Saturday, September 09, 2017

Tommy Smith - Embodying the Light: a Dedication to John Coltrane (Spartacus Records, 2017)

John Coltrane has long been a guide star to Scottish tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith, on his own solo albums and his albums leading the Scottish National and Youth Orchestras, as well as his excellent work with bassist Arild Andresen. This album is a heartfelt tribute to the master, on not only the fiftieth anniversary of Coltrane's passing, but Smith's fiftieth birthdate as well. The group also includes Pete Johnstone on piano, Calum Gourlay on bass and Sebastiaan de Krom on drums and they play a pleasing mix of original and Coltrane covers, from all aspects of his career. Smith's own "Transformation" leads off the album, setting a deep spiritual vibe, before breaking into a tight swinging quartet improvisation with crisp rhythmic support to Smith's ample soloing. He stretches out at length, showing a great deal of stamina and passion that drives the music forward. After a rippling feature for the rhythm section, Smith comes storming back in to conclude an impressive performance. There is a brief version of Coltrane's "Dear Lord" taken at a reverent ballad pace, before turning into the bright, grooving original "Embodying the Light." There's a fine bass solo, with Gourlay making a excellent statement, and there is quite a bit of space for the rhythm trio to percolate before Smith returns and builds a fleet solo spot of his own. The tempo relaxes for the ballad "Naima," one of Coltrane's most famous compositions. Smith plays the melody beautifully, with a thoughtful and graceful approach, carrying that feeling into a nicely blended full band improvisation. "Resolution" is on the of the anchors of the A Love Supreme suite, and Smith comes out hard with a steaming tenor solo over supportive rhythm accompaniment. A strong and elastic section for piano, bass and drums keeps the energy high, then Smith takes control again, spooling out some more passionate saxophone playing. The group moves into some of Coltrane's freer music with "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost" where they ratchet up the intensity slowly, reaching further and further into the music, allowing it to develop of its own accord. Gershwin's "Summertime" was a composition that Coltrane recorded, and the version included here matches some steely saxophone to the familiar melody, adding some grit to the mix, with a strong uptempo group performance as a result, and adds a bouncy trio section and drums solo good measure. "Embodying the Darkness" is another Smith original that takes Coltrane's modal work as a jumping off point, building a knotty and fast paced setting. Smith blows hard, playing some scalding solos over crushing piano and percussion. They conclude the album in style with the Coltrane track "Transition" where Smith demonstrates his interpretive abilities making the most of this track with potent saxophone playing, building a steaming lead solo with the rhythm section nipping at his heels. They are awarded with an excellent trio improvisation, before Smith returns with another strident concluding solo. This was a very good album, an impressive mix of original tunes and classics, with the band more than up to the task. Smith is particularly emboldened by this setting and makes the most of it. Embodying the Light: a Dedication to John Coltrane -

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