Nate Smith's 'Kinfolk': A Study In Nomadic Jazz

Mar 6, 2017
Originally published on March 6, 2017 5:01 pm

Over the last 15 years, drummer and composer Nate Smith has built the quintessential jazz resume: He's been in bands led by jazz legends, such as bassist Dave Holland, and toured with some of the music's rising stars, like saxophonist Chris Potter.

Jazz musicians often lead nomadic lives; they go where the gigs are. A growing contingent of younger players are musical nomads, too: They're reworking the beats they grew up with — hip-hop, rock, R&B — into settings for jazz creativity. Smith, 42, is among them. He comes from jazz — he's happy when he can get sparks flying — but, like many of his peers, he's searching beyond jazz history.

His first solo album, Kinfolk: Postcards From Everywhere, emphasizes catchy, singable melodies and spring-loaded backbeats. Smith often starts with a conventional pattern, then disrupts it by adding an extra hiccup of a beat. Just that slight modification gives the groove a serious jolt.

Throughout the record, Smith tells multiple travel stories. Some reflect his experiences touring; he's soaked up breezy, wonderfully open grooves from all over the place. Some are more personal: His parents are heard in short interludes, recalling his family's moves from the South to the North and back. Many songs express a deep wistfulness and the traveler's longing for home.

When Smith and vocalist Gretchen Parlato listened back to the tune "Pages" in the studio, the drummer says he was seized with an unusual worry — that the track was too pretty, not cerebral enough. He got over that pretty quickly, when he realized that the journey of the project mirrored his own journey: He started out in jazz and wound up with the kind of sweeping travel diary only a nomad could make.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Drummer and composer Nate Smith has built the quintessential jazz resume over the last 15 years. He played in bands led by jazz legends and toured with some of the music's rising stars. After all that, the 42-year-old from Virginia released his first album. It's called "Kinfolk: Postcards From Everywhere." Our critic Tom Moon has this review.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Jazz musicians often lead nomadic lives. They go where the gigs are. A growing contingent of younger players are musical nomads, too. They're reworking the beats they grew up with from hip-hop, rock and R&B into settings for jazz creativity. Among them is the drummer and composer Nate Smith.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE SMITH SONG, "SKIP STEP")

MOON: Smith comes from jazz. He's happy when he can get sparks flying. But like many of his peers, he's searching beyond jazz history. This project emphasizes catchy, singable melodies and spring-loaded backbeats. Smith often starts with a conventional pattern, then disrupts it by adding an extra hiccup of a beat. And just that slight modification gives the groove a serious jolt.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE SMITH SONG, "BOUNCE: PTS I/II")

MOON: This record tells multiple travel stories. Some reflect Nate Smith's touring life. He soaked up breezy, wonderfully open grooves from all over the place. And some are more personal. His parents are heard in short interludes recalling his family's moves from the South to the North and back.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOM: POSTCARDS FROM DETROIT/FLOYD/SALEM")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He went to Detroit when he first got married.

NATE SMITH: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And I was born in Detroit.

SMITH: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Steve (ph) was born in Detroit. Louis (ph) was born in Detroit.

MOON: Many songs express a deep wistfulness, the traveler's longing for home.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PAGES")

GRETCHEN PARLATO: (Singing) Now I turn the pages of a memory lost, just coming back from long ago. Still I turn the page, even though it's frayed around the edge.

MOON: When Nate Smith and vocalist Gretchen Parlato listened back to that tune, the drummer says he was seized with an unusual worry that it was too pretty, not cerebral enough. He got over that pretty quickly when he realized that the journey of the project mirrored his own journey. He started out in jazz and wound up with the kind of sweeping travel narrative only a nomad could make.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PAGES")

PARLATO: (Singing) Home. Home.

SHAPIRO: Nate Smith's debut is called "Kinfolk: Postcards From Everywhere." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PAGES")

PARLATO: (Singing) As I turn the pages, and I let them take me home. A new perfection through it all. Still I turn the pages. And I follow them all the way back home. Home. Home. Home. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.