Nate Smith + Kinfolk
Drummer Nate Smith had accrued a mountain of experience as one the most flexible and selfless sidemen in jazz before he dropped his debut as a bandleader at the age of 43. For years he contributed elastic grooves, sleek propulsion, and a seemingly bottomless pocket to bands led by bassist Dave Holland, guitarist Pat Metheny, and saxophonists Chris Potter and Ravi Coltrane, each of whom placed disparate demands on his playing. After decades of making others sound much better, in 2017 he finally shared an unmediated view of his own musical personality with his band Kinfolk, bringing a jazz sensibility to slinky R&B and funk. In 2021 he released an even sturdier follow-up with Kinfolk 2: See the Birds, once again drawing upon top-notch jazz musicians including saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, bassist Fima Ephron, and keyboardist Jon Cowerd to help shape a sound as warm as it is soulful.
The drummer was digging into some of his favorite music from the 90s when he began formulating the music, which explains the mix of vintage hip-hop, Prince, and sounds of the Black Rock Coalition, whose kingpin, guitarist Vernon Reid, makes some hard-hitting cameos on the record. In some ways the recording unfolds like an imaginary mixtape, seamlessly drifting between those influences, but Smith makes his own mark as a composer and bandleader. There are high-velocity funk-jazz workouts, like “Rambo: the Vigilante,” where both Shaw and Reid chew up the scenery with extended, electrified solos, but there is also the tender, gospel-imbued ballad “Fly (For Mike),” with a remarkable vocal performance from guest Brittany Howard.
Smith isn’t interested in marking territory or compartmentalizing different approaches. Instead, he lets his tunes dictate the personnel, such as the decision to enlist violinist Regina Carter on the slow burn fusion of “Collision,” giving the album shape and narrative flow without being straightjacketed by genre purity.