The Fraser Smith Quartet has released a new album titled “Tip Top!” under Ubuntu Music. This article will explore the album and its influences, with a focus on the tenor saxophonist Fraser Smith and the legacy he carries on through his music.
The Legacy of Tenor Saxophonists
The world of tenor saxophonists has been shaped by giants like Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Charlie ‘Yardbird’ Parker, who helped create the bebop genre. This foundation led to the emergence of tenor masters such as Dexter Gordon, Illinois Jacquet, Stanley Turrentine, Al Cohen, and Wardell Gray. Fraser Smith’s style, sound, and attitude have been influenced by these greats, carving his path in the jazz scene.
Exploring “Tip Top!”
Fraser Smith’s “Tip Top!” showcases his talent for ideas, as he composed all the tracks except for the Columbo, Gaskill, and Robin standard, ‘Prisoner Of Love’. The album has various tracks that captivate the listener and get their toes tapping.
‘Might Not’ is a spirited starter, medium-fast and filled with roadhouse blues slurs and inflections. Supported by a committed rhythm section, Smith engages in lively observations while Rob Barron’s piano skills shine through. The bass intonation of Simon Read and the energy of drummer Steve Brown provide drive and energy throughout the album.
‘Iroquois’ is a new melody line based on the harmonic framework of Ray Noble’s ‘Cherokee’. Smith demonstrates his laidback swagger in tackling this tricky structure, and Rob Barron’s performance is noteworthy.
The title track, ‘Tip Top!’, sits on the chords of ‘I Got Rhythm’ with an injection of ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ in the bridge. Barron adds a witty quote from Wardell Gray’s ‘Twisted’, while Read’s bass provides a solid foundation.
‘Whaddya Know’ increases the tempo with a Latin beat, borrowing harmonies from Dizzy Gillespie’s 1942 ‘Woody’n You’. The group’s dynamic is excellent, with all four musicians sounding like a cohesive unit.
Prisoner Of Love
‘Prisoner Of Love’ could be Smith’s passionate homage to Coleman Hawkins, the father of jazz tenor saxophone. The stately pace allows ample space for Simon Read and Rob Barron to expand their ideas.
‘Pip’, inspired by Dickens’ Great Expectations, brings the quartet back to a funky boogaloo beat with a late-night groove and potential erotic overtones.
‘Wardell’ is a lilting 12-bar blues tribute to the late Wardell Gray. Full of fine blues statements from Smith and Barron, it celebrates Gray’s contributions to the world of jazz.
Out Into The Daylight
‘Out Into The Daylight’ is an up-tempo romp with Monkian dissonance. Smith moves around his tenor at an impressive pace and offers Steve Brown some cracking breaks.
‘Bluey’, a medium-tempo 12-bar earthy riff, may hint at lost love or disappointment. Smith’s optimistic tone is supported by Barron’s keyboard skills, animated rimshots, and sturdy bass work.
Snow Off Broadway
‘Snow Off Broadway’ is Smith’s impression of a cozy Manhattan bar during a blizzard. Despite the samba rhythm seemingly at odds with the snowy scene, the track features plenty of muscular tenor saxophone.
The album was recorded in an analog manner on magnetic tape at Durham Sound Studios in Camden, London. The sound, mixed by Lewis Durham and Fraser Smith, is of excellent quality. Overall, “Tip Top!” provides a captivating journey through the world of jazz and tenor saxophone.