Reviews

"BPA -2 Burns Longer" — Reviewed by MASSIMO RICCI. TOUCHING EXTREMES

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"BPA -2 Burns Longer"

Musicians: Fred Van Hove/Damon Smith/Peter Jacquemyn

Reviewed by MASSIMO RICCI. TOUCHING EXTREMES


Fred Van Hove: piano, accordion; Peter Jacquemyn: double bass; Damon Smith: double bass

In a recent email exchange with Damon Smith regarding a renowned contemporaneous pianist, the shard of a somewhat polemical line remained hanging in the memory: “he doesn’t really know about Fred Van Hove”. Upon further rumination I came to realize that neither do I, in spite of having listened to inventive musicians throughout my adolescent-to-mature life. Damn, the holes in my knowledge are so many, the Belgian recusant – whose name was met hundreds of times in writing – definitely among them. So, what better occasion for deepening the aesthetic cognitions than this trio with two matter-of-fact double bassists?

Recorded in 2008 at Brussels’ Archiduc, these über-flurries belong to the category of (mostly) fast instrumental burnout which, at the kickoff, sets a consenting head in the condition of stating “OK – now I’m not going to let these guys go anywhere and will manage to follow every single pitch they emit”. All it takes is, more or less, seven minutes to abandon that bully-ish intent (or, as Mike Tyson would have it, “everyone’s got a plan until they get hit”). The stuff is overwhelmingly voluminous in terms of superincumbent ramifications, and extremely rotund as far as the amassing of resounding clout is concerned. Inside, a lot happens – quick chordal commotions, intoxicated screaming, hysterical arcolepsy, infinite looking towards points of no return, Tibetan vocalizations, turbid growling, implicit dissolution of any conception related to some idea of “well-tempered” harmony. Exhilarating and ear-stuffing (with just a few instants of relative pause), the playing might not leave room for immoderate thoughts but is as democratic as a nudist beach, three bare entities roasting in the rays of a god-awful sun and spitting out swearwords by the dozen – yet still grinning. Burns longer indeed.

"BPA 015 From-To-From" — Reviewed by Eyal HAREUVENI, All About Jazz

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"BPA 015 From-To-From"

Musicians: Alvin Fielder/David Dove/Jason Jackson/Damon Smith

Reviewed by Eyal HAREUVENI, All About Jazz

 


This quartet represents a meeting of generations and their approaches to jazz and improvised music. The quartet resembles such early free jazz units as the New York Art Quartet or the Archie Shepp—Roswell Rudd Quartet. Veteran drummer Alvin Fielder—the eldest member, with an encyclopedic knowledge of modern jazz drumming—is known for his extensive collaborations with saxophonist Kidd Jordan, bassist William Parker and trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez; double bassist Damon Smith studied contemporary music and free improvisation with renowned bass players Lisle Ellis, Bertram Turetzky and Peter Kowald; trombonist David Dove is the director of the Houston—based Nameless Sound educational series, which focuses on improvised music; and the youngest member, saxophonist Jason Jackson, studied with Dove.

The music of the quartet draws inspiration from ancestral bebop, the fiery and spiritual free jazz of the sixties, and open-ended free improvisation, still with a contemporary touch and feel, without attempting to replicate influential outfits. Parker, who wrote the insightful liner notes for the album, refers to the quartet 's artistic output as "creative music," meaning "music that procreates itself in performance to create an entity greater than its seed... music that is informed by all music that exists, known and unknown."

Parker's description, obviously, is accurate. The four musicians operate within the language of free music; the freedom to use all sounds, pulses, textures and colors, but without attachment or any need to be bound by them—just to interact together in the moment, putting their egos aside to be there for the greater, unifying music and to feel its spiritual power. The 20-minutes title piece follows this approach beautifully. The music flows intuitively, rhythms morph and change organically, with powerful interplay that supports the spontaneous, muscular music 'til it possesses all the musicians, gaining more volume, colors and nuances—taking risks, but still always gravitating into an infectious, swinging pulse.

"Which Way Is Out?" is indeed the most "out" piece here. It features the quartet in a sonic journey into unknown and uncharted territories, through inventive extended techniques, an imaginative and insistent search for new sounds and timbres and open-ended collaborative textures, patiently forming common ground. "B,B,B'S x 6/8" leaves similar space for personal improvisation but is anchored with Fielder's steady pulse. The last piece, "Q.D.," summarizes the quartet's aesthetics—nurtured by the extensive legacy of jazz in the last century, but not held captive by any genre, tradition or method.

Simply, as Parker notes beautifully, using freedom as a vehicle for creativity, a means to create powerful, uplifting music.

Track Listing: Ut. Dict.; From-To-From; Which Way is Out?; B,B,B'S x 6/8; Goodtime FFA; Q.D.

Personnel: Alvin Fielder: drums, percussion; David Dove: trombone; Jason Jackson: alto, tenor and baritone saxophones; Damon Smith: double bass.

Record Label: Balance Point Acoustics

"BPA 016 North of Blanco" — Reviewed by Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

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"BPA 016 North of Blanco"

Musicians: Jaap Blonk / Sandy Ewen / Damon Smith / Chris Cogburn

Reviewed by Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

 


Description: Featuring Jaap Blonk on vocals & electronics, Sandy Ewen on guitar & objects, Damon Smith on prepared contrabass and Chris Cogburn on percussion. Since moving to Houston, Texas a few years ago, bassist Damon Smith has continued to work with other like-minded improvisers there as well as a nice selection of international players. Mr. Smith still runs the BPA (Balance Point Acoustics) label and releases a couple discs each year. For this session, Smith invited Dutch vocalist & composer Jaap Blonk to join in a quartet session with the under-rated guitarist Sandy Even and Chris Cogburn on percussion. I do recognize the name Chris Cogburn from a disc on the Another Timbre label with Bhob Rainey(Nmperign) and Bonnie Jones, both of whom are associated with the Erstwhile label. Anyone who appreciates the outer realm of experimental vocalists should be familiar with Jaap Blonk, as he is in a class of his own. The same can be said for Sandy Ewen whose trio disc with Weasel Walter & Damon Smith was touted by Henry Kaiser as one of those unknown gems of avant guitar playing. So, this is a most formidable quartet, strange improv at its best! This disc takes some concentrated effort to hear the various layers and spirited interaction going on. Mr. Blonk has several different characters or voices that he employs not that his voice is heard consistently throughout. There is a good balance between all four members of the quartet, each one is well-integrated into the group sound. It is true that Blonk is unafraid to tap into some of the stranger areas of vocal weirdness, allowing him to interact quickly with the rest of the creative quartet, providing direction or fitting into the spirited improv madness that makes this so extraordinary. There is a great deal of surprises in store for the adventurous DMG listeners out there so dive right into the ocean of sonic effluvia. - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG

BPA-3 Triangles of Force" — Reviewed by Ed Petterson, Freejazzblog

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BPA-3 Triangles of Force"

Musicians: William Hooker, Damon Smith

Reviewed by Ed Petterson, Freejazzblog


Most musicians know that the most important element of a band is the drummer. I’ve worked with some of the best but William Hooker isn’t one of them. I mean, I haven’t worked with him but he is one of the best. You’d have to be great to get me to listen to a 21 minute opening track of just drums.

Recorded in a nice space at a gig presumably (room ambience not attributed to a normal studio and some audience response) it is very well recorded and you can feel every nuance of Mr. Hooker’s playing. The drums sound phenomenal.

I first became aware of Mr. Hooker’s work with Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo (separately) but this is my first introduction to double bassist Damon Smith’s work and it is fabulous. He holds down the second song, “Made Anew”, and it is beautiful. An atmospheric , lyrical and a well-constructed 12 1/2 minute piece. Frankly, I was hoping it wasn’t another all drum track or this would be a very short review. Track #3, “Doorway Into Life”, is a nice duet between the two that lasts just over 14 minutes. You can tell a lot of listening is going on and that these two musicians have a healthy amount of respect for each other as neither steps on the other but adds to the piece nicely and very constructively with Mr. Smith adding some electronic textures in spots via deft bowing.

“Receptivity” is the final cut on the album at just over 12 minutes and flowed so well from the last cut I had to check and make sure they weren’t the same song. It’s a perfect coda to the album as it’s easily the most dynamic piece of the whole set and Hooker and Smith really interact exceedingly well on this.

If you’re a drummer you can add a half star to this review and if you’re not you can subtract a half but I enjoyed it if for nothing else than to hear William Hooker in another context and to be introduced to Mr. Smith’s work.

"BPA 016 North of Blanco" — Reviewed by Ed Petterson, Freejazzblog

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"BPA 016 North of Blanco"

Musicians: Jaap Blonk / Sandy Ewen / Damon Smith / Chris Cogburn

Reviewed by Ed Petterson, Freejazzblog


Funny that right after I send in the William Hooker review I get another record with Damon Smith on it. Sweet. This is a really cool album with a wide array of diverse sounds and adventurous textures.

Quirky birps and bleeps along with bizarre but somehow welcoming vocalizations characterize the first two songs, “Cueing the Nooks” and “Net Kongo” which isn’t surprising consideration Dutch performance artist Jaap Blonk is on this record. It’s opens up a bit more atmospherically and dynamically on the next cut, “Winner Kult Song” but the vocalizations remain a constant throughout. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it can wear you down a bit after a while. Fortunately Mr. Blonk gives guitarist Ewen, percussionist Cogburn and double bassist Smith room to breathe on the next cut “Brewing Tools” before dominating the last third. Ewen, Cogburn and Smith are sensitive and intuitive musicians who never overwhelm the proceedings and should be commended highly. With all due respect I’d love to hear them on a record as a trio some time.

“Hebber Took Us In” and “On the Big Wulk” close out the album in the same fashion and credit must be given to all for the cohesiveness of the recording. Mr. Blonk is an acquired taste but to his credit he didn’t over dominate this album but I can’t help thinking that maybe some folks might be turned off to six cuts lasting almost an hour together of his improvs. Nonetheless this was a cool collection and I’m glad I got to hear it. Add a star if you’re a big fan of Mr. Blonk.

"BPA 001 Mirrors: Broken, But No Dust" (Cassette version) — Reviewed by Stef Gijssels Freejazzblog

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"BPA 001 Mirrors: Broken, But No Dust" (Cassette version)

Musicians: Peter Kowald / Damon Smith

Reviewed by Stef Gijssels Freejazzblog


One of the most spectacular of all bassists was the late Peter Kowald, a true revolutionary on the instrument, someone who brought the entire physical aspect of the instrument - and the player - into the game, a game that really had to go the extra mile, that required the utmost physical and mental and emotional efforts to break through the average and the mediocre, and to open ears to something new, something unheard of, unthought of. He is in the company here of Damon Smith, and the interaction is truly excellent, as you can expect from such a duo. The album itself is a re-issue, now on Smith's own "Balance Point Acoustics" label.

Peter Kowald writes the following on the liner notes :"Recently, I saw a drawing of Man Ray, "Broken Mirrors" 1932, the time of Cubism having been around for a while. I remembered the paintings (on flat canvas) seeing the subjects – often guitars – from different sides and angles at the same time. Broken mirrors don't reflect things with a straight or plane view, but rather in particles, from various angles, out of different positions and in different directions . . . and this is what we try to do with sounds, rhythms, particles of melody, all kinds of musical materials. The idea of dust/no dust on mirrors comes out of the Zen teachings, that is that. When Damon and I met in these days in April 2000 and played, it didn't feel like too much dust being around. I mean that not only because this music is always freshly made, but more even because it is just what it is, not more and not less. That, in this world of things lacking or been blown up so much, looks like a quite dustfree quality". You can listen and download the album from "Bandcamp".

"BPA -2 Burns Longer" — Reviewed by Stef Gijssels Freejazzblog

"BPA -2 Burns Longer"

Musicians: Fred Van Hove/Damon Smith/Peter Jacquemyn

Reviewed by Stef Gijssels Freejazzblog


Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove is one of the founders of European free improv, together with luminaries like Peter Kowald, Peter Brötzmann, Paul Lytton, Phil Wachsman, Paul Rogers and Han Bennink, all musicians with whom he performed and recorded, creating mayhem in the established sounds of the sixties and the decades to follow, forcing audiences into new ways of listening. Now, almost fifty years later, Van Hove still challenges the musical world. We find him here in the company of two bass-players, Peter Jacquemyn and Damon Smith, who are like-minded spirits and both adepts of Peter Kowald, with whom both performed and released albums. Smith is from the US West Coast and Jacquemyn also from Belgium, and he's also a sculptor and draftsman. The sculptures on the album cover are his work. The performance was made in the Archiduc café in Brussels in 2008.

The initial problem with the album is that it delivers what you expect, which is a slightly disappointing experience from three musicians from whom you would hope to hear the unexpected. Van Hove's piano playing is physical, visceral even, percussive, full of wild excursions across the entire range of his keyboard, with the two basses adding bowed and plucked screeches and rumblings. True, Van Hove manages to create tension, and a sense of anticipation for what's coming next, and the two basses are formidable, but we could have almost told you what it was going to sound like, and that's not good enough. We want surprises!

Ok, but then on the third track, which lasts more than thirty-five minutes, you get your surprise, when Van Hove switches to accordion, dragging lots of dissonance and violent sounds out of the instrument, forcing the basses to participate, and then suddenly the bowed screeching and power chords on the bass get a stronger role, and only then the music gets the kind of magic you would expect, relentless, eery, uncanny, dark, full of restrained energy and passion ... that just doesn't stop, that keeps going, as in an effort that leads to physical exhaustion and manic trances. There is something suppressed that comes out, yet not totally, hence the need to keep doing the same thing, more manic, even more forceful, with more power. And strangely, when Van Hove gets back to his piano, after thirteen minutes, it comes as a relief, like drinking water after a long run, like jumping in the river on a hot day, and you welcome the piano's refreshing madness, and you want him to keep going on, with the two basses pushing him forward, and that's what they do.

"BPA 016 North of Blanco" — Reviewed by Eyal HAREUVENI, All About Jazz

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"BPA 016 North of Blanco"

Musicians: Jaap Blonk / Sandy Ewen / Damon Smith / Chris Cogburn

Reviewed by Eyal HAREUVENI, All About Jazz


Innovative Dutch vocal artist Jaap Blonk has created his own highly personal sound poetry. His vocal acrobatics are still an essential element of his sound palette but not an exclusive one. Since 2000 Blonk has developed new means and methods to expand and experiment with his vocals, with live sampling of his vocals, addition of electronics, morphing and mutating his voice with his own software and with like-minded improvisers. His latest three releases feature the breadth of his musical language.

....

This session brings together Blonk with three experimental improvisors from Texas—guitarist Sandy Ewen, double bassist Damon Smith and percussionist Chris Cogburn/ Bonnie Jones/ Bhob Rainey. Together they create six complex, rich and multi-layered textures, recorded during a short tour by the quartet.

None of the four plays or expresses himself/herself sonically in an even remotely obvious manner. Blonk, compared to the three Texans, sound rather relaxed and even amused in these noisy, nervous improvisations. The underrated Ewen extracts otherworldly metallic sounds from her guitar, attaching various objects to its strings; Smith, whose label released this album, first played with Blonk in 1998 in an ad-hock improvising quartet and collaborates frequently with Ewen, plays a prepared double bass, inspired by the sonic ideas of the double bass duo PascAli—Pascal Niggenkemper and Sean Ali, who wrote the poetic liner notes for this album; and percussionist Cogburn colors these open-ended textures with subtle touches.

The 21-minutes "Brewing Tools" feature this fearless quartet at its best. Blonk moves organically between few eccentric, talkative vocal characters, all tuned and integrating into the like minded restless sonic texture. His vocal acrobatics are nurtured by the strange sounds that Ewen, Smith and Cogburn produce, but dominating the intensity of the piece's immediate and tight interplay and its shifting emotional atmosphere.

"Ug 53 Sandy Ewen / Damon Smith / Weasel Walter" — Reviewed by Josh Ronsen, Monk Mink Pink Punk

"Ug 53 Sandy Ewen / Damon Smith / Weasel Walter"

Musicians: Sandy Ewen / Damon Smith / Weasel Walter

Reviewed by Josh Ronsen, Monk Mink Pink Punk


Sandy Ewen, Damon Smith & Weasel Walter — [untitled] (ugEXPLODE) CD This is not your ordinary guitar/bass/drums trio, not by any stretch. Bassist Damon Smith moved from California, where he performed a lot with drummer Weasel Walter lives, to Houston, Texas, where he performs a lot with guitarist Sandy Ewen. So when they went into the studio for their first time playing as a trio, the results are not surpringly together. Most of the time they play a very aggressive and electrolyzing free improv, Walter's explosive outbursts giving free reign to Ewen's scrunchy guitar (steel wool smashed against the pickups is a regular tool of hers) and more electrically processed sounds (feedback and some unrecognizable device, maybe a deftly-used delay device?) from Smith. At times it is hard to tell the two string instruments apart as they merge into an aurally exciting front. A few sections that cool down somewhat are still filled with an active search for new extended techniques and rhythms. Throughout, this record is exciting, perhaps due to Walter's ever changing drum patterns. Ewen has been making fantastic pieces of art with melted pieces of plastic, providing the startling cover art of the record, and also the projections during a stunning 2014 live

http://ronsen.org/monkminkpinkpunk/

"BPA 015 From-To-From" — Reviewed by Craig Premo, Improvised Blog

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"BPA 015 From-To-From"

Musicians: Alvin Fielder/David Dove/Jason Jackson/Damon Smith

Reviewed by Craig Premo, Improvised Blog


Damon Smith is a bassist who in recent years has migrated from Northern California to Houston. He runs the Balance Point Acoustics label, which has several releases with a mix of American and European musicians.

From-To-From brings together three talents from the Houston area with 78-year-old drumming legend Alvin Fielder. The six tracks appear to be all freely improvised, ranging from a 3 minute blowout to an episodic 20+ minute piece.

Unlike some free improv albums, this record is not just about textures, and the frontline of trombonist David Dove and saxophonist Jason Jackson aren’t afraid to mix it up in extended periods of interaction. What is unexpected are those quieter sections where the horn players engage in some West Coast cool school counterpoint, Jackson waxing lyrically on his alto.

Smith provides a framework for the other musicians, and reminds me a little of Barry Guy in that he will let fly with some rapid phrases, and then recede into a supporting role. Fielder, for all his avant-garde credentials, has a solid foundation in all forms of jazz, so it’s refreshing to hear him create a nice gangly free-bop groove at different points, with the horns taking advantage, diving in and out of the waves of rhythm he creates.

David Dove, head of Houston’s Nameless Sound organization, acquits himself well on trombone, with a garrulous sound somewhat reminiscent of Steve Swell. Jackson’s star is seemingly on the rise, as he is now a member of Ingebrigt Haker Flaten’s Young Mothers and has made guest appearances with Dennis Gonzalez’s Yells At Eels.

The Texas jazz scene is the richer for Damon Smith’s presence, and here’s hoping it leads to more concerts and more albums

"BPA -2 Burns Longer" — Reviewed by Ken Waxman, JazzWord

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"BPA -2 Burns Longer"

Musicians: Fred Van Hove/Damon Smith/Peter Jacquemyn - Burns Longer

Reviewed by Ken Waxman, JazzWord


Drummer Lou Grassi partners another improv master, Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove on a GYMC double bill on September 6. Someone like Kidd Jordan, whose commitment to free expression goes back the 1960s, the pianist works in many contexts. One unusual set-up is captured on Burns Longer (Balance Point Acoustics BPA2) playing with Belgian bassist Peter Jacquemyn and American bassist Damon Smith. Grinding and goosing their eight strings the two scramble to keep up with Van Hove whose cadenza stream almost sweeps any interference out of his way. Not that this is a one man show. Both bull fiddlers hold their own, with one at a time fortifying the rhythmic pulse and the other stropping strings. Sharpened stops squeak from the highest register as often as bowed textures outline more supple textures. Although “Archiduc 2” is the most pianistic of the tracks, as Van Hove dampens his note waterfall by percussively stopping inner strings, the concluding 35½-minute “Archiduc 3” defines the narratives. Unexpectedly uncrating his accordion so that tremolo glissandi create an ostinato underpinning, the bassists’ response is close to what could be heard on a baroque recital. Back on piano, Van Hove’s kineticism increases. Yet the technical expertise of Smith and Jacquemyn allows them to not only respond with buoyant tones but also to mutate these timbres to resemble harsh blowing from saxophones or a didjeridoos. Finally just as it seems as if the mixture of splayed strings and cascading lines can’t get any more exciting, the trio reaches a crescendo of interactive polyphony as the altered chords and tremolo strokes meld.

"BPA -4 Hugo Ball: Sechs Laut- und Klanggedichte 19" — Reviewed by Brian Olewnick , Just Outside

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"BPA -4 Hugo Ball: Sechs Laut- und Klanggedichte 19"

Musicians: Jaap Blonk / Damon Smith

Reviewed by Brian Olewnick , Just Outside


Jaap Blonk/Damon Smith - Hugo Ball: Sechs Laut- und Klanggedichte 1916 (Six Sound Poems, 1916) (Balance Point Acoustics)

This is a difficult one for me to properly consider or write about for various reasons. First, I've never really warmed to most Dadaist poetry. Not that it's by any means been an object of serious study (largely due to my not being drawn to it in the first place), but when I've encountered examples over the years, including Ball, as read by others, it simply fails to connect (ok, the Marie Osmond rendition is pretty great). My failing, I'm sure. Second, in my admittedly limited exposure to Blonk's work, both live and on disc, I've similarly been unable to make much of a connection. This is a "condition" I share with many, to be sure: a difficulty with free improvising vocalists generally, not just Blonk. It's long been a subject of discussion why this issue is so (relatively) prevalent among a decent percentage of free music fans, perhaps having to do with certain expectations that come into play when we recognize the human voice, some need for narrative, some reluctance to let it be heard as abstractly as we do a trumpet or saxophone sound. For myself (and I think this is also something commonly shared), I feel more comfortable when the vocalist goes to an extreme in that abstraction, for example Ami Yoshida or Christian Kesten; then I'm able to countenance it better. Again, my failing, no doubt, but not an uncommon one as far as I can tell. (And I absolutely love it when a free vocalist reins him or herself in, using what they've learned, as for instance when Phil Minton sings "The Cutty Wren").

I was thinking that Blonk and Ball seemed to be a natural enough pairing and see that he previously recorded some Ball pieces in 1989 with alto saxophonist Bart van der Putten and bassist Pieter Meurs, similarly titled "Six Sound Poems of Hugo Ball" (Kontrans), and presumably has performed them elsewhere, as he has with Schwitters and others. I'm curious how/if the renditions differed over the year with various collaborators. In this case, I have to say that the results more or less approximate what I expected going in, with Blonk giving excited, often manic readings, generally conveying a kind of mental imbalance or, at least, a different balance from that maintained in the everyday world, entirely appropriate to the Dada spirit, of course. Given that there are texts, it's not free improvised per se but,, obviously, he has great fun with stretching, rumbling and disemboweling the words, made up though they be. Smith, whose playing I always find very fine, including in contexts of which I'm not always too enamored, is excellent here, tending to match Blonk in freneticism, often skittering in high registers. When he lowers the pitch and digs deep into the bass, almost Hadenesque, as on "Karavane" (the piece given such a heartfelt rendering by Osmond), things work very well for this listener, Blonk's ravings given a good, strong counterweight. His arco work on "Gadji Beri Bimba" is also outstanding, again pairing well with Blonk's more full-throated warblings and trills on this piece; similarly with his harsh, dark plucking vs. Blonk's guttural growls on "Totenklage". Given these examples of compatible playing/singing, part of me would have liked to have heard the opposite, say Smith playing richly and melodically alongside Blonk's/Ball's frenzied sound poetry. But so it goes.

If, at the end, I remain not entirely convinced, I wound up appreciating the effort and certain portions of the performance far more than I would have expected. But please take my predilections with a grain of salt. Ball and Dada enthusiasts will very likely derive a great deal of pleasure from this one.

"BPA 016 North of Blanco" — Reviewed by Kurt Gottschalk, Squid's ear

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"BPA 016 North of Blanco"

Musicians: Jaap Blonk / Sandy Ewen / Damon Smith / Chris Cogburn

Reviewed by Kurt Gottschalk, Squid's ear


Jaap Blonk's ensemble improvisations are often his most perplexing projects. It's weird that that should be the case since what he does is essentially behave as an instrumentalist should, but with the voice voice — an actual human voice like most all of us have, even if few of us are capable of the breadth of nonverbal expression Blonk has at his disposal — it creates a bit of a forest/trees dichotomy to hear something so individually present and powerful subsume into a collective.

Which is a rather overworded way to say that in Jaap Blonk's group improvisations I often end up wanting more, overworded to mask the fact that I know my wanting more should not be a part of the equation. Such are the perils of harboring expectations. Blonk is an enormously enigmatic solo performer and an equally equitable team player. But unlike the aforementioned forest and trees, soloist and group member don't always co-exist easily.

Blonk has recorded a number of improv meetings on his travels and North of Blanco is reminiscent of a couple of past Chicago outings: a quartet with Jeb Bishop, Lou Mallozzi and Frank Rosaly (on his Kontrans label) and a trio with Fred Lonberg-Holm and Michael Zerang (issued on the Dutch label Buzz-Records). Here he is found in Texas and in the company of guitarist Sandy Ewen, bassist Damon Smith and percussionist Chris Cogburn.

The 2013 studio recording is an odd mix of busy and subdued. It's not just Blonk that is immersed in the proceedings, it's the whole of the band, drowning in themselves and showing a deep, shared commitment to the group dynamic. The centerpiece is a 21-minute exploration entitled "Brewing Tools" but in point of fact the session comes off as a seamless whole. It's low and growly with clicks and static without falling to rote minimalist or EAI trappings. In a field of strange soundmaking, North of Blanco is, well, a strange record. Abandon expectations, all ye who listen here.

"Relations" — Reviewed by Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

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"Relations"

Musicians: Henry Kaiser / Damon Smith

Reviewed by Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

HENRY KAISER / DAMON SMITH - Relations (Balance Point Acoustics 505; USA) Former Bay Area bassist Damon Smith has been working with guitarist Henry Kaiser for a decade or so and have recorded more than a half dozen discs with various sized projects from their Plane Crash Trio through tributes to Albert Ayler and Derek Bailey to a recent 10-piece HK/Ray Russell with 4 saxists/2 bassists/2 drummers referred to as the Celestial Squid sessions for a Cuneiform release. Damon Smith moved to Houston, Texas a few years back so he and Mr. Kaiser don’t get a chance to play together so often.

This is their first recorded duo effort and it is an all acoustic one with splendid studio sound. Both Henry and Damon have selected a special acoustic instrument to play: Mr. Kaiser on 1998 Monteleone Radio Flyer 7-string guitar and Mr. Smith on 1934 Romanian or German flat back double bass. The music here is very focused or concentrated and intense. Without any devices or effects to use, both Mr. Kaiser and Mr. Smith deal with just extended acoustic improv: odd plucking, deep bass bowing, rubbing strings or the bodies of their respective instruments, etc. I find this music quite challenging, reminding me at times of the level of extreme improv that Derek Bailey reveled in. When I look around in the news and through my e-mail very day, I often get angry at the injustices I see. This music often remind me of the battles that are going on all the time within us and around us. Good vs. evil, light vs. dark, dissonant vs. consonance or harmony. Music seems to illustrate the common ground that holds us together whether we agree or not on ideals or just ideas. Is this disc the soundtrack to our daily lives? Something to think about indeed. - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG

"BPA 016 North of Blanco" — Reviewed by MASSIMO RICCI. TOUCHING EXTREMES

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"BPA 016 North of Blanco"

Musicians: Jaap Blonk / Sandy Ewen / Damon Smith / Chris Cogburn

Reviewed by MASSIMO RICCI. TOUCHING EXTREMES

Jaap Blonk: voice, electronics; Sandy Ewen: guitar, objects; Damon Smith: prepared double bass; Chris Cogburn: percussion

Another gathering of stringently non-tonal, grit-textured, occasionally whispered, ever-trustworthy improvisations by Balance Point Acoustics, whose level of “wink-to-the-audience-while-pretending-to-research” has stably remained on the “zero = no bullshit” mark for years now.

Jaap Blonk has stripped the voluble blathering of the average humanoid to a deviant pharyngeal palette of gurgles, coughs, ill-tempered swines, gruff horses, (virtually) eBowed ugly ducklings and sexless hysterics. He’s still in possession of a glorious “regular” timbre whenever he resolves to use it; the man could declaim the Divine Comedy no problem, and it would surely sound more blasphemous than the original. In this set he is surrounded by an efficient unit of proven provocateurs capable of infringing the codes of foppish coalition.

Ewen, Smith and Cogburn support the needs of a self-nourishing collective entity. Each adds contributions to trigger disconcerting undertides, their sounds revealing grains and particles as if sliced open. The constitutional elements commix by nature, which helps in acquiring contents of uncertainty and, why not, danger with a wry grimace on our lips. The sonorities deriving from unstable objects, prolonged excoriations and lowercase plink-and-zing suggest a visual modality where awkward creatures meet in the damp corridors of a forlorn metal factory to organize an all-acoustic rave interspersed with ruminations about the grim fate they share. Leftovers of pitches and micro-patterns materialize from the improper conduct of instrumentalists seemingly inclined towards a dynamical occlusion. When keeping the secret becomes unfeasible, the intensity swells out of necessity: the music’s abnormal pulse and its innumerable excrescences throw a conclusive punch to the solar plexus of low-budget sentimentalism. In “Winner Kult Song” and, at various junctures, “Brewing Tools” the quartet even retrieves the corpse of reductionism from the dump, reviving it with sensible strokes of resonance.

Sometimes, the synthesis of “disheveled” and “inharmonic” translates as “healthy”. Armed with albums like this, we can wait for Armageddon without fright. Decoding the remnants of erstwhile human cognition will be a less complex task for the survivors.

"Spill Plus" — Reviewed by Stef Gijssels Freejazzblog

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"Spill Plus"

Musicians: Magda Mayas / Damon Smith / Tony Buck

Reviewed by Stef Gijssels Freejazzblog

 


Just below the surface of silence things are moving, yet what these things are remains a mystery, because what you hear is almost the movement itself, you feel the dynamics, the precise intent, the elegance and the sophistication of the changes, the interaction of color and form ... and even the clarity of the tones, and the physical intimacy of the acoustics are here to touch you, to envelop you, insubstantial yet profound, like the precursors of emotions sending out hazy signals, undefinable but real, enigmatic and present. And moving, in the sense of objects and in the sense of emotions, yet the question remains which objects and which emotions, because only the movement itself appears to exist.

A piano trio, with Magda Mayas on piano, Damon Smith on double bass, and Tony Buck on percussion, like you've never heard before.

Beyond the surface beauty lies hidden, now revealed in sonic shards, sharp as steel, or dark particles, sonorous and rich, sprinkling traces of calm in the nervously vibrating silence.

"Spill Plus" — Reviewed by Clifford Allen, Point of Departure

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"Spill Plus"

Musicians: Magda Mayas / Damon Smith / Tony Buck

Reviewed by Clifford Allen, Point of Departure


Houston improvising contrabassist Damon Smith is an “artist’s musician.” Initially known on the West Coast for his involvement in the Bay Area scene, working with players like drummer Weasel Walter, guitarist Henry Kaiser, vocalist Aurora Josephson and saxophonist Marco Eneidi, Smith has also made it a point of working to be in contact with numerous European heavyweights – such as bassist Peter Kowald, pianist/accordionist Fred Van Hove, reedist Wolfgang Fuchs and multi-instrumentalist Günter Christmann. His interest in postwar avant-garde art and music has also led to performances of work by Fluxus artist Ben Patterson, posthumous environmental collaboration with the paintings and sculptures of Cy Twombly, and his own visual art practice.

......

Spill is the long-running duo of Berlin-based pianist Magda Mayas and drummer Tony Buck, with three discs to their credit since 2008. In 2010, Smith joined the pair for an Oakland concert and recording session, which is now seeing its first release as Spill Plus. Mayas and Buck are a tough pair with a focused language of light, metallic nattering between them, the pianist heaping onto the strings and soundboard with clattering implements and toothy plucks, supplanted by a tensile latticework of cymbals and gongs. Smith isn’t quite as brusque here as with Blonk (though that’s a more recent disc), nevertheless choosing his own manner in which to obsessively stump and shepherd the pointillist volleys between hyper-keyboard and drums. Buck’s approach is reminiscent of John Stevens, with steadily ringing impulsions from which Mayas’ resonant whorls and jagged, dimmed chords jut. In an environment of hushed, obstinate accent and sharp diagonals, there isn’t really space for “release” but the threesome’s agitated interplay and gradual subterfuge are a bit more than mere texture. Again, it’s a very specific architecture this group presents, but it yields an array of active, colorful layers.

–Clifford Allen

"BPA -4 Hugo Ball: Sechs Laut- und Klanggedichte 19" — Reviewed by Clifford Allen, Point of Departure

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"BPA -4 Hugo Ball: Sechs Laut- und Klanggedichte 19"

Musicians: Jaap Blonk / Damon Smith

Reviewed by Clifford Allen, Point of Departure


Houston improvising contrabassist Damon Smith is an “artist’s musician.” Initially known on the West Coast for his involvement in the Bay Area scene, working with players like drummer Weasel Walter, guitarist Henry Kaiser, vocalist Aurora Josephson and saxophonist Marco Eneidi, Smith has also made it a point of working to be in contact with numerous European heavyweights – such as bassist Peter Kowald, pianist/accordionist Fred Van Hove, reedist Wolfgang Fuchs and multi-instrumentalist Günter Christmann. His interest in postwar avant-garde art and music has also led to performances of work by Fluxus artist Ben Patterson, posthumous environmental collaboration with the paintings and sculptures of Cy Twombly, and his own visual art practice.

Presenting the Dada sound poetry of Hugo Ball (1886-1927) in concert with aggressively manhandled double bass seems like a logical endeavor for Smith, especially since Dutch voice artist Jaap Blonk is a somewhat regular visitor to Texas. In addition to being a highly theatrical free improviser, Blonk has performed and recorded the works of Ball, Tristan Tzara and Kurt Schwitters – including the latter’s elemental “Ursonate.” The six poems are bookended and split by three improvisations that, for the uninitiated, allow the sound poems to stand on their own. Despite their use of nonsense syllables, guttural noises, creaks and howls, the poems present as extremely specific work, even as an improvisation like “Interlude” feels comparable. Smith accompanies and goads in subtonal, brushy fiddling and hairy, stuttering masses with equal control, or plucks with grace and musculature as Blonk exhorts, cackles and ululates (the dusky “Caravan”). The presence of Smith’s detailed arco and explosive, physical harangues offsets the theatricality of the poems’ delivery to a degree, drilling their slate-cleansing absurdity into something romantic, concrete and immediate. Crisply recorded, the condensed textures of both wood and throat sound extraordinary, whether bashed about in “Dirge” or in more plaintive fragments. This set of poems and improvisations is truly a fantastic notch in both musicians’ already-deep catalogs.

"Celestial Squid / Relations" — Reviewed by Clifford Allen, NYC Jazz Record

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"Celestial Squid / Relations"

Musicians: Henry Kaiser / Damon Smith

Reviewed by Clifford Allen, NYC Jazz Record


It says something about the state of what we call “jazz” and improvised/creative music that a guitarist such as Henry Kaiser can be included, rightly, along figures like Grant Green, John Abercrombie and Sonny Sharrock. After all, there are just about as many ways to improvise on an electric guitar, within or without the ‘tradition’, as there are to skin a cat or juice a steak. Based in the Bay Area, Kaiser was one of the first American musicians to encourage collaboration with European free improvisers and co-founded the Metalanguage label. But he is just as likely to point out the influence of Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir as Derek Bailey and Masayuki Takayanagi and his sphere of experience also includes scoring films and working as a deep-sea oceanographic diver. Kaiser has appeared on hundreds of recordings, from fractured open improvisations to large-group projects reimagining Miles Davis’ electric work or the late songs of Albert Ayler and Mary Maria Parks, as well as a slew of solo guitar discs. The Celestial Squid is the first meeting on record between Kaiser and English guitarist Ray Russell, a heavyweight whose trajectory moved from quixotic postbop in the ‘60s through free improvisation and a blistering take on jazz-rock in the ‘70s before taking a turn into the realms of sound library and soundtrack composition. This is the first Russell disc in quite some time to feature ‘open music’ as many would think of it, though it’s fair to argue that all of Russell’s music post- 1975 has necessarily stemmed from the world of free jazz. The ensemble is a double quintet: the two guitarists and a rhythm section consisting of drummers Weasel Walter and William Winant and bassists Damon Smith and Michael Manring and saxophonists Steve Adams, Aram Shelton, Phillip Greenlief and Josh Allen. Adams’ “Gukten Limpo” starts the set with a meaty, math-rock juggernaut, off of which glint jagged, tinny blues chugging and a horn chorale that quickly becomes knotty and ricocheting. Russell is first out of the gate with thick, redoubled lines, which, while economical, gradually increase in toothy, blistering intensity. Shelton’s alto is bright and choppy against a whirlwind of flaring cymbals and intertwined, electrified strings. Even as things unspool a little, the tune’s pounding, somewhat clunky center retains its glory. “The Enumeration (for Glenn Spearman)” begins with Kaiser’s acoustic guitar falling somewhere between Derek Bailey and William Ackerman in a gentle, dusky tone poem. Reeds, electric guitar and rhythm enter in shimmering, fleshy peals, hoarse tenor and baritone shouts emerging from gauzy ether as players pay their respects in soli and rugged, fuzzed- out dialogue. Coursing through the entirety of The Celestial Squid are the parallel lingoes of Kaiser and Russell, the former an applied encyclopedia of the guitar who nudges and defers to the salty constant inventions of a slightly older Englishman.

It should be no surprise that Kaiser and Damon Smith have a lengthy history—after all, the bassist was a stalwart figure on the Bay Area free music scene until relocating to Houston in 2010. Both are historians and practitioners who have mined the landscapes of obscure artists in the realms of European, Japanese and American creative music for inspiration and to encourage community. Relations is the second volume
of duets between the two players, following 2011’s Fan the Hammer (also on Balance Point Acoustics, Smith’s label). Kaiser sticks to the acoustic guitar (seven-string) on these eight improvisations, but the combined tonal resources of the two players are enough to scuttle any notion that Relations will be a standard set of guitar- bass duos. Between the subtonal, warped masses that Smith goads out of his 1934 upright, he slowly scrapes across the lower reaches of the instrument to create a split-tone platform for Kaiser’s resonant flecks, horizontal string-scrapes and bowing—the latter somewhere between a broken harmonica and a Bennink-ified Chinese violin. But the interplay’s the thing and, whether hacking out a series of apposite actions or interweaving romanticism, Kaiser and Smith build on a fascinating series of Relations.

BPA 015 From-To-From — Reviewed by Jean - Michel Van Schouwburg

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BPA 015 From-To-From

Musicians: Alvin Fielder/David Dove/Jason Jackson/Damon Smith

Reviewed by Jean - Michel Van Schouwburg


Souvenez – vous ! Alvin Fielder est un des batteurs qu’on a entendus dans les premiers enregistrements du futur Art Ensemble of Chicago alors qu’ils n’avaient pas encore rejoints Paris en 1969. Il y eut Phil Wilson, Robert Crowder et Alvin Fielder. Et puis seulement Don Moye. Fielder est un Néo Orléanais et c’est à l’aune de cette filiation qu’il faut apprécier le quartet de From-To-From. Il forme le moteur de l’ensemble et lui imprime une couleur et une impulsion rythmique Louisianaise typique même si les deux souffleurs, le tromboniste David Dove et le saxophoniste Jason Jackson s’envolent en toute liberté avec une bel expressionnisme Great Black Music secondé par la walking basse imperturbable de Damon Smith. C’est la belle impression qu’ils donnent dans le premier Ut. Dict., amplifiée par la fausse nonchalance soul funky du trombone, une voix originale et relativement voisine de celle de Roswell Rudd. Mais dès le début des vingt minutes de From To From, le swing du premier morceau se métamorphose dans une belle recherche de sons, d’ébauches, de commentaires, de rubato lyriques ou inquisiteurs où s’entrecroisent des lignes pleines d’une vraie richesse musicale. Le tempo démarre vers la septième minute et se décale pour soutenir le solo chaleureux du trombone. Il y a dans cette équipe un sens collectif, une joie de jouer décontractée dans une forme d’allégresse en mode mineur, une alternance sax/trombone et Jackson tire parti de l’alto, du ténor et du baryton en fonction de l’orientation de la pulsation. C’est avec surprise qu’on voit le temps défiler à l’aune de la rédaction de ce texte et c’est dire que la musique n’est point ennuyeuse. B,B,B x 6/8 est l’occasion d’ouvrir avec la contrebasse improvisant en avant et les souffleurs voletant en suspension dans l’espace. La configuration instrumentale est mouvante et en constante évolution et l’intelligence du jeu collectif fait de ce quartet un groupe gagnant, sans qu’il sacrifie à la démonstration – étalage technique, virtuosité et tempos d’enfer. Quand ils s’envoient en l’air à tout berzingue, c’est l’affaire de trois minutes créant la diversion parfaite. Le jazz, c’est l’art consommé du temps. On pense au New York Art Quartet (album ESP et Mohawk pour Fontana). Lyrisme, cohésion, équilibre, blues authentique. Une musique pareille ne se cote pas : Vous prenez ou vous laissez ! Moi, je prends tout cela à 100% : la musique du cœur et de la sensibilité !!