Tommy Smith

Tommy Smith’s inadvertent radicalism

Scots saxophonist Tommy Smith returns to his and some other jazz roots with his new album Karma as well as paradoxically making a perhaps inadvertently radical statement. He tours the music in Scotland in late June and later elsewhere (see below).

Tommy SmithI don’t think I’ve heard a better Tommy Smith record since his breathtaking Berklee Tapes of 1984. Technique is to the fore, so those who think extreme competence signals insincerity might want to turn away now. Here, technique, creativity and no little sincerity are wedded to produce a stunning outcome. Smith was always the most impressive of the 1980s British crop and that’s underlined by Karma. Few if any other British players have the chops for the apparently casual (possibly Brecker inspired) decoration he sprays around this set.

The “fusion” compositions (about half the set) are equally virtuosic, not only harmonically and technically but in several amusing split-second shifts of tempo. There are also modal “worldy” pieces that add respite and contrast. The rest of the band’s virtuosic too, most obviously Kevin Glasgow, a bassist with the speed and range of a guitarist (thanks in part to his multi-stringed instrument). Hard to imagine, but he seems to have taken John Patitucci’s achievements of decades ago several steps further on.

Featuring such a player and such material is near revolutionary in a critical climate in thrall to free improv, neo-classicism and indie-rock paraphrase. Karma may, in sometimes echoing Weather Report and Return To Forever, seem derivative but its inspirations are topical: Smith cites Wayne Krantz and heavy metal groups. Why not? Haven’t metal guitarists have taken on the mantle of virtuosity and rhythmic dynamism divested in the sniffier quarters of the jazz world some years ago? A brave and right proper modern jazz record.