Walter Smith III, return to casual Review
by Icrom Bigrad
Saxophonist and composer Walter Smith III is releasing his Blue Note Records debut with return to casual. Smith brings pianist Taylor Eigsti, guitarist Matt Stevens, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Kendrick Scott through a set of ten songs that also features guest appearances by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and pianist James Francies. Nine of the songs are Smith originals, and one is an arrangement of a 60s pop song.
“Contra” is Smith flexing his composition muscle with a fine melody that travels through various transformations. Raghavan and Scott create a foundation that is flexible and feels good. Smith’s solo features punchy lines that blend rhythmic creativity and lyrical richness. Stevens is equally expressive in his improvisation, including motivic fragments being built to a buoyant climax.
“River Styx” features Akinmusire joining the ensemble for another distinctive composition by Smith. Smith and Akinmusire show fluid activity in their improvisations, interacting with the rhythm section with an inspired conversation. Also of note is the album’s flow and how Akinmusire enters at just the right moment to push the listening experience with a new color and energy.
Return to casual is a very successful debut for Smith on the esteemed Blue Note Records label. This is his brightest album to date.