It is fair to say, that the term ‘jazz’ is quite redundant these days, as (unlike other stylistic definitions) it tends to describe an approach to music, rather than an aesthetic. With the rising popularity of artists like The Robert Glasper Experiment, Christian Scott, and even the success of Kendrick Lamar’s jazz-tinged To Pimp A Butterfly, people have tried to define the aesthetic as being ‘jazz’; but in doing so, have stretched the term so far, that even they probably wouldn’t be able to give reason as to why so many different musical aesthetics could fit into one genre. The beauty about the aforementioned artists, is that they understand how ‘jazz’ actually allows a musician to be free in whatever musical aesthetic they choose; and it is in this mindset that they create music that is truly unique. Nate Smith’s freshly released record KINFOLK: Postcards From Everywhere, is another prime example as to how unpredictably exciting jazz was, is, and remains to be.
Drummer Nate Smith, boasts a diverse and impressive resume, having recorded or performed with the likes of Jose James, Chris Potter, and Ravi Coltrane. There is no doubt that he is credible to be behind the drum kit, and this record is a strong statement representing Smith’s credibility as a songwriter and a band leader. His new record, KINFOLK: Postcards From Everywhere, has been in the making for quite a while, as some tracks have been in the development for the last ten or so years. The title is a ode to Smith’s past, as he recollects his memories and experiences in order to create an emotional narrative to tie the songs together.
Alongside his band (consisting of Kris Bowers: keyboards, Fima Ephron: bass, Jeremy Most: guitars, and Jaleel Shaw: saxophones), Smith employs an impressive cast of jazz heavyweights, including bass legend Dave Holland, saxophonist Chris Potter, vocalist Gretchen Parlato, and guitarists Lionel Loueke and Adam Rogers. The eclecticism of this record is also impressive, as hues of chamber, folk, rock, funk and neo-soul music constantly intertwine in between the strength of each song, resulting in a great example of sonic diversity.
The opening musical statement, titled ‘Skip Step’, is a bold one to say the least. What seems to be a psych-rock, Jimi Hendrix-esque groove, soon turns into a journey through some exotic, and extremely syncopated musical terrain. This could be due to the contribution made by guitarist Lionel Loueke (who hails from the West African country of Benin).
Smith’s experience in the R&B/Soul side of things is very quite obvious the record. His love and skill for the strong drum and bass pocket is evident on ‘Bounce: pts I + II’. The unpredictable segue from ‘Bounce Pt I’ into ‘Pt II’ brings about a chord progression that’s reminiscent of a classic neo-soul tune, which underpins Chris Potter’s fiery saxophone solo.
What seems to be a trend on this record, is the use of mix meters in the rhythm, which creates an incredible sense of unpredictability. Smith, however, uses this in an extremely fluent way, as he is able to tie in lyrical melodies. The assistance of singer Gretchen Parlato on ‘Pages’, is a great example of how these complex rhythms pull and stretch, resulting in a seamless groove that one wouldn’t think as being a technical feat.
Speaking of sonic diversity, just have a listen to ‘Small Moves: Interlude’. You could easily mistake this for being a track created by a Thundercat, or a Flying Lotus. The chords and bass groove on this track are quintessential to something released by Brainfeeder or Ninja Tune, rather than a drummer commonly associated with the jazz idiom.
The excitement that comes from hearing great improvised solos, incredible grooves, and an exploration outside of the sonic norms, brings about a growing sense of hope in the jazz of today. Nate Smith’s wish is for his audience to listen to his music as music; to listen to it with an open mind. KINFOLK: Postcards From Everywhere is a strong confirmation in this hope, and is a contributor to the evolution of possibilities of not just ‘Jazz’, but of the open-minded definition of what ‘Music’ is.