Walter Smith gets the homage-paying out of the way with the first track of this debut, a reprise of Sam Rivers' "Cyclic Episode," where Smith proves his neo-traditionalist credentials evoking all the tenor sax greats during his torrid solo. For the rest of the album, though, Smith offers his personal interpretation of jazz, putting forth one of the most unique, eclectic and forward albums (let alone debuts) of its time. "Kate's Song" and "Tail of Benin" -- the two tunes following the neo-bop opener -- sound like little else in the new-millennium jazz box. Smith writes a swooping, in-and-out arrangement for "Kate's Song," which takes a late detour into some trance/electronica before the majestic head reappears that features singer Gretchen Parlato scatting under Smith's soprano. "Tail of Benin" begins with Smith's soprano rigged to sound like an android from a George Lucas flick; what follows is an odd tune that jilts and cascades over a groove (laid down by bad-boy Kendrick Scott) that -- at its core -- would have a hip-hopper leanin' and rockin'. Even "Benny's," penned by guitarist Lionel Louke is the kind of song that could've been a regular ol' slow-tempo ballad, instead it builds to an inspiring crescendo, mirroring a characteristic of many of Smith's songs, which gives the album a complexity and whim that keeps it entertaining. And, perhaps most important, Smith's crew is a heavy one. Robert Glasper appears only on "Kate's Song," but turns in (yet again) a performance on the Fender Rhodes that separates him from the pack. The rest of the piano work on the album would be a disappointment, were it not for stellar work from Aaron Parks throughout (the two take an interesting simultaneous piano solo together on "Kate's Song.") Eric Harland and Scott take turns on the drums and Reuben Rogers and Vicente Archer hold down bass duties. That's the cream of the new-school crop, right there. With Smith at the helm, all that young energy can be heard on this recording, a 24-year-old musician's auspicious introduction that wasn't "casual" at all.
AllMusic Review by Vincent Thomas