The Ballads of Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn
Recorded Straight to 2-Track analogue tape. New York City, Clinton Studios 1997
Tenor Saxophone Tommy Smith
Piano Kenny Barron
Bass Peter Washington
Drums Billy Drummond
Engineer James Farber
① Johnny Come Lately
② Star Crossed Lovers
③ In a Sentimental Mood
④ A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing
⑤ Chelsea Bridge
⑦ Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love
⑧ Sophisticated Lady
⑨ Passion Flower
⑪ Prelude to a Kiss
Saxophone virtuoso Tommy Smith reveals himself to be a consummate ballad player on this laid back selection of classics by two of the most justly celebrated composers in jazz history: Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.
The eleven classics contained on this recording - five by Ellington, four by Strayhorn and two collaborative pieces - include some of the loveliest songs to grace twentieth-century music. The cleverly chosen title track 'The Sound Of Love', written by Charlie Mingus in tribute to Ellington, is a rarely played gem.
Smith fully respects the two composers' original intentions, whilst utilising shading, colour and texture to add a further dimension of warmth to these familiar themes. Made in New York, with many tracks recorded in just one take, the album peaked at #20 in the American Gavin Jazz Chart upon release.
Smith is accompanied by a trio of seasoned musicians: Kenny Barron (a six-time recipient of the Jazz Journalists Association 'Best Pianist' award), bassist Peter Washington and Billy Drummond on drums.
This writer first became aware of Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith upon hearing Gary Burton’s 1987 ECM release “Whiz Kids”. Smith, a graduate and recipient of a full scholarship at the Berklee School of Music is an indisputable talent. From the onset, Smith displays remarkable maturity and uncanny savvy for such a young lad.
All About Jazz 1st April 1999
On “Sound of Love”, Smith tackles the Ellington/Strayhorn songbook while getting exquisite support from the estimable rhythm section of Kenny Barron (p), Peter Washington (b) and Billy Drummond (d). On this project, Smith performs with the verve and sophistication of a seasoned elder statesman. His tone, inflection and clear concise thematic statements serve Ellington and Strayhorn well. Smith is stunning on “In A Sentimental Mood” as he touches on the atmospheric nuances of Stan Getz yet Smith’s eloquent, personalized phrasing and impeccable control are evident throughout. The band’s treatment of “Isfahan” is magnificent for its bluesy, laid back approach which emits hues and tonal colors that accentuates the near sacred qualities of this Ellington/Strayhorn classic. No, this is not just another homage to Ellington and Strayhorn, Smith’s renderings and keen vision clearly exhibit the obvious notions that Ellington and Strayhorn are embedded in his soul. Pianist Kenny Barron was the perfect choice for this project. His articulate phrasing and heartfelt performances provide the anchor for Smith’s rich and multi- textured tenor sax passages. Smith’s emotional fire is quite impressive to say the least as in “Passion Flower”, where Smith performs this tune as if he were the original composer. Here, Barron’s resplendent and romantic chord progressions are enchanting and immaculately executed.
Kick back on the recliner and open that bottle of expensive wine or share the experience with your partner. “The Sound of Love” is a noteworthy release from a rising star. Clearly a 4-star effort! Highly Recommended.
All Music Review 1st March 1999
Jazz musicians have provided so many?Duke Ellington?and?Billy Strayhorn?tributes over the years that in the late '90s, one greeted an?Ellington/Strayhorn?homage with the question"Do we really need yet another one?" The frustrating thing was how safe many of those tributes continued to be -- instead of taking chances and turning their attention to some of?Ellington?and?Strayhorn's?lesser-known works, many players chose only the most obvious standards. That's exactly what?Tommy Smith?does on?The Sound of Love, a relaxed?Ellington/Strayhorn?tribute that unites him with pianist?Kenny Barron, bassist?Peter Washington, and drummer?Billy Drummond.?Interestingly,?Smith's?most adventurous choice isn't by?Ellington?or?Strayhorn?- it's the very?Ellingtonian?Charles Mingus?piece "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love." But while this album could have taken more chances, it's certainly enjoyable. A 30-year-old?Smith?plays with plenty of soul throughout the CD, and the captivating?Barron?does the same. Emphasizing ballads,?Sound of Love?essentially functions as mood music - seductive, evocative, lower-the-lights mood music.?Smith?is playing it safe this time, but he's also playing from the heart.
Radio Dreyeckland Freiburg, Jazz Matinee 31 July 2016
And then to the last CD for today and to a CD of the well-known English label Linn Records, which for some time has released a whole series of older recordings in a series called 'ECHO'. In front of me is the CD of the outstanding Scottish tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith, entitled "The Sound Of Love," dedicated to the ballads of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, and recorded in September 1997 with a wonderful cast. Along with the pianist Kenny Barron, the bassist Peter Washington and the drummer Billy Drummond. Tommy Smith is one of the most famous and best saxophonists in the UK. Since the end of the 1980s, he has regularly recorded albums under his own name, now more than 20 CDs and more for Label Hep Records, Blue Note Records, Linn Records and his own Spartacus label. He has also worked in various formations and big bands, playing with such eminent musicians as Joe Lovano, Benny Golson, Joe Locke, Gary Burton, Chick Corea, Tommy Flanagan, John Scofield, John Patitucci, Miroslav Vitou?, Arild Andersen, Trilok Gurtu, Jack DeJohnette, Jon Christensen, John Taylor, Joanne Brackeen and Kenny Wheeler. Listen to the famous Billy Strayhorn composition "Johnny Come Lately" (6:18), which is not played here as a ballad, but as an up-tempo number.
Crescendo and Music Magazine 1st May 1999
Close to an hour of timeless jazz music, performed with depth and distinction.
Audiophile Audition 3rd Oct 2002
I was unfamiliar with Smith, and from the album photo and title I had expected a jazz vocalist rather than a tenor player. Being less into vocals, I was pleased, and more so upon seeing all the tunes tie in with Ellington and Strayhorn. There are 11 classics by one or the other or both of the famous pair - some of the loveliest ballads in 20th century music. The exception is Charles Mingus' Duke Ellington's Sound of Love. Smith was in Gary Burton's group in the mid-80s and his style has been compared to Ben Webster, Illinois Jacquet and Stan Getz. He's recorded eight previous albums, so he's definitely paid his dues. He gives Isfahan the longest treatment here at nearly nine minutes, and the shortest track is his two-minute totally unaccompanied version of Ellington's Solitude. Soundstaging is excellent in this direct-to-two-track recording.