REVIEW: ‘Gecko’ – Tom Smith

TWO things…

Firstly, find yourself a good, bass-responsive speaker system; and then absorb one of the most cheering small ensemble recordings to be heard in a year like no other.

Once the lead alto in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and now with the Patchwork Orchestra, saxophonist, bass clarinettist and composer Tom Smith has twice been a finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition and won the 2018 Peter Whittingham Development Award from Help Musicians UK. He already has a string of orchestral and big band arrangements to his name, has worked with artists including Maria Schneider, Donny McCaslin and Beverley Knight, and has garnered plaudits from the likes of Django Bates, Julian Joseph and Soweto Kinch.

Now, at the ‘ripe old age’ of 24 he steps out in debut album Gecko; and his trio with vibraphonist Jonny Mansfield and pianist Will Barry displays a fullness through these original compositions which belies its compact nature. There are echoes of Stan Sulzmann’s Neon project (Here to There, with Jim Hart and Gwilym Simcock, comes to mind) and also the duo of Jason Yarde and Andrew McCormack. But also, significantly, the tone and ebullience of his personal hero Tim Garland (this album’s producer, and surely a wellspring of advice) can be heard in Smith’s unfaltering agility.

Spirited Flamenco Carlos, with its jaunty, showtime piano riff, instantly demonstrates the trio’s capabilities. Piano and vibes frolic with abandon while Smith’s improvisatory ideas overflow – and without a dedicated rhythm instrument, such blistering momentum shouldn’t sound so at ease! At not far off ten minutes’ duration, Steampunk Tendencies shows similar verve, with Will Barry’s low chordal grooving providing the driving force, pushing the saxophonist to ever greater heights.

Like Garland, Tom neatly switches to bass clarinet – in Alex and John (written for a wedding, celebrating LGBTQ+ love), his deeper range is a joy; and there are some lovely, sonorous descending and leaping figures in chameleonic Blueish. Piano and vibraphone may sometimes seem curious companions, but chirpy, slightly comedic House in the Clouds in particular qualifies that match, Barry and Mansfield darting around Smith’s catchy, alto signature-tune riffs. Everyday Epic, too, preens itself with confidence, as light and shade highlight the trio’s empathy.

Graceful piano in Anthem becomes refracted by sustained, shimmering vibraphone; and there’s something both plaintive and considered about the way Smith’s high alto enters only latterly. Reposeful Curiosity, also, is full of glinting reflection, only gradually offering a measured, lapping sense of headway; and melodic Viking Dance’s constantly-shifting textures and colours are fascinating to pore over.

Focus on the detail in these nine tracks, rather than pushing them to the background. Tom Smith’s interaction with his colleagues is intelligent, never short on technical flair or improvisational enterprise – and with his track record thus far, Gecko suggests many, still greater things to come.

Released on 6 November 2020 – Basho Records’ first digital-only release – and available at Bandcamp.

 

Tom Smith saxophone, bass clarinet
Jonny Mansfield vibraphone
Will Barry piano

tomsmithsax.com

Basho Records – SRCD58-2 (2020)

RECENT LISTENING: October 2020 (2)

‘Between The Lines’ – Steve Hamilton
Steve Hamilton, Martin Taylor, Don Paterson, Paul Booth, Davie Dunsmuir
Release date: 21 August 2020
stevehamilton.bandcamp.com

‘The Monk Watches The Eagle’ – Keith Tippett
Keith Tippett, Julie Tippetts, Paul Dunmall, Kevin Figes, Ben Waghorn, Chris Biscoe, Tim Redpath, Rob Buckland, Andy Scott, David Roach, BBC Singers
Release date: 23 September 2020 (BBC recording released under licence by Discus Music)
discusmusic.bandcamp.com

‘Mondenkind’ – Michael Wollny
Michael Wollny – solo piano
Release date: 25 September 2020 (ACT Music)
actmusic.com

‘Gecko’ – Tom Smith
Tom Smith, Will Barry, Jonny Mansfield
Release date: 6 November 2020 (Basho Records)
tomsmithsax.bandcamp.com

RECENT LISTENING: May 2019

Jonny Mansfield – Elftet
Ella Hohnen-Ford, James Davison, Tom Smith, George Millard, Rory Ingham, Dominic Ingham, Laura Armstrong, Oliver Mason, Jonny Mansfield, Will Harris, Boz Martin-Jones + guests Chris Potter, Gareth Lockrane and Kit Downes
Release date: 21 June 2019 (Edition Records)
jonnymansfield.bandcamp.com

Partisans – Nit De Nit
Phil Robson, Julian Siegel, Thaddeus Kelly, Gene Calderazzo
Release date: 17 May 2019 (Whirlwind Recordings)
partisansjazz.bandcamp.com

Shez Raja – Journey to Shambhala
Shez Raja, Trilok Gurtu, Wayne Krantz, Monika Lidke, Chris Nickolls, Pascal Roggen, Alex Stanford, Vasilis Xenopoulos
Release date: 17 May 2019 (Raja Records)
shezraja.com

Leïla Martial – Baa Box – Warm Canto
Leïla Martial, Eric Perez, Pierre Tereygeol
Release date: 24 May 2019 (Laborie Jazz)
leilamartial.com / laboriejazz.fr

Gabriel Grossi Quintet – #motion
Gabriel Grossi, Sergio Coelho, Eduardo Farias, André Vasconcellos, Rafael Barata + special guests Mauricio Einhorn and Hermeto Pascoal
Release date: 28 June 2019 (Whirlwind Recordings)
gabrielgrossi.bandcamp.com

Mark Lockheart and Roger Sayer – Salvator Mundi
Mark Lockheart & Roger Sayer
Release date: 5 July 2019 (Edition Records)
mark lockheart.bandcamp.com

‘Jam Experiment’ – Jam Experiment

jamexperiment

IT’S MORE THAN ENOUGH to make the heart sing – a quintet of young musicians, on the threshold of successful lifetime careers, presenting a jazz/funk/soul album of remarkable musicianship and expressive depth.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Available directly from the band’s website.

 

Alexander Bone alto and tenor saxophones, synth pads/keyboards
Rory Ingham trombone
Toby Comeau keyboard, piano
Joe Lee electric bass
Jonny Mansfield drums, percussion

jam experiment.com

Self-released, sponsored by Yanagisawa (2017)