PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Nate Smith: Kinfolk - Postcards from Everywhere

A veteran jazz drummer has produced a terrific collection that straddles jazz and contemporary soul without any of the compromise you expect. It's Glasper-esque... in the best way.

Nate Smith

Kinfolk: Postcards from Everywhere

Label: Ropeadope
US Release Date: 2017-02-03
UK Release Date: 2016-02-03

Drummer Nate Smith has the kind of jazz credentials you can’t debate. He’s played with singer Betty Carter (alongside Miles Davis and Art Blakey, possibly the best eye for talent in jazz history), bassist Dave Holland, saxophonist Chris Potter, John Patitucci, Ravi Coltrane, Nicholas Payton, Regina Carter, on and on it goes. Smith embodies taste and chops in one package, ideas to spare, and is certainly a drummer who is young enough to be a conduit for the new century’s pop music to get into the art form. Right now, he is touring with the singer Jose James, a jazz singer who also makes top-flight R&B with a hip-hop edge.

Kinfolk: Postcards from Everywhere draws on a wide range of Smith’s influences, background, and interests. It is one of those “jazz” records that probably wouldn’t have been possible until recently -- a collection that has plenty of authentic, harmonically complex improvising but also uses soul grooves and vocals to forge a connection back to pop music. As on other recent records by Robert Glasper, Esperanza Spalding, Otis Brown III, and the Revive Music group, the pop/soul elements of Kinfolk are natural and flowing, not commercial calculations that seem grafted onto a jazz record to try to move units.

“Spiracles” is not the best thing in this collection, but it’s an excellent example of how Smith produces a seductive groove that works as a platform for engaging music. The hypnotic feel, set up by a syncopated drum beat, rubbery bass (Fima Ephron), and chiming keys (Kris Bowers), hosts a long-form melody shared by Jaleel Shaw’s soprano sax, Adam Rogers on guitar, and a synth programmed to sound like vibes. Shaw and Rogers spin smart leads. Nice.

“Bounce” has a clipped, shopping guitar figure from Jeremy Most that owes a debt to the Steve Coleman M-Base sound from the ‘90s, and the combination of Shaw’s alto sax and Chris Potter guesting here on tenor -- a pair of horns that snakes around each other in “Part I” -- is all strut and funk. “Part II” smoothes out the feel and lets Potter extend his creativity alone.

Smith gets his other famous employer in the action for “Skip Step”, which is a polyrhythmic workout that also uses the unique guitar of Lionel Loueke and the cool wordless vocals of Michael Mayo. This is a world music workout that puts your hips in motion; it’s not smooth jazz. Holland is more clearly in evidence on “Spinning Down”, which starts with his acoustic bass playing a funky phrase in 10/8 time. A bridge in 6/8 follows, which might make this seem like a complex-sounding music school exercise, but the opposite is true: the melody is beautiful and hummable (stated in unison by soprano sax and guitar), and Bowers gets a chance to shine on a rambling piano solo. Shaw and Loueke also blow, followed by a fabulous duet for Holland and Smith that may be the highlight of the program, all barely contained passion and fire.

That peak is followed by another, and maybe even better tune -- the now-obligatory guest appearance by breathy, breathtaking singer Gretchen Parlato. In less than four minutes, “Pages" enchants, gets lit on fire, brings you to the height of what a great band, improvising, can do for your blood, then brings it back down again. Play it on repeat right away, because that’s what’s coming anyway.

There are two other vocal tracks featuring Amma Whatt, a distinctive soul singer from Brooklyn who absolutely seduces your ear on “The Disenchantment: The Weight”, bathed is a cool string arrangement and topped off with an adventurous Shaw solo, and on “Morning and Allison”, where she proves that hers is a voice you will remember. Whatt (a recent contestant on American Idol, it seems) also co-wrote these tunes. Her voice has just a touch of Macy Gray quirk, but it is a low soprano that also seems like it comes from Ella Fitzgerald by way of Lalah Hathaway.

Nate Smith probably doesn’t have the name recognition to put him beside Robert Glasper in the contest to see who best fuses jazz and 21st century soul music. Maybe that’s not his goal. But with Kinfolk he has created something personal and compelling, soulful enough for a late night in your living room but substantive enough to feel like a real jazz recording. Categories, as usual, be damned: this is wonderful music.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.