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Tommy Smith

The Sound of Love

Tommy Smith & Kenny Barron



original recording date: 19 September, 1997

released: 1998

Label: Linn Records

Catalogue no.: AKD084

About the album

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.


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.

ALL MUSIC 01 March 1999

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.


Close to an hour of timeless jazz music, performed with depth and distinction.


And then to the last CD for today and to a CD of the well-known Scottish 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 Vitouš, 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.