Walter Smith III: Still Casual

Tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III assembles a stellar cast of collaborators here, all of whom he has played with in various constellations: Taylor Eigsti (piano), Matthew Stevens (guitar), Harish Raghavan (bass), Kendrick Scott (drums) and guest Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), who appears on three tracks. Focused on composition, the album consists of 10 originals written with these musicians in mind, inspiring its varied tempos, melodies, moods and forms.

Smith opens the program with the driving, syncopated “Foretold You,” showcasing the unit’s supreme chemistry and some fierce soloing by the leader as well as Eigsti and Stevens. Next come two equally spirited tunes: “Kaleidoscope” and “Something New,” where sumptuous horn lines intertwine, Smith and Akinmusire trading fiery solos supported by the propulsive force of Scott and Raghavan. The tune’s sudden conclusion marks a shift, leading into the lyrical “Apollo” (previously recorded on Scott’s Conviction), followed by the emotive, gripping “Greene,” dedicated to saxophonist Jimmy Greene and his daughter, Ana, who was killed in the Sandy Hook tragedy. Smith’s horn is at its most expressive here, deeply anguished yet somehow hopeful.

The intensely swinging “About 360” demonstrates Smith’s penchant for transporting bebop into the present. A member of groups led by Akinmusire, Terence Blanchard, Roy Haynes, Eric Harland, Jason Moran and Christian McBride, his sense of veneration for tradition is paired with a voice distinctly of the time, and pushing forward. Smith is clearly carving out his own space.