A couple of years back Tommy Smith’s Scottish National Jazz Orchestra assisted in reviving a piece written 50 years before by Glasgow-born tenor player Bobby Wellins. It was called Culloden Moor Suite and conveyed in orchestral jazz that tragic battle of 1746. (My review is HERE.)
Now Smith returns to that period of Scottish history with an altogether grander work. It’s not a jazz release per se, but a proper symphonic composition albeit with a central performance from one of the most distinctive tenor saxophone voices in 21st century jazz.
Smith takes the wider sweep of the Jacobite uprisings of the late 17th/early 18th centuries as his inspiration for a piece that is full of light and shade, drama and reflection, bold action and tragic calm. It’s not a saxophone concerto – Smith has stated he prefers to see his instrument as forming the narrator’s part as the story is told – and other instrumentalists in the orchestra get their moments in the limelight. There are clear references to Scottish folk melodies, and while the writing is more strongly classical in its conception, Smith’s own playing strides the overlap between classical writing and jazz improvisation with his customary swagger.
He prefaces Jacobite with a reworking of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, his saxophone tone so melting as to leave this listener speechless in admiration, and follows it with some of Chick Corea’s Children’s Songs interspersed with his own Bairn’s Sang Batch in the same vein. These children’s songs are often every bit as muscular and dramatic as Jacobite, which perhaps says as much about the toughness of your average Highland bairn as it does about Smith’s character.
Tommy Smith is capable of creating both immense power and sublime beauty with his saxophone, and with Modern Jacobite he extends those qualities throughout the symphony orchestra. It’s a most impressive achievement.
Categories: CD review