Tommy Smith – Karma
(Spartacus STS015, CD Review by Chris Parker)
Hailed by the Scotsman as his ‘toughest and most creative group yet’, Tommy Smith‘s band on this album is composed of longtime associate, pianist Steve Hamilton, six-string electric bassist Kevin Glasgow and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s drummer, Alyn Cosker.
A tight, hard-hitting ensemble equally adept at bustling through Smith’s more straightahead material, imbuing his folk-based compositions with affecting emotion and transforming themselves into a neat, punchy electric band where required, the quartet is called upon to interpret everything from groove-based funk, through heart-on-sleeve yearning melodies influenced by the traditional music of Scotland and Ireland, the Middle East and Japan (Smith plays a Shakuhachi flute in the introduction to ‘Sun’), to anthemic, Garbarekesque stirring skirls spearheaded by Smith’s keening tenor.
The album’s title reflects Smith’s continuing interest in matters spiritual (cf. his 1999 composition ‘Torah’), the concept of moral causation both structuring the album and inspiring its ten pieces, from ‘Cause and Effect’ through ‘Good Deed’ to the concluding ‘Who Are You?’. However, if this might suggest that Karma is either straitlaced or po-faced, it’s misleading: Smith refers to this quartet as his ‘grunge band’, and with the extraordinarily versatile, lithe electric bass of Glasgow and the bristlingly energetic drumming of Cosker fuelling everything they play, this is an irresistibly vibrant album. Smith and Hamilton provide characteristically cogent solos throughout, and the rhythm section is simply exemplary, whether pumping out danceable funk or subtly embellishing Smith’s more contemplative pieces.
We also reviewed the London launch gig of Karma.