Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock – Whispering of the Stars
(Spartacus. CD Review by Jon Turney)
Desiderata for a duo CD. Two master instrumentalists? Check. A deep mutual understanding? Check. Some pieces to get their teeth into? Check (Ellington, Carmichael, Michel Legrand, Vernon Duke and other greats of the standard songbook). All in order, so sit back and enjoy.
You won’t be hearing anything that would have startled a listener any time in the last half century, but you will get an unsurpassably classy dig into a seam that still yields musical riches. This is Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock’s third duo recording in ten years, and they continue to work through the great tunes of a past era that is always worth revisiting, clocking up another 11 here. An additional ballad medley offers fleeting tastes of a dozen more in eight and a half minutes – this feels a bit of a party trick, each theme passing by the moment it is stated, but does emphasise how much choice they have for a live set.
There are a couple of brisker numbers, but ballads are the staple here. The mood is set by the title, not a song by a free-standing phrase of their own, and the opening tune, whose full lyrics alone are printed on the CD sleeve – You Must Believe in Spring. Smith’s tone is exquisitely controlled and smooth, the saxophone equivalent of a warm bath, Kellock’s piano bright and incisive and his interwoven lines and chordal commentaries always apposite.
The predominant tone is wistful, resigned, or elegiac. Ellington’s Warm Valley sounds like the most relaxing spot you could hope to find. You’ve Changed is a matter for gentle regret. If jazz CDs carried the equivalent of those feature film alerts for parents this one would come labelled “mild yearning”.
No need to yearn, though, for a time when people made music like this, as Smith and Kellock are still doing it as well as it’s ever been done. A new recording in this vein in 2014 is never going to be rated an essential listen, if there is such a thing, but it is an intensely pleasurable one.