About the album
Symbiosis was recorded in Tommy Smith’s living room on October 6th, 2004. It was the second recording Kellock and Smith had made since their 2002 live album Bezique at the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival, which was the first time the pair had appeared on stage as a duo. Both titles, Bezique and Symbiosis, play with the relationships of two. The cover artwork for Symbiosis was purchased from the artist Mazher Nizar by Smith in Sana’a, Yemen, during Smith’s tour there in early 2004. The eleven tracks are a sample of what was recorded that evening in October 2004.
A rematch for the Scottish saxophone-and-piano partnership of Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock, following their fine debut on a standards repertoire with Bezique. Once again, the themes are from the Broadway songbook, and once again the standard of playing and the empathy between these two – who can play anything they can think, and who increasingly think of things other people don’t – is subtly captivating.
Smith’s beautiful tenor tone on Without a Song is trancelike before the swing cranks up, while the usually headlong Cherokee is taken at a deliberately slow purr. You’ve Changed makes the tenor sound like Johnny Hodges’ fluting alto, and Kellock’s crystalline intro to Skylark is briefly exquisite. The wispy epilogue on Michel Legrand’s You Must Believe in Spring, meanwhile, turns on the saxophonist’s uncanny control of timbre.
Smith is now established as the Jan Garbarek of orthodox jazz, and this scintillating partnership – for those who reach for the off switch when standards surface – represents a respectful and creative definition of what it can still be in the 21st century. Only the predominantly low-key mood of these tracks comes anywhere near to being a drawback.
It was disappointing that the BBC’s recent Jazz Britannia series ignored the remarkable progress in Scottish jazz of late, which this delightful series of duets by two of the country’s leading players underlines. Tommy Smith is a formidable saxophone virtuoso, quite able to blow right past playing partners when he’s in the mood, but the amiable Kellock has his measure, as they showed on a previous live date, Bezique.
This studio encounter is a lot more quiescent, couched in a settled midstream idiom – 11 very familiar standards – but there’s a knowing, foot-off-the-pedal feel to the playing that allows them to add detail and nuance to otherwise straight-from-the-shoulder improvising. ‘Cherokee’, for instance, is slowed to a stroll, revealing a lissom quality that the breakneck pace of its usual treatment obscures, and ballads such as ‘Moonlight in Vermont’ are given tender but clear-headed readings – spot how unpredictably Smith shifts between registers on that melody.
BBC Music Magazine
The great Scottish tenor recorded a lovely release of Ellington and Strayhorn ballads in 1997 with a rhythm section of Kenny Barron, Peter Washington and Billy Drummond, and a standards album with pianist Kellock with Bezique. So the chosen repertoire – standards, mostly ballads – for this new duo CD is not all that surprising. They’re garnished by Smith’s sublimely beautiful sound and Kellock’s almost telepathic support. Both know how to bring the best out of good material, alert to every nuance of phrasing, and soloing with an instinctive melodic grace that enhances the nature of each piece. Standouts on a beguiling CD include an affecting Pure Imagination, a lively Bernie’s Tune and a Skylark that’s an object lesson in how to handle melody. www.spartacusrecords.com