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Walter Smith III: Playing It Straight

Saxophonist delves into old-school tunes and the trio format, with an assist from Eric Harland

Walter Smith III
Walter Smith III (photo: Jati Lindsay)

Walter Smith III’s fifth recording as a leader, TWIO (Whirlwind), is a nine-tune date featuring drummer Eric Harland, four tracks apiece with bassists Christian McBride and Harish Raghavan and, on two tunes, saxophonist Joshua Redman. It presents a radically different sound and concept from its four predecessors. The 37-year-old tenor saxophonist’s earlier albums, like III and Still Casual, showcased his au courant original music, chockablock with virtuosically executed metric modulations, gnarly lines and advanced harmonic structures. Conversely, on TWIO, Smith and partners interpret good-old-good ones of the less-traveled variety, on their own terms, in 4/4 time and eschewing deconstruction.

Asked about this shift, Smith—whose parents are eminent educators in his hometown of Houston—traced it to his burgeoning interest in teaching. That enthusiasm reached an inflection point three years ago, when he accepted a fulltime position at Indiana University. The move augmented an already complex career that has included increasing leader work and abundant employment as a first-call sideman with, among others, Harland, Ambrose Akinmusire, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and Chris Dave. –TED PANKEN

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