May 23, 2024

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CD review: Walter Smith III & Matthew Stevens – In Common 2 – 2020: Video, CD cover

Long time musical associates Walter Smith III and Matthew Stevens perform in a multiplicity of projects at the vanguard of the international jazz & improvised music scene, touring and recording with Esperanza Spalding, Ambrose Akinmusire, Christian Scott, Terence Blanchard, Dave Douglas, Terri Lyne Carrington, Bill Stewart and Roy Haynes as well as their own respective groups.

They first collaborated in 2017, gathering a wish-list band of musical peers, booking a studio, and presenting them with compositions written for the occasion. The resulting album was widely praised for its freshness and spontaneity and they’ve returned with ‘In Common 2’ to explore the same parameters, adjusting the personnel to produce an intriguingly different but equally dynamic album. “We loved the way it turned out” says Smith “We had the opportunity to do something different together: what I like to call ‘One Page Songs’ – simple forms, so that we can just show up and get to the music quicker” As in the first project, Smith and Stevens picked a selection of their favourite rhythm section players of mutual acquaintance – Linda Oh on bass and Nate Smith on drums – plus a player from a different generation, so that rising piano star Micah Thomas takes the place of Joel Ross’ vibes. The material was specially written to suit the character of the resulting band, favouring short, concise statements of melody – ‘We’re trying to do something different from what we’d do on our own. We’re going off what we imagine the band will sound like, and continuing to focus on being direct, melodic and interactive.”

‘Roy Allan’, the only non-original was included as a homage to its composer, the late lamented Roy Hargrove, performed as a brief heartfelt duet. ‘Lotto’ is a collective improvisation from a theme by Stevens with a thrilling dialogue between him and Smith that ends in a fortuitous perfect unison. ‘Cowboy’ was humorously explained by Stevens to Nate Smith as an ‘open, cowboy feel’ and the name stuck. A loping bass groove provides a trance-like backing for textured and expressive playing by all. Smith’s composition ‘Clem’ derives its central imagery from his love of super- immersive, character driven video games: Clem herself is an orphan child who grows up into a fearless zombie-killing adult over the course of the game Walking Dead, and the song maps the arc of her journey from innocence to kick-ass. Video games also provided the inspiration for ‘Van De Linde’, written by Smith for a character from Red Dead Redemption – ‘a nefarious guy who works on many levels. It’s written in 5/4 with 5/8 cycles hidden within it – kinda like the character’s secret agenda!’ – while ‘Little Lamplight’ is inspired by the post-apocalyptic game scenario of Fallout 3 – starting with a simple, muted statement and building into a towering climax.

‘General George Washington’ was constructed by Smith around a nagging two-note riff that suggests a playground taunt, reflecting his ambivalence towards the slave- owning Father Of The Nation. Stevens wrote ‘Provinces’ to evoke his childhood in Canada through its carefully paced melody, exploring both remembered and imagined landscapes from his past. By contrast, he wrote ‘Opera’ while on a recent tour with Esperanza Spaulding: “I wanted to write something piano-driven and dramatic, and what’s more dramatic than opera?” Smith drew his inspiration for ‘Type Rider’ from Brad Meldhau’s video for ‘Highway Rider’ – a vision of driving down a California highway into a limitless freedom.

In Common 2 manages to be at once free and highly structured, melodically accessible yet thoroughly contemporary. With many of the songs recorded in a single take, the album highlights the inventiveness and immediacy of a shared vernacular spoken in a vital corner of New York’s music community.

1. Roy Allan (1:07)
2. Lotto (4:27)
3. Cowboy (5:38)
4. Clem (5:16)
5. Van der Linde (3:35)
6. Provinces (5:52)
7. General George Washington (4:04)
8. Little Lamplight (2:06)
9. Opera (3:42)
10. Type Rider (3:21)

Walter Smith III – tenor saxophone
Matthew Stevens – guitar
Linda May Han Oh – double bass
Micah Thomas – piano
Nate Smith – drums

In Common 2 | In Common: Walter Smith III & Matthew Stevens

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