The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra “Exploration”

Featuring special guest Joe Locke on vibes – who seizes the attention with every solo, such is his unbridled vigour and tumultuous energy – this album puts Tommy Smith’s young jazz orchestra through its paces courtesy of a sensibly chosen but by no means clich’d repertoire that allows members to explore their nascent soloing capabilities as well as honing their ensemble skills. Beginning with a wonderfully rumbustious visit to Oliver Nelson’s ‘Hoe Down’, complete with cowboy whoops, and taking in big-band staples such as ‘A Night in Tunisia’ and ‘Cottontail’ as well as Kenny Wheeler’s delightfully plangent ‘Gentle Piece’, the orchestra plays with a balance of panache and poise that belies their youth and relative inexperience at this level of music-making (ages range from the mid-teens to the early twenties – pianist Alan Benzie, for instance, was voted first Young Scottish Musician of the Year shortly after the band’s formation and is currently studying at Berklee), and, driven as they are by one of the most compelling bassists around (and a frequent performer at the Vortex), guest Mike Janisch, they prove on this album that jazz is truly flourishing, right down to its grass roots, north of the border.

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