289

The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra featuring Joe Locke: Exploration

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra featuring Joe Locke: Exploration At a time when the oral jazz tradition is in increasing jeopardy, you've got to admire Tommy Smith. Berklee schooled in the 1980s, the Scottish saxophonist had a promising career in the United States. He was a member of Gary Burton's mid-1980s quintet, with the vibraphonist producing Step by Step—the first of four records Smith released on Blue Note between 1988 and 1992—featuring an all star line-up including John Scofield, Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette. But after a few years in the US, Smith decided to return home to Scotland, where he's since set up his own Spartacus label and released a series of fine albums, including another all-star session, Evolution (ESC, 2003), and Forbidden Fruit (Spartacus, 2005), with his Scottish quartet.



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 playing—which began as a unique confluence of Jan Garbarek and Michael Brecker but has long since evolved into something more personal—isn'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).

Title: Exploration | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Spartacus Records


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Albert Mangelsdorff And His Friends CD/LP/Track Review Albert Mangelsdorff And His Friends
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: August 16, 2017
Read Heaven On Their Minds CD/LP/Track Review Heaven On Their Minds
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: August 16, 2017
Read Unnatural  Events CD/LP/Track Review Unnatural Events
by Roger Farbey
Published: August 16, 2017
Read Rediscovered Ellington CD/LP/Track Review Rediscovered Ellington
by James Nadal
Published: August 16, 2017
Read Clean CD/LP/Track Review Clean
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: August 15, 2017
Read Expedition: Duo Electro-Acoustic Improvisations CD/LP/Track Review Expedition: Duo Electro-Acoustic Improvisations
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: August 15, 2017
Read "2016" CD/LP/Track Review 2016
by Chris Mosey
Published: November 13, 2016
Read "Jambú" CD/LP/Track Review Jambú
by Joe Gatto
Published: February 13, 2017
Read "Open The Curtains" CD/LP/Track Review Open The Curtains
by Edward Blanco
Published: August 16, 2016
Read "Bach: Solo Works for Marimba" CD/LP/Track Review Bach: Solo Works for Marimba
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: July 15, 2017
Read "Atmosphères" CD/LP/Track Review Atmosphères
by Mark Sullivan
Published: September 13, 2016
Read "Convallaria" CD/LP/Track Review Convallaria
by Glenn Astarita
Published: August 22, 2016

Sponsor: JANA PROJECT | LEARN MORE  

Support our sponsor

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.