Fraser Smith Quartet: Tip Top!

English saxophonist keeps melody to the fore in a bop-inspired set composed almost entirely of originals, including some creative contrafacts


It’s good to hear a band that doesn’t go in for those tuneless meanderings that often pass for jazz these days. Instead, tenor saxophonist Fraser Smith is motivated by the late bebop and hard bop of the 50s and 60s. The influences of Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley, Illinois Jacquet, Stanley Turrentine and Wardell Gray are reflected in Tip Top! with all bar one of the numbers being composed by him.

The dynamic opener, Might Not, sets the tone with Smith, Mobleyesque on tenor, Rob Barron sparkling on piano and Simon Read and Steve Brown driving the momentum on bass and drums. It’s followed by the fleet-footed Iroquois, a fast-paced contrafact of Cherokee which at times recalls the sound of Charlie Parker. So does the title track, another contrafact, this time based on I Got Rhythm and Honeysuckle Rose with compelling solos from Smith and Barron. It’s followed by Whadda Know? with its melody played energetically over Dizzy Gillespie’s Woody ‘n’ You.

Halfway through the album is Smith’s arrangement of Russ Columbo’s 1931 song, Prisoner Of Love. The ballad displays a tender side to the saxophonist’s playing. The lively Pip, with Smith in Turrentine form, is named after Dickens’ character in Great Expectations, while Wardell is a tribute to the tenorist who straddled the swing and bebop periods, Wardell Gray.

Out Into The Daylight, based on Jerome Kern’s The Way You Look Tonight, is taken at pace. It’s probably the fastest piece on the disc and contrasts nicely with Bluey, the softly swinging blues which follows. The final track, Snow Off Broadway, is not about New York as you might expect but Broadway Market in London where the jazz venue Kansas Smitty’s used to be.

These are catchy, melodic compositions. All members of this accomplished, hard-swinging band contribute fully to the zest and ebullient mood of the album. It’s a real joy.

Might Not; Iroquois; Tip Top!; Whadda Know?; Prisoner Of Love; Pip; Wardell; Out Into The Daylight; Bluey; Snow Off Broadway (50.00)
Smith (ts); Rob Barron (p); Simon Read (b); Steve Brown (d). London, 28 February 2022.
Ubuntu Music UBU 0119