On his third album, drummer Curtis Nowosad celebrates his move from Winnipeg, Manitoba to New York, N.Y. by updating his sound. Where his first two albums were solidly straight-ahead, applying a hard-bop aesthetic even to pop tunes such as Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” this one is slick and fusion-edged—not quite smooth jazz, but not far removed either.
Two things keep the album’s polish and pop instincts from overpowering the music. First, Nowosad doesn’t seem much interested in writing groove-based, easily digestible ear candy, preferring instead to hold on to the complex harmonies and chromatic melodicism of his earlier albums. Apart from a pair of vocal numbers featuring singer Brianna Thomas—Skip James’ “Hard Times Killing Floor Blues” and Nina Simone’s “See Line Woman,” both of which get pop-friendly treatments—the jazz content is generally high. (And what kind of smooth jazz act would have titles like “Home Is Where the Hatred Is” and “Never Forget What They Did to Fred Hampton”?)