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Grammy-Nominated Drummer/Composer Nate Smith Returns with Kinfolk 2: See the Birds


One of the foremost faces of the current progressive jazz movement, 2x GRAMMY® Award-nominated drummer/composer/producer Nate Smith has announced the release of his inspired new album, Kinfolk 2: See The Birds. The highly anticipated follow-up to 2017’s GRAMMY® Award-nominated Kinfolk: Postcards From Everywhere arrives via Edition Records on Friday, September 17; pre-orders are available now.

To herald the release of Kinfolk 2: See The Birds, Smith is sharing the album’s first single, the hip-hop centric “Square Wheel,” which finds Smith juggling odd-meter beats in unison with rapper Kokayi’s intrepid rhythmic cadence alongside singer Michael Mayo’s impassioned vocals as well as Brad Allen Williams on guitar, bassist Fima Ephron, saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and Jon Cowherd on keys. A companion music video filmed in the recording studio is streaming on YouTube now.

"The politics of a high school cafeteria and band room are cutthroat,” says Smith. “At every turn, there is a brutal competition to be the coolest, the most unique, the most talented, the funniest. The square wheel was me; the kid in the back of the lunchroom with his manuscript pad open, writing snare drum parts for marching band.”

Kinfolk 2: See the Birds affirms Nate Smith as one of the most dynamic drummers, insightful composers, and engaging bandleaders of his generation, adept across infinite genres and multiple styles. The album sees Smith joined by an array of diverse fellow artists, including singers Brittany HowardAmma Whatt, legendary guitarist Vernon Reid, violinist Regina Carter, vibraphonist Joel Ross, rapper Kokayi, and, Michael Mayo, and Stokley Williams (of the pioneering R&B band Mint Condition).

Kinfolk 2: See the Birds marks the second installment in a remarkable trilogy charting Smith’s continuing evolution as a musician and composer. While Kinfolk: Postcards From Everywhere touched upon Smith’s childhood in Chesapeake, VA, and the sounds that he absorbed in his family home, the new album offers an impressionistic portrait of the artist as a young man considering his future in music. Those years saw Smith inspired by the diverse and eclectic riches of Prince and Michael Jackson, hip-hop and the emerging neo-soul movement, as well as music associated with the groundbreaking Black Rock Coalition such as Living Colour (whose trailblazing founder, Vernon Reid, appears on the new album’s menacing “Rambo”). 

“I can’t really overstate the importance of Living Colour’s impact on me,” Smith says. “I didn’t grow up in a rock-n-roll house; I grew up in an R&B house. Besides Prince, the only other Black man that I ever remember seeing with a guitar was George Benson. I didn’t know anything about Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, or even Jimi Hendrix.”

However, Kinfolk 2 is no throwback – Smith reconciles his teenaged influences with the modern jazz sensibilities that he’s demonstrated with not just his solo material but as a sideman with such jazz titans as guitarist Pat Metheny, bassist Dave Holland, and saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and Chris Potter. Recorded mostly in two band sessions – June 2019 at Sear Sound in New York City and February 2020 at the Bunker Studio in Brooklyn – the album projects a dreamy, cinematic sensibility as the music ebbs and flows from wistful downtempo excursions to rugged hip-hop beats, hypnotic alt-rock leaning tunes to amorous laments. Kinfolk 2 boasts a slightly different lineup for its core ensemble than its predecessor. Saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and bassist Fima Ephron return, while Smith welcomes guitarist Brad Allen Williams and keyboardist Jon Cowherd to the combo.

For nearly two decades, Nate Smith has been a key piece in reinvigorating the international music scene with his visceral, instinctive, and deep-rooted style of drumming. He holds a diverse and ample résumé, including work with esteemed jazz leading lights such as Pat Metheny, Dave Holland, Chris Potter, José James, and Ravi Coltrane, as well as collaborations with Vulfpeck spinoff band The Fearless Flyers, Brittany Howard (of Alabama Shakes), Emily King, and Van Hunt.

“Drummer Nate Smith provides more than just a beat. He intentionally weaves nuanced rhythmic counterpoint in and out of his catchy melodies and dulcet harmonies,” said NPR Music for Smith’s Tiny Desk performance in 2017 in support of Kinfolk: Postcards From Everywhere. Hailed by All About Jazz as “a many-faceted jewel whose luster only grows with re-examination,” Kinfolk: Postcards From Everywhere was met by international acclaim, earning two GRAMMY® Award nominations for “Best Instrumental Composition” and “Best Arrangement, Instrumental, or A Capella.” Downbeat gave the album four stars, while the New York Times said, “all sorts of sounds participate in building the rhythm: taut but resonant bass notes, clipped guitar playing, zagging saxophone lines. The result is a sound that’s tart, bittersweet and almost nostalgic…and his drumming is a marvel unto itself.”

Smith – who recently relocated from New York City to Nashville, affording him recording opportunities with multi-instrumentalist Mike Elizondo, producer Dave Cobb, and singers Shania Twain and James Bay – followed Kinfolk: Postcards From Everywhere with projects including 2018’s breakbeat solo drums LP, Pocket Change, and last year’s R&B-infused EP, Light and Shadow.

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