Nate Smith ‘Kinfolk 2: See the Birds’ LP/CD (Edition) 4/5

‘Kinfolk 2: See the Birds’ is the new album from drummer and composer, Nate Smith, who looks to follow up on the album’s predecessor four years after its original release.

‘Kinfolk: Postcards from Everywhere’ was released in 2017 via Ropeadope Records and offered a deeply personal perspective of Smith and his music intertwined with elements of family life during his more informative years. Bolstered by some incredible featured artists throughout including Gretchen Parlato and Amma Whatt and a line-up of musicians comprised of pianist Kris Bowers, guitarist Lionel Loueke and saxophonist Chris Potter, ‘Kinfolk: Postcards from Everywhere’ acted as the perfect formal introduction to Nate Smith – the solo star in his own right.

But even in 2017, Smith was certainly not a budding new musician keen to make his mark. Smith’s credentials as a drummer have seen him paired with some phenomenal names in contemporary jazz like the aforementioned Chris Potter and several albums as part of the Chris Potter Underground line-up, along with work for Takuya Kuroda, Monday Michiru, Nir Felder and Dave Holland. Smith can also boast the incredible distinction of having served as a co-writer and co-producer for Michael Jackson’s ‘Heaven Can Wait’ track housed on his final full-length album ‘Invincible’ (2001).

Nate Smith taking centre stage was an inevitable leap and along with his interim independent and EP releases, the notable accomplishments of the ‘Kinfolk’ series fully justify his immeasurable talents.

Now finding its home on the UK’s Edition Records, ‘Kinfolk 2’ seeks to build upon the groundwork laid those four years prior with a band line-up that sees the inclusion of Brad Allen Williams on guitar, Jon Cowherd on keys and returning members from the original Kinfolk collective in saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and bassist Fima Ephron. Musically, the sonic soundscapes are far more expansive this go-round with a deliberate attempt for the album to incorporate more influences and styles throughout the music.

Rapper Kokayi introduces new energy into the project through his inclusion on ‘Square Wheel’ and ‘Band Room Freestyle’ allowing Smith to have his affection for hip-hop represented, while Mint Condition’s Stokley Williams guesting on ‘Don’t Let Me Get Away’ helps to usher in more of an R&B aesthetic, again, serving as a nice update. Harking back to the first ‘Kinfolk’ album for a further time, Amma Whatt’s previous scene-stealing performances on ‘Disenchantment: The Weight’ and ‘Morning and Allison’ make hers a thrilling name to see amongst the guest list here particularly when it comes to the luxurious vocal that she employs to grace the cover of Sting’s ‘I Burn For You’ – a glorious album highlight that sees all of the song’s performers firing off killer performances – no less by Smith who ferociously attacks the drums commanding the overall fervour displayed by all involved.

While it should appear as a relatively safe bet that these new directions would be wholeheartedly embraced by listeners, the album does still deliver songs, however, more in line with what listeners may expect from Nate Smith. Another glistening album highlight would be found with the 6+ minutes of ‘Street Lamp’ which finds itself bounding along within a wonderfully-paced groove which still affords the other members of the band their respective moments to shine through some nice solos.

With ‘Kinfolk 2’ currently expected to serve as the second instalment of a planned three-part ‘Kinfolk’ experience, we eagerly await Part 3 but am more than satisfied with this gem to hold us over till then. There is an extensive US tour through September, October and November with a date in Mexico next year.

Imran Mirza