Music Monday: Walter Smith III – “TWIO”

It was the retro album cover that first drew me to this release by Saxophonist Walter Smith III, because there’s such a romanticism to the stylings of covers from Jazz’s heyday in the 50s and 60s. Those old covers were so cool, mirroring the cool swinging bands of the time, which produced music as sophisticated as the artwork suggested. So I was very happy upon first playing “TWIO” to encounter a swinging, sophisticated, throwback sound that gave me the same good vibes as some of the best music from Jazz’s golden age.

While the free flowing arrangements of jazz classics are masterfully played, it’s the excellent recording quality that ultimately makes this a definite must listen for audiophiles. Crank this up on your systems or headphone rigs, and see if you can hear all the instruments hanging in space, and the wonderful tonality of the sax along with the bass and drums. You can thank me later.

From the label’s website:

Working and touring for the last fifteen years, playing multi-layered compositions in different configurations with artists such as Terence Blanchard,​ Roy Haynes,​ Sean Jones, Ambrose Akinmusire and with his own bands, Smith also began to revisit classic jazz songs. He elaborates: “I would try and alter tunes quite radically by rearranging, reharmonizing and altering meters to a point where I was barely playing the original song; but realized that I was confusing the point of playing the songs, so I began to interpret them more directly, as they were first meant to be played. For this album, out of around twenty recorded songs, I chose nine pieces that I have a particular relationship with and have always loved playing, including some which are maybe less frequently heard”.

While that concept appears straightforward, this recording (the saxophonist’s fifth as leader) reveals much about the ultra-confidence and musicality which these established players bring to the table, entering the studio to intuitively share ideas and discover uncharted paths. Taking sparkling dual-tenor feature ‘Contr​a​fact’ as an illustration (crafted around ‘Like Someone in Love’, but in a five meter), Smith explains: “I simply sent Josh the melody and we showed up and played… With no rehearsal, it was just ‘OK, here we go’; and that’s what I wanted for this project – just fun and live; an open sound without a chordal instrument defining the harmony, rhythm or direction. I had ideas for endings, for example, but on once instance after I had said to Christian, “We’ll close it like this”, when we got to that point he did something different which was perfect because it helped the music feel loose. We were all receptive to that organic process”.


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