Walter Smith III & Matthew Stevens: In Common III

The saxophone and guitar leaders head a quintet including Dave Holland that offers chamber music with attitude


Sessions on Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings rarely – if ever – disappoint. This is the third In Common album from saxophonist Smith and guitarist Stevens. Like its predecessors, it’s a compelling quintet date with plenty of thought and imagination feeding the disciplined yet free-flowing poetics. Apart from the change in personnel – and how interesting it is to hear Dave Holland and Terri Lyne Carrington together (check the very different Loping and For Some Time) – what’ s new?

“It’s longer, freer, and more spontaneous,” says Smith. He and Stevens have worked together since 2017 and continue to exhibit an uncanny shared sensitivity to carefully turned matters of dynamics, textured atmosphere and fresh linear invention: hear the measured, diversely searching nature of their interplay on the relatively brief duets Shine and Lite.

Mixing spontaneous improvisation and compositional character, the music is (ultimately) as consonant as it is lyrical, with various riffs, grooves and the occasional lop-sided ostinato to get feet tapping and fingers clicking (sample Oliver, Hornets and Orange Crush). It’s also open to space (Dust) and flecked with many an intriguing twist and turn (hear the play with time and texture on Oliver or the cross-accents of Variable, where Kris comes on strong).

You might call this “chamber music with attitude”. After much vibrant action in the programme, Misere brings out again the lyrical note conjured by Kris in the lovely Away, setting and sustaining a most pensive and affecting concluding mood. Tasty stuff, this, from first note to last.

Shine; Loping; Oliver; Hornets; Orange Crush; After; Lite; For Some Time; Shutout; Reds; Variable; Prince July; Dust; Familiar; Miserere (54.56)
Smith (ts); Stevens (elg); Kris Davis (p); Dave Holland (b); Terri Lyne Carrington (d). New York, June 2021.
Whirlwind Recordings WR4783