Paul Smith (1922-2013) was a brilliant pianist whose superb technique and swinging style often sounded a lot like Oscar Peterson, particularly on his many later recordings for the Outstanding label. Early on he worked with the Johnny Richards big band (1941). After serving in the military, Smith had stints with Les Paul and Tommy Dorsey (1947-49) before moving to Los Angeles where he spent much of his life as a studio musician. However Smith always played jazz, he took time off to go on tours with Ella Fitzgerald, and often could be found playing in Los Angeles area nightclubs.
During 1954-58, Paul Smith led four unusual albums: Liquid Sounds, Cascades, Cool And Sparkling, and Delicate Jazz. The first record, Liquid Sounds (a term which was used by Smith to describe the music on these projects), features his arrangements for a sextet that also includes Julius Kinsler on flute, clarinetist Abe Most, guitarist Tony Rizzi, bassist Sam Cheietz, and either Irv Cottler or Alvin Stoller on drums. Altoist Ronny Lang is added to the second and third albums while tenor-saxophonist Bob Cooper is an important part of Delicate Jazz.
The repertoire features Smith’s versions of Great American Songbook pieces (mostly from the 1930s and ’40s) plus the pianist’s originals which are in a complementary style. Despite being recorded after LPs replaced 78s, all but two of the 48 performance are less than four minutes in length. The emphasis is on the ensembles (which are sometimes influenced by classical music) and the individual solos are short but, whenever Paul Smith cuts loose on the uptempo pieces, the results are virtuosic and memorable.
One can call the music on this two-CD set easy-listening, swing, or even cocktail music (although it is generally more inventive than that). But under any name, Paul Smith’s Liquid Sounds can be considered a refreshing departure in his busy career, and easy-to-take music that is worth discovering.