Walter Smith III: Back To Casual

Restrained album from the saxophonist includes an interpretation of Kate Bush that deftly avoids descending into aural wallpaper

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If this album is anything to go by, the vigour of youth, rife as it can be with implications of overstating a musical case, has given way to a mature strain of personal reflection that enhances Smith’s music. The music here, firmly in the contemporary jazz mainstream, has an air of quiet authority that arguably comes only from lived experience.

The initially agitated lines of the opening Contra soon settle into a more relaxed groove that Smith fruitfully mines before Stevens makes a contribution marked by clarity and depth of engagement.

Kate Bush isn’t the likeliest candidate for jazz or indeed jazz-based interpretation, but here her Mother Stands For Comfort is given a lyrical, respectful reading that deftly avoids descending into aural wallpaper. Indeed, the restraint shown by the core quintet is symptomatic of a kind of lack of egotism that marks the whole set.

Somewhat contrarily, Quiet Song is one of the busiest pieces here, and while there’s little doubt about the level of commitment, it may be hard to escape the impression that as the music builds in intensity some focus gets lost and the passing moments come and go in vague, imprecise fashion.

The cryptically titled Amelia Earhart Ghosted Me has a kind of compositional depth that denies straightforward blowing, and Smith and Akinmusire weave lines that are understated despite the sometimes high volume of activity going on around them. It makes for a whole that’s no small distance from the theme-solos-theme staple.

In short, this is an album by musicians on whom the contemporary age is having a largely positive musical impact. Its case is made almost unassumingly, but simultaneously with a kind of authority.

Discography
Contra; River Styx; Pup – Pow; Shine; Mother Stands For Comfort; Quiet Song; Lamplight; Amelia Earhart Ghosted Me; K8 + BYU$; Revive (48.43)
Smith III (ts); Taylor Eigsti (p); Matt Stevens (g); Harish Raghavan (b); Kendrick Scott (d). With guests Ambrose Akinmusire (t) on River Styx and Amelia Earhart Ghosted Me, and James Francies (elp) on K8 + BYU$. Sear Sound, New York.
Blue Note 00602448866219