Tommy Smith

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Step by Step

This 1989 Blue Note debut by Scottish tenor player Smith, then 22, was a big deal in British jazz at the time; I first heard about Berklee, the American jazz college where he studied, from the sleeve notes, and ended up going there myself a couple of years later. Smith has a keening, astringent and hard tone, somewhat reminiscent of Jan Garbarek, and plays some quite abrasive and biting tenor solos featuring lots of use of tonal distortion. What really makes the album special, however, is the all-star ‘backing band’ of John Scofield, Eddie Gomez, Jack DeJohnette, and Mitch Foreman, all fully applying themselves to Smith’s brilliant compositions; the best of the unusually colourful melodies are ‘Springtime’ and above all ‘Pillow Talk’, which has such a powerful and emotive main theme that you can just about overlook the lame bridge-section.