Two tenor saxophonists with distinctive sounds that skirt the current Coltrane/Shorter-style mainstream of tenor playing have new recordings. Walter Smith III comes out with a second edition of the quintet he coleads with guitarist Matthew Stevens, while Dayna Stephens debuts a new trio with just his saxophones, bass and drums.
On In Common II (Whirlwind), from Matthew Stevens and Walter Smith III, the band is rounded out by pianist Micah Thomas, bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Nate Smith. The ten tracks include five by Walter, three by Matthew, plus a collective improvisation, “Lotto,” and a sax-guitar duet of the late Roy Hargrove’s “Roy Allan.” Through much of the album the emphasis is on group dynamics and structure. “Type Rider,” Walter’s closer, described as a “vision of driving down a California highway into a limitless freedom,” is a through-composed piece built on momentum and repeating riff patterns from sax and guitar. Three of Walter’s four other tunes are inspired by his love of video games, depicting scenarios he’s imagined. “Little Lamplight” builds toward an apocalyptic climax in small, lockstep phrases rising up the scales; “Clem,” a zombie-killer narrative has tenor sax ruminating over rhythmic ostinatos, and “Van Der Linde,” the most engaging, smashes together 5/4 and 5/8 sections under searing tenor and guitar solos.
Matthew’s tunes are another story entirely. There’s a pastoral quality to his writing that seems to reflect his upbringing on the Canadian prairie. His guitar has the steely flavor of country, as do such tracks as “Cowboy,” with its loping bass groove, and the ballad “Provinces,” enlivened by Nate double-timing the basic tempo. Matthew’s “Opera,” written while he was touring in Esperanza Spalding’s band, rides on insistent 8/8 piano phrases contrasting with sax-guitar riffs. In Common II is one of those rare albums in jazz most notable for its group sound and collective concept.