‘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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‘The Port of Life’ – Jean John

SLOVENIA to NEW YORK… a personal narrative of immigration and acculturation. Drummer, composer and bandleader Jean John’s ambitious work The Port of Life – dedicated to all the immigrants of this world – fulfils his belief that music should always tell a story and create an experience.

Born Žan Tetičkovič, in Ptuj in Slovenia, Jean John relocated to the United States in 2010 to further his artistic ambitions, and desired to communicate the “whirl of emotions in trying to find and establish the existence in a new culture”.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Jean John (Žan Tetičkovič) drums and cymbals, composition
Alba Nacinovich vocals
Lenart Krečič tenor saxophone
Tomaž Gajšt trumpet and flugelhorn
Jani Moder guitar
Marko Črnčec (Churnchetz) piano
Myles Sloniker upright bass

Janus Atelier String Quartet:
Matija Krečič 1st violin
Nejc Avbelj 2nd violin
Barbara Grahor viola
Zoran Bičanin violoncello

Andrej Lamut photography
Marko Damiš design
Sergej Harlamov poetry

Žiga Murko electronics

jean-john.com

ZKP RTV Ljubljana – RTVS 114441 (2016)

‘Resonance’ – Eyeshutight

eyeshutight

TEETH-TANGLINGLY-TITLED jazz piano trio Eyeshutight (aka Eyes Shut Tight) release their third album, Resonance, with an enticing sound which encompasses dynamic dance beats and melodic serenity, all held together by a beguilingly off-the-wall but nonetheless intuitive approach.

Formed in Leeds in 2010 by bassist and composer Paul Baxter, with pianist Johnny Tomlinson and drummer Kristoffer Wright, they belong to a jazz generation which includes GoGo Penguin, Neil Cowley Trio, Mammal Hands and indisputed sovereigns e.s.t. (note that initialism). Exploring shifting rhythmic dimensions and effective electronic enhancement, Eyeshutight possess an upbeat group personality – with a few tricks up their sleeves – which becomes increasingly infectious as this nine-track offering proceeds.

Quickly putting aside a somewhat irritating opening 90-second, jumbled, spoken definition of the word Resonance (at least, it is after a few plays), the title track hits a great alternation of grooving and spaciousness, Johnny Tomlinson’s piano rocking out and electronically erupting in its wonderfully jarring riffs and irresistible neo-Cuban rhythms. Addict‘s chordal sequences curiously recall Joe Jackson’s Steppin’ Out, and Kristoffen Wright’s drum patterns are metronomically executed, despite the many challenging sudden turns – a chirpy, accessible reflection of a world hooked on electronic screens (and music which TV producers might well drool over!). The contrasting introspection of Transition treads a more traditional path, featuring Baxter’s cantabile bass soloing over lush piano clusters; and Theism, a charming miniature, was written to mark the birth of Baxter’s second daughter.

Under-pressure The Precipice spirals tangibly downwards before new life is breathed into it via Wright’s broadening pulsations. The breathless momentum is again, at times, punctuated by moments of calm lucidity – but for the most part, Tomlinson runs brilliantly with it in Rhodes-like hysteria and an almost ska-ish piano exuberance (there’s plenty going on in this – a real standout). A freer melancholic Intro precedes the gently-lilting simplicity of T&C, a warm, homely melody and improvisation which, with eloquent, almost African bass meanderings, pauses politely between its softly-beaten pulse.

Hit & Hope’s troubled progressions echo GoGo Penguin, yet there is also a brighter melodic side which then evolves into an unexpected hard-edged disco-style bass/piano riff. Another of the trio’s longer numbers, it has the space to open and develop, carrying bright solos from Tomlinson and Baxter. To close, Re:Sounds unfortunately invites back those extraneous voices (in reverse) – but they certainly can’t mar the strength of this album, especially when followed by…… shhh…… that would be telling……

It’s presently a pretty crowded stage out there for the piano trio format, requiring something rather special to succeed. And perhaps Eyeshutight‘s best is yet to come – to, as it were, open eyes wide. But this is a masterly and fresh outing, with its own distinct character, which should resonate and ‘hit the spot’ with a current, dance-invigorated jazz audience. Or, put another way – sharpianoutfitriumphsplendidly!

Released on 21 October on Hungry Bear Records, further information is available at the following websites (with tour dates listed below):

paulbaxtermusic
eyeshutight


Johnny Tomlinson
piano
Kristoffen Wright drums
Paul Baxter double bass

2014 UK tour dates
21 October: Parrjazz at Frederiks, Liverpool
22 October: Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
23 October: Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
24 October: Jazz Cafe, Newcastle
25 October: Zeferellis, Ambleside
29 October: Demspeys, Cardiff
30 October: SoundCellar @ The Blue Boar, Poole
04 November: Matt & Phreds, Manchester
05 November: Jazz at The Lescar, Sheffield
09 November: 7Arts, Leeds
14 November: Fleece Jazz, Sudbury
22 November: The Unitarian Chapel, York
23 November: The Forge, Camden, London

Hungry Bear Records – HBR001 (2014)