The Hughes-Smith Quintet is saxophonist James Hughes and trumpeter Jimmy Smith, with a trio of fine musicians holding up the rhythm section. The Detroit jazz sound of the 1950s-‘60s becomes a whole other experience in the post-millennium in the care of Hughes, Smith, pianist Phil Kelly, drummer Nate Winn, and bassist Takashi Iio.
Ever Up & Onward, released on March 15, 2016 independently, is the Quintet’s second album and a modern, hard bop take on the jazz unique to Detroit. Detroit jazz is a little edgy, very soulful, with plenty of room to groove between both, and all under the cover of a smooth, skillful, sophisticated set of straight-ahead enthusiasts who really comprehend the mood and the chops involved.
The chops and the feel involved in pulling off eight original tracks — written by Hughes or Smith, three favorite standards, and a phenomenal drum intro from Winn set this Quintet apart.
All Music’s Thom Jurek dug the Detroit vibe from the onset. “The Motown sensibility at the heart of ‘East Detroit’ — established by drummer Nate Winn’s eternal groove and bassist Takashi Iio’s solid walk — is given wings by Smith’s song-like trumpet solo,” Jurek wrote, referencing just one of several outstanding cuts. “…Since the release of From Here on Out in 2013, JSJHQ have earned more bandstand experience, reflecting a growing confidence in their compositions. As a result, Ever Up & Onward more than lives up to its title.”
With a band as tight as this one, the temptation is to do nothing but show off. But the Quintet is confident enough in its chops to go with the flow of each song, whether it swings hard or soft. Nothing is too soft as to be boring. You can tell these musicians understand straight-ahead jazz at the core; there must always be strong, pivotal movement, and with this album, there most certainly is.
Actually, with a straight-ahead band as tight and talented as this one, the outstanding pieces tend not necessarily to be the flash cards but the subdued, underrated gems, like the cover of the African-American spiritual, “There Is A Balm In Gilead.”