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Tommy Smith/Brian Kellock: Whispering of the Stars

Dan McClenaghan By

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Tommy Smith is known best for his directorship of the The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. The group has emerged as one of the finest of big bands with offerings like the classic In the Spirit of Duke (Spartacus records, 2013), a tribute to Duke Ellington, Rhapsody In Blue (Spartacus Records, 2006), an extended and stunning remake of George Gershwin's classic tune, and the inspired backing of Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen on the 2012 ECM Records release, Celebration. But Smith is also a killer saxophonist, who excels in a variety of small group settings, including a trio headed by Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen—and also including drummer Paolo Vinaccia—on Live at Belleville (Spartacus Records, 2010) and Mira (Spartacus Records, 2014), and now, paring thing down further, for a duo outing with Scottish Jazz Orchestra's pianist, Brian Kellock, on Whispering of the Stars.

The duet form has reputation for intimacy. The dialogue between pianist and saxophonist here, on a set of well-chosen standards, is certainly that. It is also warm, relaxed, reverent, and a display case for the virtuosity—combined with a very engaging whispering tenderness—of these two star jazz men.

Whispering of the Stars is a mostly ballad outing, with a good dose of Duke Ellington, and is proof that Smith would have fit well in Duke's orchestra, in a chair right beside Ben Webster. The set's centerpiece is a nine minute medley that includes Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood," and "Sophisticated Lady," and "Come Sunday," beside Billy Strayhorn's (the Duke's right hand man in composing for the famous orchestra) "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing," as well as Burt Bachrach's "Alfie," Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight," and more.

Kellock lays down lush backdrops for Smith's melodic musings on "Stardust" and "It Could Happen To You," with a sparkling touch that twinkles gently on "When You Wish Upon a Star" through "Alfie" on the "Ballad Melody." Kellock ramps up the rhythm on Vernon Duke's "Takin' a Chance on Love," one of the set's more up-tempo offerings, before laying down a spare, measured accompaniment on yet another Ellington gem, "Warm Valley," and on the wistful and haunting Michel Legrand tune, "The Summer Knows."

In terms of traditional and gorgeous representations of the jazz standards and Great American Songbook tunes, Whispering of the Stars" would be hard to beat. New ground isn't broken here, that's not the point. Familiar ground is explored in loving detail, revealing new shades and colors and sonic lays of the land by a pair of our finest music makers.

Track Listing: You Must Believe In Spring; Stardust; It Could Happen To You; Ballad Medley (In A Sentimental Mood, The Peacocks, Sophisticated Lady, A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing, Moonlight In Vermont, Pure Imagination, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Come Sunday, Round Midnight, You Without A Song, Alfie); Taking A Chance On Love; Warm Valley; The Summer Knows; Moonlight Seranade; When You Wish Upon A Star; You've Changed; I'm In The Mood For Love; I Apologise.

Personnel: Tommy Smith: tenor Saxophone; Brian Kellock: piano

Title: Whispering of the Stars | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Spartacus Records

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