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In Common: In Common III (Whirlwind)

A review of the Matt Stevens and Walter Smith III's third release

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In Common: In Common III
The cover of In Common III by In Common

It’s become a treat to discover what new three-piece rhythm section guitarist Matt Stevens and saxophonist Walter Smith III have assembled for their latest quintet recording under the In Common moniker. The co-leaders possess the taste, credibility, and connections to choose delectable cohorts each time out. With Dave Holland on bass, Terri Lyne Carrington on drums, and Kris Davis on piano, the lineup for In Common III doesn’t disappoint.

Davis’ presence feels the most impactful, as In Common ventures into more untethered improvisations than on its first two albums. “Oliver” wobbles with the woozy dissociation of a funhouse mirror (ironically, Davis’ ostinato is the constant), “Shutout” has a spectral mix punctuated by what sounds like a distant outboard motor, and Smith’s “Variable” syncs up what sound like two separate but simultaneous songs.

The old virtues remain in abundance, especially on a glorious three-song run in the middle. “Hornets” pokes fun at the group’s pop instincts with a peppy unison line of enforced cheerfulness, before Stevens solos over a suddenly simmering groove from Holland and Carrington. That leads naturally into Smith’s prog-rock intro to “Orange Crush,” with Carrington’s whip-snap beats deepening the pocket on every strike; then Smith floats a bird’s-eye view, gently banking his turns like a raptor riding the wind as it spies for prey. Next comes “After,” a gorgeous Stevens ballad introduced by Davis’ harp-like glissando. Smith’s buffered tone furthers the aura until the rhythm section glides into a quicker tempo and Stevens judiciously dapples tinsel. This is top-shelf group improvisation, a triumph of community over flash.

Also don’t miss the beguiling tropical hues of “For Some Time,” or “Reds,” which is Stevens’ shout-out to the dilapidated vibe of Holland’s Extensions album from 1990, until Smith strolls forth like the second coming of Paul Desmond and sets things straight. Bottom line: Stevens and Smith have expanded the In Common template in both style and substance. The bar is set high for In Common IV.

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Learn more about In Common III on Amazon!

Walter Smith III & Matthew Stevens: In Common 2 (Whirlwind)