‘Embodying the Light – a dedication to John Coltrane’ – Tommy Smith

TSQ_Embodying

IT MIGHT be an ‘age thing’, but my appreciation of contemporary jazz releases is increasingly deepened by ‘living them’ over a period of time – there can be many layers of interest to peel back and discover.

Perhaps there was something of that concept of arrival in Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith’s mind as he finally “transcended to the club” of interpreters of John Coltrane’s music with this quartet dedication, marking the coincidence of his 50th birthday this year with the same anniversary of Trane’s passing. Indeed, a wry smile was brought on by Smith’s story that, as a youngster, he spent his hard-saved cash on Coltrane’s free-jazz Ascension, only to head back to the record store and demand his money back as he “unequivocally hated it” (failing to do so, he simply left it there and stormed out). How many of us can relate to such a tale – that years later, with the benefit of experience and more mature ears, comes the realisation of just how brilliant a certain recording always was?!

Tommy Smith’s credentials as leader, sideman and educator need little introduction; and it’s testament to all that experience that he and his colleagues here – pianist Pete Johnstone, double bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer Sebastiaan de Krom – approached this live-studio recording without rehearsal, to achieve the energy he was seeking. The resulting Embodying the Light is a zesty 79-minute acoustic session which seamlessly intertwines five Trane tunes with three of Smith’s, along with an especially sizzling Gershwin rendition.

Fast-swinging and expansive Transformation (which a 15-year-old Smith first conceived as ‘Traneing for Life’) ascends through the written sequences, prompting his own breathless improvisations; and against the incessant rhythmic verve, Pete Johnstone’s piano sparkles with jabbing, leaping invention. Faithful to the original, Dear Lord‘s elegant balance is detailed with swooning tenor phrasings; and the richness of Naima becomes emboldened by a buoyant central section featuring Smith’s effusive lines.

As the album proceeds, there’s a sense that the quartet manages to capture the immediacy of early-’60s Coltrane – even Smith’s title-track blues evokes the period through memorable riffs and blithe outlook, as does the urgent groove of Resolution with its angular piano edge and modal sax explorations against a fiery Gourlay/de Krom rhythm section. The original cacophony of The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is reinterpreted as a more gently-rippling anthemic quest, whilst Gershwin’s Summertime (from 1961’s ‘My Favorite Things’) dismisses any notion of ‘tired cover’. Smith’s propulsive Embodying the Darkness finds the leader at his most adventurous, more intensely invoking the free spirit of the dedicatee; and to conclude, Trane’s Transition displays an appealing fluidity, with Pete (‘Tyner’?) Johnstone ramping-up the irresistible fervour with chordal vigour and high-flying improv.

Tommy Smith describes his tribute to John Coltrane as “probably the most terrifying journey you can prepare for, since one is never ready to relinquish the music for the Master”. Given the genuine focus and passion on display here, this quartet has timed it to perfection.

Released on 17 July 2017, Embodying the Light is available from Spartacus Records, Amazon, etc.

Video: live at BBC Radio Scotland’s Jazz Nights at the Quay.

 

Tommy Smith tenor saxophone
Pete Johnstone piano
Calum Gourlay bass
Sebastiaan de Krom drums

tommy-smith.scot

Spartacus Records – STS025 (2017)

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‘Effervescence’ – Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra

effervescence

TAKE A LOOK at that cover art – a clue to the polychromatic flamboyance of this new release from the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Formed fourteen years ago by renowned Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith, the TSYJO has consistently provided an important, ongoing, step-up platform for young jazz musicians. This third album is a real joy because, rather than reflecting any insecure naivety of youth, Effervescence emphatically displays the orchestra’s unfettered go-for-it creativity, all backed up by solid musicality. In fact, all eight of these sumptuous tracks fizz without any trace of inhibition, Smith’s choice of material showcasing the players’ versatility.

The breathless, strummed pace of Woody Herman’s Apple Honey sets the tone. Complete with feisty wah-wah trumpet section and rolling saxes, Liam Shortall’s brash trombone antics are met with appreciative band cheers; and Helena Kay’s whirling, spirited clarinet connects with the piece’s origins. Jerome Kern’s familiar phrases in The Way You Look Tonight (lavishly arranged by Florian Ross) swing with life-affirming positivity, summoning a delicious alto spotlight from Adam Jackson, whilst a tangible rhythmic reduction clears the way for trombonist Kevin Garrity’s sublime, held-back solo. Glitzy Blues March (Benny Golson) parades to snappy snare, with infectious piano swing at its heart; and Florian Ross’ expansive arrangement of Chick Corea’s Humpty Dumpty (more familiar in trio format) is imaginatively colorised by guitarist Joe Williamson and pianist Pete Johnstone, including an intricate feature for drummer Stephen Henderson.

From within the orchestra’s ranks, trumpeter Sean Gibbs’ composition Tam O’Shanter coolly saunters to crunchy, pitch-bent rock guitar and high-blasting trumpets before its switch to an effusive, driven, spy-thriller of a middle section; and the big-band swing of Nefertiti (Miles Davis, arr. Ross) is becalmed for Michael Butcher’s lush tenor solo, supported by smooth, sustained trombone voices. The rapidity of Things To Come is audacious (you can almost sense Dizzy Gillespie applauding Sean Gibbs’ display from the wings), whilst the orchestra’s sensitivity to crescendi and diminuendi is especially notable, underpinning a fluvial alto solo from Helena Kay – altogether an utterly convincing performance. And Christian Jacob’s tightly-swung arrangement of Chick Corea’s Bud Powell, featuring tenorist Samuel Tessier, is both sleek and snappy.

Entertainingly feel-good, all the way, Tommy Smith and his players are to be congratulated on this exuberant release.

Effervescence is available from the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra website or Amazon.

 

Tommy Smith director, producer

Helena Kay alto sax, clarinet
Adam Jackson alto sax
Samuel Tessier tenor sax
Michael Butcher tenor sax
Heather Macintosh baritone sax
Tom Walsh trumpet
Sean Gibbs trumpet
Joshua Elcock trumpet
Christos Stylianides trumpet
Cameron T Duncan trumpet
Tom Clay Harris trumpet
Michael Owers trombone
Liam Shortall trombone
Kevin Garrity trombone
Richard Foote trombone
Joe Williamson guitar
Fergus McCreadie piano
Pete Johnstone piano
David Bowden acoustic bass
Stephen Henderson drums

Also available: Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s Beauty & the Beast – an original work composed and directed by Tommy Smith, with guest saxophonist Bill Evans.

tsyjo.com
snjo.co.uk
tommy-smith.co.uk

Spartacus Records – STS024 (2016)