What is it with Walter Smith III and “casual”? The Texas saxophonist’s debut album in 2005 was titled Casually Introducing, and a decade later, on his fourth, he assured us he was Still Casual. For his debut on Blue Note he has gathered that album’s six-strong cast for Return to Casual, on which he restates his qualities as a tenor sax player for our times, his airy tone echoing the past – specifically, Dexter Gordon – while embracing the hard-nosed intricacy of post-bop.
It’s an engaging and diverse set of originals, the exception being a cover of Kate Bush’s Mother Stands for Comfort. Much of it is far from casual. The opener, Contra, named after a computer game from Smith’s childhood and appropriately playful, is taken at a furious clip, with assistance from guitarist Matt Stevens and drummer Kendrick Scott. River Styx is a more elegant affair, lifted by the trumpet of Ambrose Akinmusire, and the supporting players are given space on the six minutes of Shine. After the nagging riff of Pup – Pow, more reflective moods include that Kate Bush cover (a sensuous replay of a tricky melody) and Revive, a bluesy, late-night piece where Smith duets beautifully with pianist Taylor Eigsti. A sumptuous treat.