In Common 2
Release Date: May 15, 2020
Label: Whirlwind Recordings
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 when they gathered a wish-list band of musical peers, booked a studio, and presented them with compositions written for the occasion. The resulting album, In Common, was widely praised for its freshness and spontaneity. They’ve now 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 on the first installment, “ ...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 favorite rhythm section players of mutual acquaintance: Linda Oh on bass and Nate Smith on drums - plus a player from a different generation, rising piano star Micah Thomas who takes the place of Joel Ross’ vibes. The material was specially written to suit the character of the resulting band, favoring 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,” says Smith.
‘Roy Allen’, the only non-original was included as a homage to its composer, the late lamented Roy Hargrove, and it is performed as a brief heartfelt duet. ‘Lotto’ is a collective improvisation based on a theme by Stevens featuring a thrilling dialogue between he 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. 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 the Red Dead Redemption game - “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.
"All that structure doesn’t box the music in, though. If anything, it seems to energize the rhythm section, which in turn brings out the best of Stevens and Smith." Read the full review here.
"Stevens and Smith trade improvised passages in an unstructured tandem, somehow managing to stay out of one another’s way. And their band mates attack the tune with evident gusto; take note of the bold, cascading fill that Thomas plays behind the two soloists, leading up to the three-minute mark." Read the full track feature for "Lotto" here.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
"A wide range of influences arrive unselfconsciously in the music on these recordings, and both the leaders and their side people are blending them into interesting amalgams that sound perfectly natural and very timely." Read the full review here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"The session managed to maintain a sense of spontaneity and true invention within form, spoken in a clear, common language." Check the full review here.
"Smith III and Stevens culled inspiration from their own imagination as well as from the comprehensive musical universe that inspire their work. Hence, In Common 2 is replete with magnificent ideas." Read the full review here.
ANA M. NELSON
"In Common 2 can serve as a masterclass in how to put together a cohesive and dynamic band performing original music. Walter Smith III’s and Matthew Stevens’ compositions blend together in a story-like way, and their styles of playing complement and embolden each other. Memorable melodies stick with the listener long after the album is over, and we can only hope that a third album release is on its way soon!" Read the full review here.
"In Common 2 is brisk and bracing, a set of pleasures that are hip and smart enough to tickle you and interest you, both." the full review here.
"Smith and Stevens composed the new material here specifically for the band, highlighting the various members’ strengths. The result is a set of concise statements of melody." See the track premiere for "Provinces" here.
"Sharp-as-a-tack follow-up to the well-received In Common; this will appeal to a broad range of jazz lovers." See here.
"...this album makes an excellent case for Smith to be one of the most important of this generation’s tenor saxophonists." Read the full review here.