Review: Tommy Smith & SNJO play Ellington

TONY TROON admires the versatility of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra under Tommy Smith. They've done Weather Report and will soon do Miles Davis. On this occasion they brought out the timeless appeal of Duke Ellington, with Smith even showing Paul Gonsalves "where to get off"

Photo: Andy Catlin

Tommy Smith 2012Opening a five-city Scottish tour, the SNJO showed that many "new things" later the music of Duke Ellington has undiminished appeal. A near sell-out Perth Theatre was swung majestically from the 1920s (Creole Love Call) to the Duke's later suites by a 15-piece band which had not only mastered a raft of often complex arrangements but could also slot itself unerringly into the richness and tenderness of the Ellington manner. And it's a band which has dipped into the music of Weather Report and will soon tackle Miles Davis: its adaptability is frankly amazing.

With Brian Kellock guesting at the piano and Tommy Smith leading the saxes, there was high talent and commitment in every rank. Chris Grieve's lush trombone sound and Tom MacNiven's very articulate trumpet delivered Concerto For Cootie with a sumptuous flourish. The rich thunder of Bill Fleming's baritone anchored the ensembles and Martin Kershaw’s clarinet was given an important role, in true Ducal style. Cup mutes and hats were flourished by the brass players to recreate the special timbres that Ellington relished so much, while Ryan Quigley soared into Cat Anderson territory in Harlem Air Shaft and others. Prelude To A Kiss featured altoist Ruraidh Pattison’s startling range of glissandi.

In several numbers, including a moving Solitude, Tommy Smith brought trios and quartets out front to weave in close harmony and bring a new texture to this opulent tapestry. Kellock's improvisational flourishes and witty keyboard interjections added spice to the arrangements and to a well-balanced ensemble. In the spirit of Newport 1956, Smith kicked off a blistering Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue during which he absolutely showed the late Paul Gonsalves where to get off. But Perth wanted more, and cooled down to a bouncing encore of Things Ain't What They Used To Be. This brilliant orchestra went on to take "In The Spirit of the Duke" to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness.

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