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Tommy Smith: Karma

Everything about Karma, Tommy Smith’s new group and album, is good. Produced to an attention-grabbing level of bash and pop, Karma is exciting, and the veteran Scottish saxophonist never lacks for inspiration. Whether Smith is playing the Japanese bamboo flute known as the shakuhachi-on the lovely, initially pensive “Sun”-or blasting tenor sax strut-funk on the title track, he’s driving. Smith wrote all 10 tunes, and they’re often tricky with abrupt shifts in meter.

The material requires a stop-on-a-dime band, which Smith has in keyboardist Steve Hamilton, bassist Kevin Glasgow and drummer Alyn Cosker. Some tracks evoke windswept moors, like the dignified and faintly Metheny-esque “Body or Soul” and “Land of Heroes,” a lovely ballad featuring Smith at his most persuasive. The man can play long, naked lines; he can also pack his solos. But Smith never forfeits feeling for technique. The influences span Irish folksong and heavy metal. Hard-edged but not abrasive, the CD startles like jazz but feels like rock. Other cuts, like the breakneck “Projection” and “Tomorrow,” a hot tarantella, attest to the virtuosity Smith’s work demands. His bandmates are clearly younger than Smith, but their work is anything but immature.

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