Tommy Smith

The Sound of Love

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Jazz musicians have provided so many Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn tributes over the years that in the late '90s, one greeted an Ellington/Strayhorn homage with the question"Do we really need yet another one?" The frustrating thing was how safe many of those tributes continued to be -- instead of taking chances and turning their attention to some of Ellington and Strayhorn's lesser-known works, many players chose only the most obvious standards. That's exactly what Tommy Smith does on The Sound of Love, a relaxed Ellington/Strayhorn tribute that unites him with pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Billy Drummond. It's frustrating that the Scottish tenor saxman doesn't surprise us more and that he pretty much sticks to often-recorded classics like "Solitude," "In a Sentimental Mood," and "Chelsea Bridge." This isn't to say that well-known standards should have been off limits, but how about surprising listeners by embracing some of Ellington and Strayhorn's lesser-known ballads as well? Heaven knows, one could go on and on about all the gems they wrote that were never as famous as "Prelude to a Kiss" or "Sophisticated Lady." Interestingly, Smith's most adventurous choice isn't by Ellington or Strayhorn -- it's the very Ellingtonian Charles Mingus piece "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love." But while this album could have taken more chances, it's certainly enjoyable. A 30-year-old Smith plays with plenty of soul throughout the CD, and the captivating Barron does the same. Emphasizing ballads, Sound of Love essentially functions as mood music -- seductive, evocative, lower-the-lights mood music. Smith is playing it safe this time, but he's also playing from the heart.

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