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Walter Smith III: In Common 2

Paul Rauch By

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Walter Smith III: In Common 2
The musical paths of saxophonist/composer Walter Smith III and guitarist/composer Matthew Stevens have crossed on many occasions over the years, touring and recording together in their respective bands and those of Esperanza Spalding, Ambrose Akinmusire, Terence Blanchard, Dave Douglas and Terri Lynne Carrington.

They first recorded together in 2017, convening a stellar band to interpret original compositions written for the session. In Common (Whirlwind, 2018) was well received for its original sound and spontaneity. They've reconvened for In Common 2, exploring within the same musical parameters with an intriguing new set of players, creating a different, but equally dynamic album. Veteran drummer Nate Smith is the grounding force, along with bassist Linda May Han Oh. Oh, whose journey has spanned genres, instruments and continents to arrive at this particular nexus in her creative timeline, has a style that very much resembles Dave Holland, with whom Smith has extensive history. She has risen to exalted status as a player, composer and bandleader herself. While In Common featured a new generation player in vibraphonist Joel Ross, In Common 2 features rising piano star, Micah Thomas.

With this eclectic gathering of musicians, add Smith III, who has both as a leader and sideman veered into a multiplicity of challenges from the avant- garde, to his more common place in modern, post-bop jazz. As both a saxophonist and composer, he is a storyteller utilizing diverse characters, always with a destination clearly in mind to go with the adventures along the way. Commonly associated with artists such as Akinmusire, Scott and Eric Harland, Davis' sound is more grounded in the post-bop tradition. His imaginative playing is well rounded, deep and rich toned, displaying a high regard for melody and a resolve for the beauty of song. He seemingly would fit into any era in the history of the genre, his playing conjuring the lushness of Lester Young, and the relentless insight of Wayne Shorter.

Stevens represents soundly the modern movement in jazz guitar exemplified by icons Bill Frisell and John Abercerombie, while exploring voicings and melodic references reminiscent of John Stowell. With all original compositions and a newly assembled group of musicians, the challenge for Smith III and Stevens is imagining the sound of the band while composing for the session. They seem to hit the mark for the most part this time around.

"Lotto" is a collective improvisation based on a simple theme composed by Stevens. The open conversation between the two leaders clearly states the premise for the session, with Oh and Smith pushing and pulling the rhythmic and harmonic base from side to side. Smith III offers "Clem," based on his affection for super immersive video games. Video games provided the inspiration for his comp "Van De Linde" as well, written in 5/4, with 5/8 cycles within.

"General George Washington" expresses Smith's ambivalence concerning the historical quandary of the Father of the Nation as a slave owner. With "Provinces," Stevens imagines images of his upbringing in Canada. Conversely, his piece "Opera" was written while recently on tour with Spalding.

In Common 2 captures the momentum of modern jazz music becoming increasingly free within the dense structure of composition. The original pieces are modern, melodic, and accessible. For a melody based improviser like Smith III, the tunes and the personnel serve as a perfect vehicle for his skill set. By the same token, the tunes seem to reel Stevens in a bit, with positive results. The session managed to maintain a sense of spontaneity and true invention within form, spoken in a clear, common language.

Considering the transcendent talents of bassist Oh and drummer Smith, and the leadership and refined genius of Smith III, you might expect a little more of an edge to the music. There are few risks explored here, but plenty of insightful playing within a variety of musical landscapes.

Track Listing

Roy Allan; Lotto; Cowboy; Clem; Van Der Linde; Provinces; General George Washington; Little Lamplight; Opera; Type Rider

Personnel

Walter Smith III: saxophone, tenor; Matthew Stevens: guitar; Linda May Han Oh: bass; Nate Smith: drums; Micah Thomas: piano.

Album information

Title: In Common 2 | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Whirlwind Recordings

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