British rock aficionados will know Terry Smith as the guitarist for the band If, the anglo-style Blood, Sweat & Tears or Chicago. I’m not sure that the world needed any more horn-centered rock/jazz bands like Chicago, and apparently Americans didn’t much cotton to If’s five discs, recorded between 1969 and 1972.
The year before If formed, Terry Smith recorded Fall Out, his only jazz LP and a Swingin’ ’60s kind of disc that obligatorily covers two Burt Bacharach tunes and otherwise mimics the jazz guitar sound that Wes Montgomery was getting over in the U.S. Mr. Smith had won the previous year’s Melody Maker Award as best British jazz guitarist, and he has fleet fingers and plenty of taste. But Fall Out, while an interesting period exercise that some fans will want if only because it’s never been on CD before, is nothing special.
Listening to Fall Out is a time-capsule experience, and one that transcends nostalgia but is of more historical than pure musical interest. The strong tracks are the cookers, the tunes where you imagine a young guitarist’s heart (particularly one that would go on to form a rock group) was living. The opener, “Morning Minor”, sets the guitarist in a jumping modern big band — the kind of thing that Woody Herman was doing at the time. Smith winds his licks around the horn melody with confidence and pleasure. There are two organ-combo tracks, “Early Morning Groove” and the title track, comparable to early George Benson from the same era — blues changes swung like mad. Nice, somewhat anonymous stuff that tells you exactly the records from the ’50s and ’60s that Smith must have loved.
The two Bacharach tunes are not what you might fear, but suffice it to say that the arranger deploys plenty of flutes and marimbas. “The Look of Love” is professional music that falls short of — but I mean just short of — conjuring images of Austin Powers dancing in his ruffled shirt and red tux. “Windows of the World” is a lesser-known tune, a ballad/bossa that gives Smith some stuff to chew on beyond a famous melody, and the affair swings for the guitar solo in a very tasty way. But there is no doubt in either of these performances that some kind of late ’60s mainstream market was being envisioned by the producer, and 40 years on it still sounds calculated.
Even less successful is the Gershwin track, “My Man’s Gone Now”, which is arranged like a very pretentious suite along the lines of Miles Davis’s Porgy and Bess or Sketches of Spain. It’s not that this is bad or cheesy music, mind you, but rather that it is a flat-out aping of Gil Evans’s arranging style, with muted trumpets set against low reeds, with tuba and flute in impressionistic harmony. The original was genius and all copies ring false as a pimpled kid trying to buy bourbon. And on an album that is copping Bacharach covers, then copping Brother Jack McDuff organ jazz, then taking a stab at Wes Montgomery jazz-pop — well, you’re tired of the incessant copy-cattery.
Terry Smith, more than likely, was responsible for only the best parts of this record: the sound of his own swinging guitar and the sense of cohesion in the small ensembles. It’s certainly exciting to imagine the energy of the under-two-minute big band version of “I Love You” being directed into some kind of genuine rock/jazz, and maybe If was a real sensation. But the music industry has chewed up bigger talents than Terry Smith, and I’m sure it will continue to do so. Fall Out, with its Cold War title and rare-as-an-LP status, is now available again. If you’d like a lesson in late ’60s jazz merchandising, here’s your master class.