By Bobby Reed | Published February 2017
Drummer Nate Smith’s skills as a bandleader are evidenced by the cohesiveness of his splendid debut, KINFOLK: Postcards From Everywhere, which features numerous special guests. The core band of Smith (drums, percussion, Fender Rhodes, synthesizers), Jeremy Most (guitars), Fima Ephron (electric bass), Jaleel Shaw (alto and soprano saxophones) and Kris Bowers (keyboards) is joined on select tracks by tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarists Lionel Loueke and Adam Rogers, acoustic bassist Dave Holland, a four-piece string section and vocalists Gretchen Parlato, Amma Whatt and Michael Mayo. That’s quite a cast to corral, but Smith has chosen his guests carefully, ensuring that their individual strengths are utilized. Parlato contributes to the track “Pages,” and her distinctive phrasing, along with Bowers’ terrific piano work, make it an album highlight. With its head-bobbing groove, funky “scratch” guitar work from Most and knotty sax lines from Shaw and Potter, “Bounce: Parts I & II” showcases Smith as a self-taught groove master. The album mainly consists of Smith’s original compositions, but his moody interpretation of avant-pop band Stereolab’s 1999 song “The Spiracles” illustrates his willingness to reach outside the jazz realm for inspiration. The gorgeous ballad “Home Free (For Peter Joe),” which closes the disc, is a tribute to Smith’s paternal grandfather. The theme of family and appreciating the sacrifices of one’s ancestors is also illustrated by the inclusion of emotional spoken-word recordings of the leader’s mother and father. There’s only one drum solo on this album, a sign that Smith—whose resume includes accompanist work with Holland, Potter and Ravi Coltrane—has become a generous leader who eschews flash in favor of substance.