Sometimes an idea seems great on paper, but in execution doesn't exactly work out as planned. Other times, that same idea doesn't just look great, it actually exceeds already high expectations. When saxophonist Tommy Smith
almost single-handedly responsible for rebuilding a modern jazz scene in his home country of Scotland, where he returned after studying at Boston's Berklee College of Music in the 1980s and releasing a couple of well-regarded albums on Blue Notebrought his Scottish National Jazz Orchestra to the United States in the summer of 2013 for a short tour, he came up with the idea of hitting Avatar Studios in New York City to record a number of well-known jazz tunes, largely arranged by a collection of American composers/arrangers and featuring a cherry-picked collection of A-list American players.
The result, American Adventure, might be considered a pleasant surprise, if it weren't for the consistent excellence Smith and the SNJO have already demonstrated on albums like Torah (Spartacus, 2010), an ambitious suite of music originally written by the Scottish saxophonist to feature Joe Lovano
(who delivered the piece with SJNO in 1999) but, on the recording, featured Smith in one of the best performances of his career to date.
Smith didn't just choose a roster of well-picked players, known for their impressive virtuosity, sheer musicality and appreciation of the tradition; he also matched them perfectly to the project's commissioned music. Fred Sturm's brassy, funkified arrangement of Marcus Miller
's "Pendulum"the title track to the live recording Pendulum (Artist House, 1978), reissued in expanded form by Mosaic in 2008 as Mosaic Select 32: Pendulum Live at the Village Vanguardbecomes a ten-minute tour de force that, beyond McNeely's expansion of the tune's basic premise into something more appropriately epic, features positively nuclear solos from tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin
's "Yes or No," originally from the saxophone legend's JuJu (Blue Note, 1964), but here swinging so hard it just about bursts off the page, with Cosker taking very little solo space but listed as "featured," no doubt, for his potent performance throughout. Saxophonist Bill Evans
's "Quartet No. 1 (part 2)," from the pianist's classic Three Quartets (Stretch, 1981), while another Shorter composition, "Pinocchio," first heard on Miles Davis' Nefertiti (Columbia, 1967) and here, arranged by Jacob Mann to swing in a more traditional space, closes the set on a high note with impressive turns by trombonist Michael Dease
and with the arranger featured on an elegant solo) add much-needed respite from the rest of American Adventure's thrill-a-minute energy, a Scottish-born but undeniably credible and deep tribute to the tradition that succeeds on many levels.
Intelligent, contemporary big band arrangements for Smith's clearly talented and broadly capable Scottish National Jazz Orchestra combine, on American Adventure, with its collection of a baker's dozen of top-drawer American musicianswell, twelve Americans plus one Scotfor an hour-long set that, in the very capable hands of Smith and his stellar 14-piece big band, prove the tradition is alive, well...and taking place on a global scale.
Track Listing: Splatch; Duke Ellington's Sound of Love; Yes or No; Pendulum; Dear Lord; Quartet No. 1 (part 2); Pinocchio.
Personnel: Ru Pattison: alto and soprano saxophones; Martin Kershaws: clarinet, alto axophone; Konrad Wiszniewski: tenor saxophone; Bill Fleming: baritone saxophone; Ryan Quigley: trumpet, flugelhorn; Cameron Jay: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tom MacNiven: trumpet, flugelhorn; James Marr: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chris Greive: trombone; Phil O'Malley: trombone; Michael Owers: bass trombone; Brian Kellock: piano (1-3, 7); Calum Gourlay: acoustic bass; Alyn Cosker; drums (1-6); Mike Stern: guitar (1); Kurt Elling: vocals (2); Tommy Smith: director/conductor, tenor saxophone (2); Joe Locke: vibraphone (3), Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone (4); Dave Kikosi: piano (4-6); Dave Liebman: soprano saxophone (4); Randy Brecker: trumpet (5); Bill Evans: tenor saxophone (6); Michael Dease: trombone (7); Joel Frahm: tenor saxophone (7); Clarence Penn: drums (7).