About the album
Tommy Smith’s quartet includes pianist/keyboardist Steve Hamilton and drummer Alyn Cosker off his 2005 Forbidden Fruit album, but this no less brilliant successor is very different. New is Kevin Glasgow on six-string electric bass, and the lingua franca has become an amalgam of Scottish, Irish and Arab folk elements spiced with funk, fusion and heavy metal.
In lesser hands this could have been an exercise in multicultural retro-ish virtuosity, but the conceptual clarity binding these disparate ingredients together is Smith’s, whose tenor (he also plays soprano, shakuhachi and synth) is now the uniquely personal voice of a great player. He shines in a superb band that takes the music’s odd metres, rhythm shifts, convoluted lines and uptempo unison playing with staggering aplomb and a visceral precision and imaginative interplay that sweeps all before it.
featuring Tommy Smith (saxes, shakuhatchi, synth), Kevin Glasgow (electric bass), Steve Hamilton (piano, synth), Alyn Cosker (drums)
Engineer Stuart Hamilton, Castle Sound Studios, Pentcaitland, Scotland 5th August 2010
mixed and mastered Jan Erik Konshaug, Rainbow Studios, Oslo, Norway 16th & 17th Dec 2010
photography Colin Robertson and Gildas Bocle
“His tone is tungsten-tough or tender and nostalgic, his improvisations stimulating and affecting.”
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE
“His toughest and most creative quartet yet.”
“Smith’s tenor is now the uniquely personal voice of a great player”
“It is quite possibly his finest recording yet.”
“A rare splicing of rich-toned, pipe-like themes, fiercely guttural up-tempo tenor improv, Arabic and Irish music.
“Scottish saxophonist/composer’s 24th album, one of his best.”
“Visceral precision and imaginative interplay”
2 comments on “Karma”
PERFORMANCE: ★★★★★ SOUND: ★★★★★
Although my copy went AWOL many years ago, I retain a soft spot for Smith’s debut album. Cut when he was 15, it suggested a slow-motion Albert Ayler, marking him out from the crowd. After studying at Berklee, he seemed to move into the post-Brecker mainstream, but in recent years his output (as composer, arranger and facilitator as well as performer) has impressed with its quality, quantity and variety.
Publicity highlights the influence of genres like metal, and Smith calls this his ‘grunge band’, but in essence, it is pukka jazz, with such influences well-absorbed and balanced by echoes of Garbarek and various folk traditions: though superbly recorded at Oslo’s Rainbow Studios, Smith evokes Scottish lochs rather than Norwegian fjords. Depending on the mood of the composition, his tone is tungsten-tough or tender and nostalgic, his improvisations stimulating, exciting and affecting. Hamilton, Glasgow and Cosker are superb throughout.
Album Review: Tommy Smith, KARMA ★★★★★
published Friday 25 March 2011
Tommy Smith has explored many directions over the years, and Karma adds another to that list with a shift into a more groove- and rock-based idiom. The band made their debut in a superb concert at last year’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival, and this disc, recorded the following day, bears out the powerful impression the music made that night.
Smith’s saxophone playing bristles with invention and a majestic sonority, both in the up-tempo workouts and the more folk-influenced ballads, with their keening, Garbarek-like sound. Alyn Cosker’s powerful but subtle drumming is the perfect driver for this kind of project, and is ably supported by Kevin Glasgow’s virtuoso electric bass playing. Pianist Steve Hamilton both solos and accompanies to great effect in a band that is fulfilling my post-concert prediction that it may prove to be his toughest and most creative quartet yet.
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