The photo that graces W.E. Smith’s album reveals a lot about the man and his music. It is a photo taken early in the last century of a wooden-planked sheet music shop replete with scores and advertisements for Victrolas’ player pianos. His grandfather and great-uncle owned a family company in Chicago that published music performed by the King Oliver. Over the years, many musicians visited the family home on the south side of Chicago. In his liner notes, Smith writes: "My father and (his uncle) remember running around and playing in the living room while the adults were laughing, drinking and listening to a blind piano player wailing away at the keyboard with a cigar hanging out of his mouth. Little did they know that it was Art Tatum." Smith’s appreciation for his family and the stories associated with jazz are organic to the music that he now plays. His compositions are deeply rooted in the span of history and the African-American experience. They are performed with integrity and sensitivity.
‘Lumbee’ jumps out of the blocks swiftly and never lets down. It’s a sleek, fast-paced sprint that is named after one of his Native American ancestors. ‘How Many Times’ was originally written about the violence in Rwanda and Burundi. It is an inquisitive piece that is sad and reflective with glimmers of faint hope. Like bright jagged glass in a rubble-strewn street that captures the light when you look at it right. ‘Atonement’ was written immediately after his participation in the Million Man March. It is a slow, joyous dance. ‘Pan-African’ is a polyrhythmic piece about the African Diaspora that you’d think would be bitter, but is anything but. ‘Journey Within’ is a centering piece to allow the body to relax and the mind to drift where it wants to go. ‘The Spirit of You’ is clearly a note to his lover or possibly his family. There is a sense of appreciation and connectedness.
Smith bites off broad themes of regional destruction and inner exploration; he mostly succeeds. This is intelligent, well-constructed music. He is succinct; he knows exactly what he wants to say. And he articulates it with warmth and persuasion. This is a person who you’d want to sit on the front porch on a summer’s eve and talk about the history of people’s accomplishments and failings and the fate of the world.