By Ed Enright | Published July 2020
Smile is the second album by veteran trumpeter Bill Warfield’s Hell’s Kitchen Funk Orchestra, a one-of-a-kind little big band that infuses classic r&b grooves with swinging jazz sensibility.
Warfield, who simultaneously has embraced jazz and commercial music throughout a career that dates back to the funk-fertile early 1970s, draws upon his love for horn-driven rock groups like Blood, Sweat & Tears and soul-testifying performers like James Brown on the new recording, which follows in the same celebratory spirit as HKFO’s 2015 debut, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. Good times abound on Smile, whose wide-ranging cover tracks include Weather Report’s otherworldly “Cucumber Slumber,” the Booker T. & the MG’s funk classic “Hip Hug-Her,” Bobbie Gentry’s haunting “Ode To Billie Joe,” an expansive arrangement of “Theme From Law & Order,” the dreamy Paul Williams-Kenny Ascher waltz “Rainbow Connection,” a supercharged version of the Eurhythmics’ “This City Never Sleeps” and two takes of the tenderly poignant title track (one vocal, one instrumental), penned by silent movie star Charlie Chaplin.
Two original compositions fall right in the middle of the program: Warfield and company get downright cerebral on the leader’s 12-tone-derived piece “Mad Dog,” with its tightly executed stop-starts and interlocking line fragments, and they funkify the blues on his train-emulating “Dance Of The Coal Cars.”
Five of the tunes here are helmed by vocalists, with fine contributions from Jane Stuart, Julie Michels and Carolyn Leonhart. Notable soloists include Lou Marini on tenor and soprano saxophones, guitarist Matt Chertkoff, alto saxophonist Andrew Gould, organist Paul Shaffer, trumpeter John Eckert, pianist Cecilia Coleman and tenor player Dave Riekenberg; Warfield’s improvisations on trumpet and flugelhorn reveal a fun-loving, self-confident artist who feels quite at home on all points of the jazz-funk spectrum.