Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra / Joe Locke, “Exploration”

Tommy Smith knows all about youth jazz – he was a teenage saxophone prodigy himself, on the road with vibes star Gary Burton when barely out of school. Smith has been running an ambitious youth orchestra in Scotland for years, and this set (mainly distributed through the saxophonist’s website) doesn’t just chronicle the sound of the latest edition, but adds the exciting American vibraphone virtuoso Joe Locke. The band works up a stomping energy on Oliver Nelson’s Hoedown, and a wild free-jazzy heat across darkly sonorous harmonies (with the help of Adam Jackson’s frantic alto sax) on Fred Strurm’s Chronometry. But it’s Kenny Wheeler’s autumnal Gentle Piece, introduced by guest Michael Janisch’s lyrical bass and patiently coloured in by Locke, that makes you forget you’re listening to a youth band. A barging account of A Night in Tunisia includes a succinctly swinging solo from prizewinning young pianist and very bright prospect Alan Benzie. It’s classic hard-riffing big-band swing, of course. Even Locke’s charismatic drive on the vibraphone doesn’t quite make it a necessity – but it’s a swaggeringly confident testament to the ongoing high quality of Scottish jazz.

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