Kinfolk 2: See the Birds

Kinfolk 2: See the Birds

New York drummer Nate Smith came to prominence as the rhythmic powerhouse behind such varied artists as bassist Dave Holland, singer Jose James, and Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard. But when it comes to putting himself front and center, “I’m a late bloomer as a bandleader,” Smith tells Apple Music. His Kinfolk trilogy, which he kicked off in 2017, “now acts as a way to introduce listeners to who I am by exploring my history and my influences,” he says. Its second installment, Kinfolk 2: See the Birds, is a continuation of him delving into the formative music of his youth, from the Living Colour references of the high-tempo “Rambo: The Vigilante” to the cinematic Sting cover “I Burn for You” and a tender tribute to his late father, “Fly (For Mike),” featuring Howard. Here, he shares his thoughts on the personal journey that the album reflects. “Altitude” (feat. Joel Ross & Michael Mayo) “I had just visited home in Chesapeake, Virginia, and spent some time soaking in the vibe there. When I came back to New York, I sat down at the piano and this little passage came to me. The title was inspired by the feeling of taking flight with the melody of the ascending B section. Having known [vocalist] Michael Mayo for a while, and having admired [vibraphonist] Joel Ross, I figured they would sound beautiful on it and encapsulate that feeling too.” “Square Wheel” (feat. Kokayi & Michael Mayo) “This tune has a mixed meter: It’s a bar of 4/4 and a bar of 7/8, which displaces the feeling of the groove. Once we modulated into the B section, it felt like two songs, and I realized that I would really like to hear an MC on this first part, with the other as a vocal feature. The only person I thought of when it came to an MC was Kokayi. I’d heard him with [saxophonist] Steve Coleman and [drummer] Dafnis Prieto, and he’s the only cat who could really navigate the time in a way that made it feel natural. He came through and just crushed it.” “Band Room Freestyle” (feat. Kokayi) “We recorded a live version of ‘Square Wheel’ and at the end there’s this big-band hit, which for some reason the engineer left on loop. As soon as we heard it two or three times, Kokayi and I looked at each other and we had the same idea to keep it running for another two minutes and to improvise over it. This was a literal freestyle and it’s a moment of absolute joy on the record because we discovered it then and there.” “Street Lamp” “I was thinking about those afternoons in Chesapeake where I’d be playing with my friends until the streetlamps came on. This song has this playful energy where the beat feels like riding bikes around the neighborhood and then the composition starts to stretch out and it paints a picture of what that neighborhood looks like at dusk. Brad Allen Williams plays a beautiful guitar solo on it too.” “Don’t Let Me Get Away” (feat. Stokley) “We have a version of this recording with Amma Whatt singing the lead vocal, but she suggested a man’s voice for the record, and when Stokley’s name came up, it was game over. He’s the lead singer of a great band, Mint Condition, and he’s also an amazing drummer. He’s like Phil Collins in Genesis or Anderson .Paak—he’s got it all. When I approached him, he was so open to being on the record and he crushed it. He sounds beautiful.” “Collision” (feat. Regina Carter) “I met Regina in 2012, when we were on tour with the singer Joe Jackson. We became really good friends, and I think she’s a fantastic musician. With this particular tune, I wanted something that would evoke emotion, and I wanted her to bring that to the music. I sent her the recording and she did it in several passes. I combined her takes together and it sounds like a full orchestration. She’s playing so beautifully and so lyrically—she has a connection with her [violin] where it feels like she’s singing through it.” “Meditation: Prelude” “Usually, I play a drum solo or some kind of prelude before the next song in the live show. I reached out to [Living Colour’s] Vernon Reid about playing on the record, and he gave me this beautiful sonic sculpture that he made in the studio. I isolated it and just wanted to play along with it. It turned out to be one of the more transparent moments on the record because it’s just the two of us playing and I’m using mallets, so it gives it this majestic, orchestral feeling.” “Rambo: The Vigilante” (feat. Vernon Reid) “This track has a frenetic urgency and is a tribute to Living Colour. I didn’t grow up in a house that played a lot of rock ’n’ roll, or even blues, so when I discovered Living Colour, it was like discovering a planet. I didn’t know Black rock existed and when I saw that they looked like me, it blew my mind. They showed me what’s possible for Black musicians and made me want to be a musician. To have their guitarist, Vernon Reid, on this record is a dream come true.” “I Burn for You” (feat. Amma Whatt) “Another set of musicians who deeply influenced me as a teenager was Sting’s solo band. When he left The Police in 1985, he started his own group with jazz musicians and made this documentary called Bring on the Night. The band was composed of Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland, Darryl Jones, and Omar Hakim. Seeing those four Black men adding this depth to Sting’s music opened my mind. Whenever I watch that movie, I can sing every drum fill Omar plays, and I had to pay tribute to this particular song, since he takes an inspired drum solo on it.” “See the Birds” (feat. Joel Ross & Michael Mayo) “In June 2019, I had five days in the studio where I was playing all the instruments and composing. This is one song that came out of that period. I had a melody in my head that I sang to Michael Mayo, and he ran with it. This song sums up the feeling I had as a kid when I’d absorbed all this music: I had all these ideas and I couldn’t wait to get out and start playing. It’s an ode to feeling like you want to be up there, dreaming where the birds are.” “Fly (For Mike)” (feat. Brittany Howard) “Mike is my father, who passed away in 2015. I wanted to pay tribute to him and to thank him for giving me the freedom to dream and to try this life of a musician. When it came time to record the song, it was the 11th hour of the record, and I was getting ready to send the tracks for mastering. I finally worked up the nerve to ask Brittany Howard to sing on it and she was very gracious. She cut it in a week and wrote these gorgeous lyrics. I feel very lucky to have her on the record and to have this song.”

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