22nd September 2018
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Five years for new Smith album worth the wait

It is five years since there was a new Tommy Smith album. In that time he has been taking care of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and touring with bassist Arild Andersen’s trio. But now he has found time to compose an entire repertoire for a new band in a new style and the results are stunning. From the opening driving track Cause and Effect you know you are in for a treat and for the next 60 minutes your expectations are not disappointed.

The new band is named KARMA, and they are playing in Lerwick at the end of the month. It is a quartet of musicians who are talented, skilled and experienced. Alyn Cosker pays a welcome return to Shetland. He thrilled with his own band last year and his highly musical drumming style is used to excellent effect here. He becomes part of the lyrical nature of a melody and really plays a tuneful part as well as providing a rhythmic base. Alongside him, bass guitarist Kevin Glas­gow provides a funky rock found­ation that glides with the music rather than dominates the proceedings. The rhythmic pair are particularly effective on the second track Land of Heroes, a haunting melody full of Scots spirit and a jazz anthem for our age.

Pianist Steve Hamilton comes to the fore in Good Deed, another Scottish inspired melody that once stated takes off into a powerful upbeat jazz workout, full of all the inventive pleasure that brings to mind that seminal band Weather Report. This is music of that quality. The Scottish folk roots are always there, but so is the thrusting jazz, with excellent solos all round. The overall musical feel of the album draws from a range of world music but always with that Scottish tinge.

The album’s title track Karma is perhaps one of the most “difficult” but, even here, its jerky staccato introductory section soon develops into a strong drum and bass-led funk exploit, with several inspiring sections. Tommy Smith is at his best on Star, a track on which he shares the honours with Kevin Glasgow playing some immaculate bass that could easily be mistaken for Jaco Pastorius. This is a hauntingly beautiful tune and one that is sure to be much appreciated at the Lerwick gig. The final track Who Are You? is built around a dominant chord and the band really cooks, with finely tuned solos and some ear-catching ensemble playing.

It will come as no surprise to learn that many critics are hailing this as Smith’s finest recording to date. And I would agree. The overall feel is appealing music that allows the players plenty of scope to lay bare their considerable musical virtuosity, all within well-defined structures. In other words – it’s great!

You can see Tommy Smith’s KARMA at the Islesburgh Centre on 25 June. See Shetland Jazz Club website – www.shetlandjazzclub.org – for further details.

Jeff Merrifield