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Collective composition and improvisation are at the heart of In Common, the debut from a group of notable New York City players, several of whom have played and/or recorded with rising-star trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. The band’s sound, with eclectic textures created by saxophonist Walter Smith III, two chordal instruments and a rhythm section, feels alternately open and dense. The quintet sometimes drops down to a Metheny-esque trio with guitarist Matthew Stevens, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Marcus Gilmore, and sometimes — as at the beginning and end of “Foreword” — features an intimate duet between Smith’s agile tenor and Joel Ross’ air-hanging vibraphone.
These unconventional pieces range in length from the one minute and 14 seconds of pensive sax-and-guitar declarations on the opening “Freefive” to the laid back, nearly six-minute blues-edged “Unsung.” If the songs were paintings, they might be described variously as pastel watercolors, oil works with bright, furious flourishes, and abstract mixed-media compositions.
“Yinz” (Pittsburghese for “y’all”) seems to encapsulate the quintet’s approach, as sax, guitar and vibes volley lead lines among themselves, finally landing on a unison statement. “Ace” takes a bit of a detour, starting with distant metallic sounds and pinging bells before shifting to a light backbeat. “Baron” and the bop-fired “About 360” move more quickly, while “13th Floor” features unison guitar and bass lines that creep along in an odd time signature. The group nods to Geri Allen with their take on the late pianist’s “Unconditional Love,” its extended, ambling two-chord prelude sparking Smith’s lovely reading of the lush melody and shimmering solos by guitar, tenor and vibes. It all adds up to an uncommonly engaging aural treat.— Philip Booth