In Common – In Common – Whirlwind WR4728 37:04 [11/9/18] ****:

The 37-minute, ten-track In Common album is the eponymous debut of the group In Common, a quintet with superb improvisational skills, dynamic musical dialogue and well-defined compositional aptitude. In Common is not a no-name band. Tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III is a member of the Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet and has performed and/or recorded with pianist Taylor Eigsti, trumpeter Christian Scott, pianist Aaron Parks and others. Smith has issued five albums as leader. Guitarist Matthew Stevens has played and/or recorded with Scott, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Esperanza Spalding. Vibraphonist Joel Ross has collaborated with Herbie Hancock, bassist Christian McBride, fellow vibraphonist Stefon Harris and others. Bassist Harish Raghavan’s credits include Kurt Elling, Eigsti and more. And drummer Marcus Gilmore has been a member of Vijay Iyer’s group and played with saxophonist Steve Coleman, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and more. Together, these five musicians have created a mostly understated collection of concise, inventive tunes which share a communal musical vernacular. The longest cut goes to five minutes and the shortest is just over a minute. In Common was released as a 12-inch, 180-gram vinyl LP; six-panel CD digifile with a velvety soft-touch laminate finish; and various high-quality digital download files. This review refers to the CD version.

Portrait Matthew Stevens

Matthew Stevens

In Common begins with the brief, 1:14 introductory “freefive.” The tune’s title is deliberately all-lower case. Stevens’ “Unsung” follows. The compositional name denotes and celebrates our societally overlooked people. Gilmore and Raghavan craft some deep harmonic and rhythmic patterns, while Stevens showcases his single-note and expressive style. The soulfulness (both musical and philosophical) is hallmarked by Ross’ vibes and Smith’s soaring sax. Another standout is the five-minute “ACE,” which commences with a simple ‘musical box’ effect which becomes the track’s foundation. As the rhythm instruments deliver a sustaining cadence, Smith supplies an alluring melody while Ross slips in a sinuous, marimba-esque vibe solo. The deceptively modest structure in “ACE” provides an approach which allows the music to stay memorable long after the music concludes. One of the most beautiful selections is the four-minute “foreword,” which starts with a sax/vibes duet, and then the other instruments drift seamlessly and impeccably into the mix. “foreword” (the title is also all-lower case) displays how this quintet can let its music unfurl intuitively and develop slowly and gracefully. On the other hand, when In Common wants to animate the proceedings, they do so admirably, especially on the too-short, bop-ish “Baron” and the equally energetic “About 360,” where Stevens and Smith both offer consistently engaging solos, while Raghavan furnishes sprightly and alert bass lines and Gilmore propels on his drums with fervent percussive elements.

Portrait Matthew Stevens

Matthew Stevens

Near the record’s end In Common present a stirring translation of the late Geri Allen’s “Unconditional Love,” which is sprinkled with an off-the-beat rhythmic balancing act (Gilmore and Raghavan’s exchanges are magical) and some interesting interaction between vibes, guitar and sax. The album finishes with a sax/guitar duet on a restructured cut called “ACE (reprise),” where Stevens plucks out a rhythm on his guitar while Smith flows on sax. There’s not much more which can be said about the material: this is obviously sensitive and aware music by perceptive and attentive jazz artists who can produce insightfully full music. If you missed this when it came out in late 2018, give it a go.

Musicians of In Common:
Walter Smith III – tenor saxophone; Matthew Stevens – guitar; Joel Ross – vibraphone; Harish Raghavan – double bass; Marcus Gilmore – drums

TrackList:
freefive
Unsung
YINZ
ACE
foreword
Baron
13th Floor
About 360
Unconditional Love
ACE (reprise)

—Doug Simpson

More Information and Music Samples through Whirlwind Recordings:

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