Guitarist Matthew Stevens and saxophonist Walter Smith III have been collaborating for some time now, first documenting themselves on the 2018 release In Common. That recording featured a who’s who rhythm section of New York greats, which became a theme with In Common II and this most recent release In Common III.
Approaching a group this way has many benefits. It showcases Smith and Stevens, since they’re the common denominator on all three albums. It also manages to bring together some less-common pairings of musicians, which keeps the music fresh and creative.
Pianist Kris Davis sounds quite comfortable providing subtle triadic accompaniment on the album’s first full band track, Loping. A testament to her versatility and deliberate creative wisdom, Davis sounds equally at home showing off chops and avant-garde ideas in an energetic solo on Hornets.
The bass and drum positions are occupied by stalwarts Dave Holland and Terri Lyne Carrington. In Common III’s liner notes mention a “formula” of one-page songs, and the way Holland and Carrington are able to approach this music gives the listener no doubts as to why the two are some of the most in-demand accompanists in the improvised music world today.
While the sheet music may consist of one-page songs, the music heard on this album is far from simplistic. Stevens and Smith’s musicality provides the glue to bringing each tune together, and their rhythm section orchestrates the entire album brilliantly. What these 15 tracks have “in common” is ample musicality and professionalism.