Nathaniel Smith: Quartet (2011)
Quartet, the debut album from drummer Nathaniel Smith, has been a long time coming. Recorded in March 2007, almost four years before its release, the album features tunes which Smith began performing following his graduation from the Manhattan School of Music in 2003. In a music scene that often seems to view immediate access as a virtue above talent, seven years may resemble an eternity: but the music on Quartet is of a quality that makes it worth the wait.
Smith's writes melodic, tuneful pieces that predominantly reference mainstream and hard bop influences, but the young drummer adds plenty of touches that ensure these tunes don't simply come across as copies: the result, as Smith specifically acknowledges with regard to "Daybreak and then Dusk" and "Tortoise Pendant," of taking composition classes from Dave Liebman.
The quartet's lead playerstenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon and guitarist Jostein Gulbrandsenare excellent interpreters of Smith's writing. Both are capable of fluid and graceful solo playing and are also in sympathy with each other, engaging in some thoughtful interplay. Smith and bassist Mark Anderson are an effective rhythm section, with Anderson's sparse and considered playing ensuring that there is always a reliable rhythmic center to each tune.
Irabagon, Smith's classmate at the Manhattan School of Music, is in fine form across the seven tuneshis swift, flowing and energetic solos on "Daybreak and then Dusk" and "Actionable Intelligence" are outstanding, as is his much mellower, more evocative work on Gulbrandsen's lovely "Tomorrow's Perfume."
Gulbrandsen favors a warm, rounded tone, whether he is adding background washes of sound or playing lead; an approach that balances well with Irabagon's harder-edged tenor sound. The second of Gulbrandsen's two compositions, "Return of the Bear," is an exceptional ensemble piece. Irabagon takes the lead, Anderson holds down the rhythm with economy, Smith adds some edgy but swinging drums and Gulbrandsen's chordal washes give the tune added depth. For his own solo the guitarist uses a slightly harder sound than usual, reverting to a warmer tone for the closing bars.
On "Shadow Puppet," Smith uses brushes to create a driving, lively, rhythm that seems to encourage the band to move forward, to look to the future. It's a positive end to Quartet, a promising debut album filled with music to admire and to enjoy.
Track Listing: Daybreak and then Dusk; Tortoise Pendant; Return of the Bear; Tomorrow's Perfume; Actionable Intelligence; Travishamockery; Shadow Puppet.
Personnel: Nathaniel Smith: drums; Jon Irabagon; saxophones; Mark Anderson: bass; Jostein Gulbrandsen: guitars.
Record Label: Fresh Sound New Talent