The Bebop Shop : Changes: Post-Bop Modernists : Tommy Smith
Familiar themes, including the iconic clarinet glissando and Gershwin's heartbreaking nostalgic refrain, have been used - respectfully - as source material and reworked into a fifty-two minute epic that flows through exciting up-tempo movements, rhapsodic blues passages, a sensational Cuban fantasia and hard swinging jazz choruses, showcasing SNJO's magnificent ensemble playing and top class, creative soloing. (Spartacus Records) Price: £13.99
Originally written by Smith for American saxophone giant Joe Lovano, Torah now features the composer as both lead soloist and director of an orchestra of outstanding talents. The music is robust, crisply written and beautifully detailed, using horns as commentators as well as supporters and a brilliant rhythm section as the dynamic base for Smiths, by turns tender and rugged, but always heartfelt, improvisations on strong, memorable themes. Encapsulating the first five books of the Bible in an extended jazz composition, Smith has taken the creation story common to the Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths and created music that, drawing on the jazz and blues traditions and without harbouring grand ambitions of healing spiritual division, is highly approachable, stimulating and ultimately rewarding. (Proper Music) Price: £13.99
The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra features the very best young jazz musicians from Scotland. Showcasing endless talent, improvisational skills, exuberance and verve, the orchestra members demonstrate these traits in every performance and play with a collective maturity well beyond their years. With a repertoire that makes no concessions to their youth and featuring soloists of startling ambition and creativity, these young musicians bring alive the music and pay tribute to the true giants of jazz making their compositions sing with enthusiasm, style, personality and expression. (Proper Music) Price: £13.99
Following every last Ellington detail, including the stage set-up, using specially sourced period mutes and playing scores that in some cases were specially transcribed from Ellington performances, SNJO director Tommy Smith set out to give audiences as close to the real-deal Ellington experience as possible. And he succeeded. Audience responses were ecstatic and reviews enthused about the triumph in presenting the music, which spanned almost Ellingtons entire career, as both true to the spirit of the original and as if it was freshly minted. The repertoire includes such Ellington hits as Black & Tan Fantasy, Concerto for Cootie, Harlem Airshaft and a ravishing tenor-piano duet of The Single Petal of a Rose and as well as movements from The Queens Suite, it features extracts from Ellington and Billy Strayhorns, at the time, controversial re-interpretation of Edvard Griegs Peer Gynt Suite.
With outstanding individual performances from soloists including pianist Brian Kellock and a world-class ensemble sound, this is Ellington and the SNJO rockin in rhythm, harmony and peerless swingtime. (Spartacus Records) Price: £13.99
In June 2013, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra fulfilled a long-held ambition to cross the Atlantic and tour in the USA and Canada. How better to fill two free days than by inviting some friends over to record some tunes? The sessions at Avatar Studios brought together the brightest young minds in Scottish Jazz and some of the wisest heads in America today.
The end result is power-packed contemporary jazz with fabulous featured artists feeding into the grid. Kurt Elling provides a smouldering vocal on "The Sound of Love" while SNJO director Tommy Smith is iridescent on 16-bars of lyrical tenor. Mike Stern plays some incendiary guitar on "Splatch" and Clarence Penn contributes combustible drumming on "Pinocchio". With Joe Locke on superconductive vibes and Dave Kikoski on calibrated piano the former power station crackled to the positively charged blowing of Bill Evans, Donny McCaslin, Michael Dease, Randy Brecker and Joel Frahm. Listen out too for drummer Alyn Cosker's blistering soloing on "Yes or No". Stand well back though for the swing of "Pendulum" as Dave Liebman, fired up by the extraordinary Cosker, pushes the readings off the scale and into the red zone as the 'American Adventure' really heats up. (Proper Note) Price: £13.99
Bill Evans is one of the most dynamic saxophonists of his generation, and he brings all of his trademark energy and muscularity to a demanding piece of music. Not least of those demands is the requirement to contrast the seductive lyrical charms of 'Beauty', with the flashing fury of 'The Beast'.
Smith's Beauty and the Beast is a fairy tale with teeth, and the SNJO guide the listener through its seven-part structure with fearless authority. The rhythm section of Steve Hamilton (piano), Kevin Glasgow (electric bass) and Alyn Cosker (drums) are particularly commanding, and provide a rock-solid platform for Evans to solo freely and in uninhibited style. (Proper Music) Price: £13.99
The suite is a textured, measured and deeply layered work for trumpet and vocal that also features SNJO improvisers stepping out from the orchestra to take the spotlight. It quickly develops from an understated introduction into an expansive essay in complex jazz, and it epitomizes Wheeler's mastery of harmonic contrast, rhythmic changes and melodic clarity.
Wheeler often composed by noting down ideas and fragments whenever and wherever they occurred to him; a method that he was seen to employ while recording and touring with Tommy Smith and his group. These fragments grew into interconnecting pieces, lovingly shaped into layers of light, colour, tone and texture. If there is any stitching in the unhurried arrangement then it is nevertheless quite invisible to the naked ear.
There is a subtle sense adventure in Wheeler's writing, and Laura Jurd is a gifted player who brings her own compass to this reading of Kenny Wheeler's sonic map. The piece also features voice parts, which featured prominently throughout Wheeler's long composing career. Irini Arabatzi fully embraces the sympathetic, almost reassuring intent in Wheeler's writing. It is soul searching without bitterness or melancholy, and there is, if anything, the suggestion of a certain kind of joi de vivre that is often inwardly, yet intensely felt by quiet people. (Proper Music) Price: £13.99