The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra featuring Joe Locke: Exploration (2007)
As strong as his own projects are, it's possible that Smith's greatest achievement may be his formation of the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra in 2002. Featuring some of the country's best up-and-coming jazz musicians, with ages as young as fifteen (rumor has it some were even younger) and as old as twenty-three, Smith has created a unique educational opportunity. Schooling is one thing; getting out on the bandstand and living it is another, and with regular performances at Henry's, the hub of the Edinburgh jazz scene and festival appearances throughout the country, Smith has turned the TSYJO not only into a crack big band, but a source from which the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra recruits. Exploration is the TSYJO's recorded debut, and if some of these players are still too young to shave, you'd never know it.
It may be a shame that Smith's own playingwhich began as a unique confluence of Jan Garbarek and Michael Brecker but has long since evolved into something more personalisn't represented, but it's clear that the goal is to feature these young players, with nearly everyone getting some solo space during this fifty-minute set. Still, he recruits guest vibraphonist Joe Locke, who brings some added improvisational élan to a set that ranges from classic material by Duke Ellington (a hard-swinging "Cottontail"), Oliver Nelson (a rousing and vivacious "Hoe Down") and Dizzy Gillespie (an ambling "Night in Tunisia") to more modern compositions by Kenny Wheeler (the characteristically lyrical ballad, "Gentle Piece"), Fred Sturm (the boldly dramatic "Chronometry") and Lars Jansson (the slightly knotty closer, "Now"). Throughout, Locke treads the fine line he always has, clearly rooted in the jazz tradition but bringing his own forward-looking approach, making every solo vivid and modernistic.
It's a high-energy set that will come as no small surprise to big band fans expecting a youth-laden ensemble to be good, but more an exercise in education than invention. With outstanding charts played with the kind of dynamics, maturity and requisite mix of loose and tight you'd expect from a more seasoned group, the successes of Exploration will turn skeptics into believers.
Track Listing: Hoe Down; Chronometry; Gentle Piece; A Night in Tunisia; Cottontail; Now.
Personnel: Tommy Smith: leader, conductor, arranger; Joe Locke: vibraphone; Rachael Cohen: alto and soprano saxophones, alto solo (4); Adam Jackson: alto saxophone, solos (2, 3); Ben Bryden: tenor saxophone, solo (5); Joseph Wright: tenor saxophone, solo (3); John Fleming: tenor saxophone; Bill Fleming baritone saxophone, solos (1, 5); Kim Macari: trumpet; Liam Heath: trumpet, solos (5, 6); Michael Campbell: trombone, solos (1, 6); Kieran McLeod: trombone, solo (6); Patrick Kenny: trombone, solo (6); Richard Foote: trombone; Michael Owers: bass trombone, solo (2); Euan Fulton: piano, solo (3); Alan Benzie: piano, solos (1, 4); Daniel Short: guitar, solo (4); Ross Whyte: drums, solo (6). Special guests: Ryan Quigley: trumpet, solo (4); Tom MacNiven: trumpet, solo (6); Michael Janisch: bass, solo (3).
Record Label: Spartacus Records
Style: Big Band