This is going to be one of those reviews. For too long Nate Smith has been a poorly kept secret, accruing praise and inciting astonishment when played as a trump card by the likes of Dave Holland, José James, and most recently Vulfpeck. Now the news is out (propelled by his 2017 release, Postcards from Everywhere) and we can’t get enough. Smith is the drummer you want in every group. Even your favourite ensemble, that perfect band, the one that couldn’t possibly be better. Smith is the stick of dynamite that can make the already fiery explode.
Smith takes centre stage before a young and vocal Jazz Café audience that is hungry for beats that both dizzy and delight. This appetite is fed from the very first track, Skip Step. The clue is in the name, and whilst Smith’s eyes occasionally glaze and fix on some mystical and irregular metronome that only he can see in the middle distance, the rest of the band jerk in a series of rhythmic compulsions keeping a tight grip on a slippery beat one. The most militant in protecting that precious but precariously evasive metre are pianist Phil Peskitt, although when released the former’s cascading piano solos on Retold are a highlight.
It’s a night of relentlessly funking rhythms that keeps the keenest of musos hunting for that hidden displacing quaver, whilst the rest of us holler as Smith lays down multiple grooves for saxophonist Jaleel Shaw to tear Parker-esque lines through. A venue curfew curbed the intended full-band encore, but it was no less a delight when Smith briefly returned for a solo drum show: a feat few could achieve.
Nate Smith’s European tour concludes shortly, before continuing in America. If you can’t follow him across the Atlantic, see what’s coming up next at The Jazz Café.