Portland native Bryan Smith returned to town from Seattle three years ago, and has hit the scene running as a player and composer, releasing two albums under his name this year. The first of these, released back in March, shares its name with an inspirational David Foster Wallace lecture; it also shares a sense of zen-like energy with that speech's central mantra. Featuring a cast of local musicians including pianist Matt Tabor, bassist Andrew Jones, drummer Jonas Oglesbee, and guitarist Ryan Meagher (who, it must be stated for transparency's sake, edits this publication). The compositions are understated without diving into monotony, with elegant melodies that are both stately and expressive. The textural variety here is impressive as well. The record begins with the ambient drone and march-like drums of "Let Me Take You There," while an ethereal guitar and piano ostinato propels the glistening "Made of Glass," and the whimsical "Are We Athletes?" rests on a driving rock beat. Things even go full country on the album's gorgeous closer, the simple and satisfying "Buckles." The record emphasizes the melodic over the technical, group interplay over strong solo moments. Even in moments such as Tabor's billowy solo on "Greatest Hits," Jones and Oglesbee are equally notable, dancing between Tabor's phrases with ease. Meagher offers beautiful textural ideas throughout, and Smith consistently keeps one foot out of the spotlight, keeping his melodic solos short and never letting his soft tone get too biting or bright. It's a subtle and satisfying display of the kind of genre-defying jazz that Portland is producing right now.

Bryan Smith - This Is Water - (2018)