Walter Smith III: Casually Introducing Walter Smith III

Smith’s debut album branches out in several directions and in the process becomes more a sampler of possibilities than a clearly focused portrait. The tenor and soprano saxophonist, with degrees from Berklee and the Manhattan School of Music, has prodigious technique of the Branford Marsalis and Joe Lovano variety. From the perspective of an old-school listener, Mingus’ “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love”-with warm tenor vibrato, bent notes and mellow low-register work-is the best performance. The tenor work on Ornette Coleman’s “Peace” is not far behind.

Sam Rivers’ complex “Cyclic Episode,” which opens the album, is overly crowded by individual rhythm-section-member responses to trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s solo. On Smith’s “Kate Song” and “Tail of Benin” the use of Fender Rhodes piano and electronic enhancements adds colors recycled from the ’70s but contemporary once again. Blue Note-like ensemble trumpet and tenor are agreeable on Lionel Loueke’s “Benny’s,” and the composer’s long acoustic guitar solo charms before the band crowds in behind the tenor solo.

Smith employs a basic quartet (Aaron Parks on acoustic piano and Rhodes, Reuben Rogers or Vicente Archer on bass and Eric Harland or Kendrick Scott on drums) throughout the album. Robert Glasper on Rhodes replaces Parks on one track. Akinmusire appears on three tracks, Loueke on two.