SCOTTISH NATIONAL JAZZ ORCHESTRA
Spartacus Records STS014
Release Date: 26th April 2010
Internationally renowned Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith leads one of Europe's leading jazz orchestras in a personal and spiritual journey of discovery. Featuring the cream of Scotland's thriving jazz scene, Torah is orchestral jazz at its most powerfully expressive. Originally written by Smith in 1999, for American saxophone giant Joe Lovano, the 2010 Torah recordings feature the composer as both lead soloist and director of an orchestra of outstanding talents. The music is robust, crisply written and beautifully detailed, using horns as commentators as well as supporters and a brilliant rhythm section as the dynamic base for Smith's by turns tender and rugged but always heartfelt improvisations on strong, memorable themes. Encapsulating the first five books of the Bible in an extended jazz composition, Smith has taken the creation story common to the christian, jewish and islamic faiths and created music that, drawing on the jazz and blues traditions and without harbouring grand ambitions of healing spiritual division, is highly approachable, stimulating and ultimately rewarding.
tommy smith tenor saxophone
martin kershaw alto saxophone
paul towndrow alto saxophone
tommy smith tenor saxophone
konrad wiszniewski tenor saxophone
bill fleming baritone saxophone
ryan quigley trumpet
kevin ferris trumpet
cameron jay trumpet
tom macniven trumpet
chris greive trombone
phil o'malley trombone
kevin garrity trombone
michael owers bass trombone
steve hamilton piano
calum gourlay acoustic bass
alyn cosker drums
ALLABOUTJAZZ ★★★★ 1/2
19th Oct 2010
Since returning home after schooling at Berklee College of Music, vibraphonist Gary Burton's final ECM quintet and Whiz Kids (1987), and four Blue Note discs as a leader, Tommy Smith has virtually single-handedly placed his native country on the jazz map with his Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (SNJO). He's also become a powerful advocate on the educational/mentoring front, leading the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra and, with Exploration (Spartacus, 2007), demonstrating that it's possible to encourage mature performances from a group of up-and-comers. Two Youth Orchestra members are now, in fact, part of the SNJO (saxophonist Bill Fleming and trombonist Michael Owers), and withTorah, Smith has delivered a career high point deserving of as much attention as the sudden proliferation of large ensembles in North America over the past couple years.
Torahisn't a new pieceSmith wrote it in 1999 for American saxophone great Joe Lovano. There's little doubt that Lovano turned in a stellar performance, when the five-part, 63-minute suite debuted in Edinburgh and Glasgow at the turn of the century, but it's perhaps even more appropriate that the composer who has the most intimate understanding of its nooks and crannies has now become the featured soloist. As a player, Smith has been delivering consistently over the past decade, on his own albums including the all-star-driven (Spartacus, 2003) and cohesive quartet date Forbidden Fruit (Spartacus, 2005), as well with Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen's three year-old working trio, responsible for the powerful 2008 ECM debut, Live at Belleville. But Torah represents Smith's most exhilarating and relentlessly creative playing to date, couched in a sweeping series of compositions that position him as one of modern jazz's most intriguing and compelling large ensemble composers.
Pianist Steve Hamiltona member of Smith's Forbidden Fruit quartet and an ex-member of drummer Bill Briford's Earthworks is the saxophonist's foil on Torah with less solo space, to be sure, but, along with bassist Calum Gourley and fellow quartet-mate/drummer Alyn Cosker, providing the fire in the engine room that makes Torah such a thrilling listen from start to finish. Smith's acute ear for arrangement means that, while he takes plenty of extended solos, contexts galore are taking place beneath, above and around him, making even the 20-minute "Exodus" seem to pass by in a nanosecond. Smith's breathtaking duet with Cosker, on the closing "Deuteronomy," combines dexterity, visceral power and a deep wellspring of ideas, while his opening three-and-a-half-minutea capellasolo on "Numbers" demonstrates a breadth of extended techniques, before leading into a quirky blues, his continuing solo punctuated with swelling horn voicings and sharp punctuations.
This may clearly be Smith's show, but it wouldn't succeed as it does without an orchestra of massive talent not just reading the notes off the charts, but bringing them to vibrant life.Torahis an important record, not just for the limitless Smith, but as unshakable proof that jazz is alive and thriving in the land of celtic music, kilts and tartan.
"Torah represents Smith's most exhilarating and relentlessly creative playing to date, couched in a sweeping series of compositions that position him as one of modern jazz's most intriguing and compelling large ensemble composers."
"Fashioning tenor sax lines of power and finesse, varying the approach and levels of lyricism according to the requirements of his own five movements, he emerges as a complete, major soloist."
"Smith unleashed an exhaustive range of improvised ideas
and covered the tenor's every mood of expression." ★★★★ THE HERALD
"An awesome display of unflagging invention, endurance and virtuosity." The writing, with the SNJO handling its multiple demands with assured elan, is remarkable for its focused clarity and imaginative detail."
★★★★ THE IRISH TIMES
"The orchestra deftly executes the flutter,
riffs and stabs of big band tradition" ★★★★ THE FINANCIAL TIMES
"Another glowing testimony to the band
and its Director Tommy Smith" ★★★★ THE SCOTSMAN
"a tremendous showcase for Smith and this wonderfully
vital orchestra" DARLINGTON & STOCKTON TIMES