from the English jazz scene. The bar, presumably, is made up of bricks and mortar. As an American, it doesn’t seem like I’ll be traveling overseas anytime soon to verify that one way or the other.

Over the nine original compositions written and produced entirely by Smith on the band’s latest, Things Happened Here, KS melds a big band feel with a smaller combo’s flexibility. While there are flourishes of everything from hip-hop to Brian Eno, the overall sound is not dissimilar to Benny Goodman and His Orchestra by way of the Miles Davis Quintet (either iteration, for the purposes of this discussion). Think a more relaxed version of swing, but in its original form as opposed to its mid-90s return.  If neither of the preceding sentences make it any clearer for you, it’s clearly time to #ListenToMoreJazz. The music is both fluid and polished, giving the sense of a band well rehearsed with one another’s leanings. Opening with the languid “Riders,” Smitty’s clearly is in no rush to make their point

“Dreamlane” continues in a similar narcotic, hypnotic vein, snaking its way towards the plaintive “Two Dancers.”  “Sambre et Meuse” is the kind of song that makes a guy want to smoke a cigarette while wearing a fedora and snatching sips of hooch from the top desk drawer following a disturbing encounter with a dame with gams for days.  With its machine gun horns and precision percussion, the 70’s soundtrack funk of “Temple of Bel” hits the sweet spot that artists like Adrian Younge and El Michels Affair strive to achieve. “Sunnyland” unhurriedly goes where the river winds and bends, and the titular track begins on a cathartic, almost cacophonic approach before becoming something a whole lot more relaxed.

While it’s hard to pick a standout track, closer “Judgement” comes pretty damn close, finding the perfect space between sin and salvation, a blues-infused gospel number with enough stink on it to remind listeners what made them go searching for redemption in the first place.

According to Smith, the album title refers to “the feeling one gets when walking into an old house, ancient temple, abandoned factory or any space once lived and familiar, now foreign and contrasting. “Once in a while, you feel this overwhelming sense of a memory that you aren’t able to describe but that transports you immediately back to a time and space,”said Smith. “Like the smell of your grandma’s living room when you were a kid, the faint sound of the train passing by your first apartment’s window at 5AM, or meeting a friend’s child that resembles a long lost friend. Only you can feel that, and only very few things bring you back to that space. It’s not everyday this happens. This is the kind of feeling I wanted to create for the record.”

Mission accomplished.

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