Live in Texas — Reviewed by Ken Waxmam, The Whole Note

Live in Texas

Musicians: Sandy Ewen; Damon Smith; Weasel Walter

Reviewed by Ken Waxmam, The Whole Note

Set up like a rock power trio, this 73-minute extravaganza features a guitar, bass and drums lineup, but offers more than rhythmic formulae. Not that there isn’t musical strength expressed. Houston-based Sandy Ewen, who plays guitar and objects on the CD, grew up in Oshawa and seems able to transfer some of the noisy industrialization from that city’s auto plants into powerful crackles and flanges. Like an up-to-date assembly line however, despite emphatic knob-twisting and string-snapping each tune moves resolutely forward.

As attuned to the dual demands of rock and jazz as any General Motors technician who moves between the car and truck lines would be up-to-date in his field, Ewen’s associates lock into the groove as handily as a car body is bolted to a chassis. Percussionist Weasel Walter and Damon Smith, who plays double bass and seven-string electric upright, don’t stint when it comes to place-marking, suturing the beat as carefully as if rolling a vehicle off the factory floor. At the same time, tracks like NMASS 3 and Avant Garden 1 find the drummer downplaying rather than pounding the beat so as not to obliterate the others’ solos. As for Smith, his string command is such that during NMASS 1, the buzzy bass line advances with the thrust of a souped-up hot rod to eventually handle as smoothly as a sports car. Smith also bows so delicately that he could be playing in a chamber recital. Just as you can’t tell how a car operates by examining its trim and paint job, Ewen/Smith/Walter take guitar-bass-drum sounds to places you wouldn’t imagine.

Interview on Jazz New England — Reviewed by Gordon Forman

Interview on Jazz New England

Musicians: Damon Smith, Henry Kaiser, Weasel Walter, Sandy Ewen

Reviewed by Gordon Forman


Jazz is a pretty small niche in the music industry and free improvisation and new music, often considered as jazz in this country is a very small subset indeed. Damon Smith has found a way to excel and thrive in a very small puddle. As well as being a virtuoso bassist, his Balance Point Acoustics label features a who’s who of musicians play in that genre.

Although I’ve been listening to improvised music for years my conversation with Damon opened up a whole new avenues for appreciation a whole new ways to think about sound and composition.

We talked about:

  • His recent move to the Boston area via Houston and San Francisco
  • Improvisation and composition
  • Bass and instrumental language
  • His work with Henry Kaiser

The Shape Finds Its Own Space (FMR 429; UK) — Reviewed by Bruce Lee Galanter


The Shape Finds Its Own Space (FMR 429; UK)


Reviewed by Bruce Lee Galanter

ALVIN FIELDER / FRODE GJERSTAD / DAMON SMITH - The Shape Finds Its Own Space (FMR 429; UK) Featuring Alvin Fielder on drums, Frode Gjerstad on alto sax & clarinet and Damon Smith on double bass. Original AACM drummer, Alvin Fielder, can be heard on some essential recordings by Roscoe Mitchell a half century ago. Mr. Fielder moved back to Mississippi in 1969, which is where he has been based ever since, teaching, playing and being closely involved in the southern avant/jazz scene. After working & recording with Ahmed Abdullah, Charles Brackeen & Dennis Gonzalez, Fielder has had an ongoing collaboration with Kidd Jordan and Joel Futterman. More recently, Fielder has been recording with bassist Damon Smith in a duo and now a trio with Norwegian reedman Frode Gjerstad. Mr. Fielder is a scholar of jazz drumming so check out interviews with him to learn about what is special about many jazz drummers throughout jazz history. Mr Gjerstad is an respected elder who has been playing and recording for nearly forty years. Gjerstad has worked with a steady stream of great rhythm section players: John Stevens & Johnny Dyani, William Parker & Hamid Drake and Paal Nilsson-Love & Jon Rune Strom, to name just a few. 
This set was recorded live in Austin, Texas in February of 2016. This music is extraordinary, free spirited and intense! This trio moves organically, always focused as one force of nature. There is a long, story like drum solo in the first section of this near 44 minute set. Mr. Gjerstad is also pretty feisty on clarinet, bending and twisting his notes inside out - this is some of the most explosive clarinet playing I’ve heard, similar to the way Peter Brotzmann wails on his tarogato (an eastern European over-sized clarinet). The set is well-recorded and balanced just right, unfolding in a natural way through valleys and up to the mountains of madness and back again. The free spirits of delight! - BLG/DMG 

Nearly Extinct — Reviewed by Massimo Ricci, Squid's Ear

Kaiser NearlyX FRONT700x700

Nearly Extinct

Musicians: Henry Kaiser / Steve Parker / Damon Smith / Chris Cogburn

Reviewed by Massimo Ricci, Squid's Ear

For inexplicable reasons this quartet brings us back to the times of youth. The discovery of previously unclassified sounds on a newly acquired album meant afternoons and evenings spent trying to decode its unusual messages, while looking for pseudo-familiar elements to clutch at. We used to feel proud amidst "rock & pop only" specimens who, in our presumptive imagination, could not possibly have a clue about freeform music. Those were the first signs of a life adventure which would warrant enormous satisfactions in terms of real learning — as a practicing musician, sonic explorer and human being at large — but also the beginning of a gradual process culminating in almost complete isolation. Paraphrasing Henry Kaiser (and his then-comrade Fred Frith), with enemies like these who needs friends?

In spite of the record's title, we're comforted by a truth: unlabeled improvisation is not extinct at all. In this session, the mix of confidence and experience produced seven tracks of self-denying collective research characterized by voluble environments and less than predictable timbral shifts, with the alluring addition of quieter/droning segments ("Hixkaryána"). Kaiser is still a formidable guitarist when he's in the right mood, capable of balancing noisy humor and ferocious microtones. Sheer inventiveness expanded by a renowned mastery in the use of effects, frequently connected in implausible chains. In the impossibly titled "Nunatsiavummiutut" this uncontainable energy rides a buzzing harmolodic-like drive generated by the rest of the band; everybody contributes to a top-rank textural dissidence.

Speaking again of single members, Parker is perhaps the one who surprises me the most: his trombone conveys intelligent exuberance and wavering sorrowfulness in unique ways. Smith confirms his willingness to destroy and immediately reconstruct languages on the double bass while maintaining an implicit lyricism, whereas Cogburn remains in control whatever the dynamic circumstance, stepping nonchalantly inside the music's cooperative administration to mislay the remnants of a pulse that was doomed to disintegration from the outset.

Lake Monsters & Relations — Reviewed by Dan Sorrells, Free Jazz Blog

Sandy Ewen Henry Kaiser2

Lake Monsters & Relations

Musicians: Damon Smith, Henry Kaiser, Sandy Ewen

Reviewed by Dan Sorrells, Free Jazz Blog

Damon Smith, Henry Kaiser, Sandy Ewen


Henry Kaiser & Damon Smith – Relations (Balance Point Acoustics, 2015) ****

Sandy Ewen & Henry Kaiser – Lake Monsters (Balance Point Acoustics, 2015) ***


By Dan Sorrells

The tracks on Relations take their titles from poet Peter Riley’s Company Week, a book improvised along with the fabled Company Week concerts in 1977. Riley, writing at an earlier time about Derek Bailey, also does well to describe the duo of Henry Kaiser and Damon Smith: the guitar and bass are “fully realized in [their] entire range of modes, every possible kind of vibration of string and of the wooden hollow by every manner of plucking and otherwise manipulating the length of gut or wire.”

The acoustic strings of Relations provide ample opportunity for a real duologue; if you accept the analogy of improvisation as a conversation, an unadorned duo may be the clearest and most engrossing. Kaiser was among the first musicians Damon Smith played with upon turning to improvisation, and the two have a musical rapport that reflects their twenty years of collaboration. Relations is an hour of low-velocity, high-impact playing, a mist of messy partials thrown from buzzing, rattling strings. Kaiser’s deft command of harmonics and his brusque, percussive attack are parried by Smith’s wild technique, a furor of skittering bow, thumped wood, and sul ponticello howls. Though a fleet pizzicato player, Smith has increasingly turned to bow work to prod at the limits of the bass, and on tracks like “A Garden, Then Not A Garden” he all but erases the idea of notes in favor of more complex, indeterminate sounds.

But if Smith is pushing ever closer to a center of pure sound, Sandy Ewen is who he will find nestled at its core. Very little about Ewen’s guitar playing is recognizable as such: guitar flat in her lap, she jabs at pickups, scrapes along the bridge, clatters under the strings, tweaks knobs. Her mode of improvising is a whole different species than Kaiser’s, though armed with an electric guitar and his pedals, on Lake Monsters he is often able to contend with Ewen’s peculiarity.

Still, dialogue is more strained here: rather than the fluent repartee of Relations, Lake Monsters is more like charades. In some respects, Ewen and Kaiser powering through their unfamiliar pairing is more in the spirit of Company Week than Relations; common ground becomes less the means to begin improvising than an end that must be sought through intense, focused playing. Ewen acts as a colorist on the more effective tracks like “Mokele-Mbembe” and “Storrsjoodjueret,” with Kaiser plucking harmonics on his acoustic guitar while Ewen hauntingly seems to pass between planes of existence. On “Old Greeny” and long centerpiece “Irizima,” she pushes him into experiments with feedback, Kaiser’s long, distorted vibrato tunneling through her splintered, buzzing haze. 

Ewen is also notably a visual artist who makes “microcollages” by melting plastic and other materials together onto projector slides. Being aware of this seems relevant, at least in part, to her music, which similarly melts the guitar’s output—both her own and Kaiser’s—into swirls and drips of sound. Texture feels like a tangible musical quality in Lake Monsters, rather than a word deployed when at a loss for words. 

Two provocative releases from last year that aren’t to be missed, and show not only Kaiser’s versatility, but also that of Smith’s Balance Point Acoustics label.

Yclept (also reviewed: Günter Baby Sommer Live in Jerusalem) — Reviewed by Ken Waman,


Yclept (also reviewed: Günter Baby Sommer Live in Jerusalem)

Musicians: Birgit Ulher (trumpet, radio, mutes and speaker); Ariel Shibolet (soprano saxophone); Adi Snir (tenor and soprano saxophone); Roni Brenner and Michel Mayer (guitar); Damon Smith (bass and laptop) and Ofer Bymel (drums)

Reviewed by Ken Waman,


Balance Point Acoustics BPA 014

Günter Baby Sommer

Live in Jerusalem

Kadima Collective KCR 19

Fraught with extra-musical baggage, the idea of a co-operative session between German and Israeli improvisers seems bizarre. Yet, as these first-rate CDs demonstrate, commitment to free-form experimentation and open-minded sound extension overcomes any number of polemics. The only people who likely will be surprised, shocked or offended by such cross-cultural understanding are those whose ignorance of Middle Eastern realpolitik is likewise endemic.

One of the most notable revelations of these discs is how well Israeli improvisers stack up when playing with the best from other countries: German drummer Günter Baby Sommer on Live in Jerusalem and German trumpeter Birgit Ulher and American bassist Damon Smith on Yclept. Despite ferocious anti-Israeli sentiments in some circles – encompassing in many cases another more pernicious “anti” – these players, based in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, are as idiosyncratic in their playing and open to new experience as committed improvisers anywhere. Condemning and boycotting them and other artists because of some of their government’s policies is nonsensical. In terms of sound, the Sommer session is more attuned to Free Jazz, while Free Music in its most basic form enlivens Yclept.

Acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of German Free Music, extroverted drummer Sommer has plied his trade with such local and international improvisers as pianists Ulrich Gumpert and Cecil Taylor, saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. He’s thus perfectly comfortable rolling, ruffing, smacking and stroking his drums no matter the situation. With the CD broken up into duos, trios and quartets – plus one solo drum feature – Sommer pulls out the heavy artillery when playing with soprano and baritone saxophonist Steve Horenstein – a transplanted American who has worked with trumpeter Bill Dixon – and tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist Assif Tsachar – whose diasporic sojourn took place in New York in the company of heavy-hitters such as pianist Cooper-Moore and bassist William Parker.

Mixing shrill tangents, altissimo cries and subterranean slurs, each reedist takes full advantage of his instrument’s versatility. Hornenstein’s wriggling full-bore improvising abets a fantastic display of rim shots, ricochets and ratamacues from the drummer, while Tsachar shakes out diaphragm-pushed irregular notes half-speed. Other places quivering reed bites and screams face percussion rebounds, rattles and ruffs.

Cross-sticking a martial beat elsewhere, the percussionist’s whaps and resonating verbal cries provide the perfect left-right response to horn players’ creations in double counterpoint. Horenstein’s externally directed slurps and rattling blasts are also a contrapuntal challenge to Tsachar, who exhibits glossolalia-like runs on saxophone, plus sluicing stops on bass clarinet. Mediating on a couple of trio or quartet tracks and keeping the underlined beat steady is bassist JC Jones, who manages to work sul tasto colors in among his walking rhythms.

Just as fascinating is “Yo Yo Yo” with Sommer – who teaches music at the university level in his hometown of Dresden – trading licks with a trio of younger players: tenor saxophonist Yonatan Kretzmer, bassist clarinetist Yoni Silver and guitarist Yonatan Albalak. With an undertow of rumbles and rebounds, the drummer makes common cause with both horns in harmonic unity or when separately Silver puffs out chalumeau yawns and vibrations and Kretzmer sounds hocketing cries and reflux. Distinctively Albalak inflates the soundfield with sprays of slurred tremolo tones plus knob-twisted and wah-wah pedal processed distortions that introduce fortissimo alien wave forms to the interaction.

Sommer’s single run-in with a guitarist is multiplied by two as Ulher and Smith improvise on seven tracks recorded in Tel Aviv with a completely different set of Israeli players. Only soprano saxophonist Ariel Shibolet is a young veteran whose career includes playing with French bassist Joëlle Léandre when she was in Israel and California gigs with Smith, pianist Scott R. Loney and others. Similarly, Oakland-based Smith and Ulher from Hamburg have concertized in Europe and North America, with many older and younger free musicians. Meanwhile Tel Aviv-based guitarists Roni Brenner and Michel Mayer, drummer Ofer Bymel and tenor and soprano saxophonist Adi Snir are so far known, if at all, in Israel.

Proper showcase for all concerned is the 13½-minute fifth improvisation which initially alternates wood-vibrating smacks and sul ponticello sweeps from Smith, rattling smacks from Bymel, yelps and bites from the saxophonists and rubato tongue stretches from Ulher. As her growls and flutters transform into mulched tones and then to gusting grace notes, the saxophonists respond with thin whistling, Smith splatters and rips new textures from his bass –probably helped by laptop wizardry – and the guitarists thump and scratch downwards from strings to pick guards.

Elsewhere electronic wheezes make common cause with plinks plunks and rattles from the guitars as agitato, striated bass motions meet mute or foreshortened breaths, lip burbles or mouthpiece oscillations from the trumpeter. Featuring an equivalent trumpet-saxophone mix that matches moist tongue slaps and mouth percussion with quivering, squeaky reed bites, “Yclept 7” is an even more expressive group improv.

Here the electronic attachments to Ulher’s trumpet project wave forms skywards in counterpoint to agitato and inchoate string rubs from the guitars and dislocated vibrations from Snir and Shibolet. The tenor man swallows bird-like chirping so that it reemerges as thick, guttural blasts, as the soprano saxophonist mixes shrilling reed yelps with timbres that could come from a bagpipe chanter. Smith’s sul tasto rubs then spiccato jabs offset flat-line colored air movement from the saxophonists and Ulher’s tremolo triplets while Bymels’s steadying rat-tat-tats hold the beat and complete the sonic contact.

While it’s true that music may involve socio-political undertones – no matter how pure and questing it may seem – it’s equally true that uniting sophisticated musicians from different milieus can create notable discs like these. Anyone who would boycott artists from any country because of their government’s action is not only guilty of short-sighted malice, but doesn’t have enough faith in art’s transformation power. The 13 musicians represented on these CDs easily make the case for co-operation.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1. Bojoh#+ 2. Jassek#+& 3. Sommertime 4. Bast#& 5. Yo Yo Yo* 6. Sababa&

Personnel: Live: Yoni Silver (bass clarinet)*; Assif Tsachar (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet)&; Yonatan Kretzmer (tenor saxophone)*; Steve Horenstein (soprano or baritone saxophones)#; Yonatan Albalak (guitar)*; JC Jones (bass)+ and Günter “Baby” Sommer (drums) [all tracks]

Track Listing: Yclept: 1. Yclept 1 2. Yclept 2 3. Yclept 3 4. Yclept 4 5. Yclept 5 6. Yclept 6 7. Yclept 7

Personnel: Yclept: Birgit Ulher (trumpet, radio, mutes and speaker); Ariel Shibolet (soprano saxophone); Adi Snir (tenor and soprano saxophone); Roni Brenner and Michel Mayer (guitar); Damon Smith (bass and laptop) and Ofer Bymel (drums)

Burns Longer — Reviewed by Ken Waxman,

BPA 2 Burns Longer BC

Burns Longer

Musicians: Fred Van Hove / Peter Jacquemyn / Damon Smith

Reviewed by Ken Waxman,

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.

People in Motion — Reviewed by KFJC


People in Motion

Musicians: Gianni Gebbia / Damon Smith / Garth Powell

Reviewed by KFJC


Gebbia, Gianni; Smith, Damon; and Powell, Garth – “People In Motion” – [Rastascan Records]

“People in Motion”, the 1999 release from Gianni Gebbia (alto saxophone), Damon Smith (contra bass) and Garth Powell (percussion) is ten pieces of improvisation which covers a spectrum of sound. This is not just onslaught improvisation. This is improvisation with subtlety and breathing room as well as larger groupings of sounds. The players obviously respect each other’s playing and intuition for each is given the time and space to experiment and explore with their musical ideas. Some parts of the pieces are downright harsh but others are thought provoking and humorous. Not that harsh is never thought provoking. It is simply the mix which makes the project more enjoyable. Seriousness and humor are shown right up front with the front and back cover art. This prepares us for the opposites that will be within the music. Track 1, “All Across the Nation” starts out with mallard calls and reed blowing sounding like duck calls. An interesting way to catch our attention. By track three, “A New Explanation”, the trio is playing over and around a recording of a gamelan orchestra. The following tracks are interplays with the three musicians, sometimes falling into straight ahead jazz soundtracks (for moments) and then exploding into a more free form experience. All tracks are worthy of our listening attention.

  • Reviewed by Naysayer

People in Motion — Reviewed by AllMusic Review by Steve Loewy


People in Motion

Musicians: Gianni Gebbia / Damon Smith / Garth Powell

Reviewed by AllMusic Review by Steve Loewy

This humor-laced CD is packed full of the sort of sophisticated performances that characterize so much of the European scene. The Italian Gebbia combines the technique of Evan Parker with the broad spirit of Albert Ayler to create some very compelling tunes. Damon Smith plays a primarily secondary role on bass, while Garth Powell's oddball clicks and clacks supply the table with delicacies galore. Filled with off-the-wall snorts and quacks, the trio members sound like they are having fun from moment to moment. Gebbia's vibrato-drenched spoof of late Ayler on "There's a Whole Generation" cannot help but bring out a few smiles. The album cover is a hoot, with riot police dominating longhaired protesters as an illustration of the title. All is not fun and games, as Gebbia displays an impressive command of his horn.

Song For Chico — Reviewed by Robert D. Rusch

BPA 6 Song for Chico CVR DD

Song For Chico

Musicians: Alvin Fielder / Damon Smith

Reviewed by Robert D. Rusch

ALVIN FIELDER [drm] and DAMON SMITH [b] have teamed together as a duo and produced SONG FOR CHICO [Balance Point Acoustics bpa-5]. Recorded 11/13/13 the title refers to Chico Hamilton, a close friend of Fielder, who died just before this recording took place. The title track is for Hamilton but to my ears reflects none of Hamilton’s style. Among the 6 tracks [63:24], there are 3 totally free improvs covering over 40 minutes of the CD and it is on “Improvisation 3” where the music come into its element. I approach a free duo like this one by trying to hear the dynamics of the setting, who leads who follows. That of course can change from one improv to another and/or within the improv itself. But here there was no clear leadership as the playing often seemed parallel. On “Roots” [9:34], for Johnny Dyani, Smith leads with some very fine bass work then it segues over to a thoughtful drum solo. Very nice.

Nearly Extinct — Reviewed by Robert D. Rusch

Kaiser NearlyX FRONT700x700

Nearly Extinct

Musicians: HENRY KAISER [gtr], CHRIS COGBURN [drm], STEVE PARKER [tbn] and DAMON SMITH [b]

Reviewed by Robert D. Rusch

If random sounds close miked are your choice of listening might I suggest NEARLY EXTINCT [Balance Point Acoustics 707] by the quartet of HENRY KAISER [gtr], CHRIS COGBURN [drm], STEVE PARKER [tbn] and DAMON SMITH [b]. Here are 7 cuts [78:18] recorded 4/3/15. The highlight is the opening track [20:00] which opens kattywompus and then like surf colossus forms a wave with direction. The trick with such build up is how to end it and here they go to a mechanical fade, rather a cop out. Other endings are more coordinated.

Song for Chico (Balance Point Acoustics) — Reviewed by Derek Taylor, Dusted

BPA 6 Song for Chico CVR DD

Song for Chico (Balance Point Acoustics)

Musicians: Alvin Fielder & Damon Smith

Reviewed by Derek Taylor, Dusted

Alvin Fielder & Damon Smith – Song for Chico (Balance Point Acoustics)


Despite a career in music spanning well over a half-century, drummer Alvin Fielder has rarely graced an album as a leader. It’s a reality that beggars belief considering his stature as an improviser, educator and AACM founding member. He’s been an equal participant in dozens of recording sessions, putting to rest the passive connotations of sideman, but Song for Chico marks the only the second time his name has placed first in the billing. Bassist Damon Smith is to thank for that having organized the studio session and released it on his Balance Point Acoustics imprint. Smith is a staunch believer in deference towards one’s elders, a stance that comes through in everything from his rigorous efforts at advocacy to regular acknowledgments of the debts he owes musically to those who have come before.

Fortunately, Smith’s unerring admiration doesn’t extend to a passivity or acquiescence when it comes to the actual making of music with his heroes. Rather, he’s an active and even aggressive instigator and that willingness to test the mettle of those he respects informs each of six duets that comprise the disc. Fielder arrives at a similar place at the outset, recognizing Smith’s talent by engaging him directly and never allowing him to coast or become complacent. Three lengthy free improvisations join three pieces based on original and borrowed compositional structures. On the opening encounter Fielder builds fractious beats with brushes and later sticks as Smith progresses from bow to fingers, falling into a striding, descending line at one juncture before exploding it in a burst of eliding strums.

The second improvisation stretches the dynamic spread even further with Smith working bow feverishly across strings to create an oscillating tract of cantilevered sound. Fielder answers with a comparably broad range of rhythmic patterns, his sticks racing across surfaces to create a surging and receding field of texture and color. Brief solo detours echo the sort fluid, melodically-minded structures pioneered by Max Roach and Ed Blackwell, two of Fielder’s earliest teachers. Smith’s sawing retorts take on palpable percussive properties of their own and demonstrate the divide between the respective instruments as being only as prevalent as the players wish them to exist. A concerted spray of high bridge scribbles, frothing cymbals and chattering snare brings the conversation to satiating culmination.

Turning to the pieces based in part on pre-composed material, “Variations on Untitled by Cecil Taylor” weds tonally-rich arco ribbons with choppy commentary from Fielder. Smith speed in switching from digital manipulation to rosined implement is startling and Fielder responds in kind, varying and volleying his attack to reflect the fleetingly deployed differentials. Dedicated to drummer Chico Hamilton, the title piece and Johnny Dyani’s “Roots” find the pair at their most overtly structured with Smith shaping somber, gossamer figures against aqueous bells and brushed skins on the first and negotiating web of ricocheting micro-gestures and bowed resonances on the second to spare, mallet-driven response. Smith would be the first to admit a teacher/pupil relationship, but the music comes across conclusively as the product of peers.

Derek Taylor

Song for Chico BPA -6 — Reviewed by Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG

BPA 6 Song for Chico CVR DD

Song for Chico BPA -6


Reviewed by Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG

ALVIN FIELDER / DAMON SMITH DUO - Song for Chico (BPA 6; USA) Featuring Alvin Fielder on drums and Damon Smith on double bass. Early AACM member and legendary drummer, Alvin Fielder, whose career stretches back more than fifty years, can be found on some thirty discs but mostly playing with the same group of musicians: Kidd Jordan, Joel Futterman, Dennis Gonzalez, starting out with Roscoe Mitchell in 1965. A generation or two younger,contrabassist Damon Smith has worked with heavies like Peter Kowald, Fred Van Hove and Henry Kaiser. Three of the six pieces are dedicated fellow musicians/inspirations Cecil Taylor, Chico Hamilton (title piece) and Johnny Dyani. I recall reading a fascinating interview with Mr. Fielder in Cadence magazine in which he described at length what was unique about each of his favorite drummers. Alvin Fielder has studies drummers at length and his playing reflects this wealth of observations put to good use. The balance, blend and exchange of ideas is consistently splendid. There is an ongoing conversation, an organic back and forth flow of ideas. What is interesting is the way both of these instruments blend into one sound/stream, the drums played melodically and the bass played percussively, often blurring the lines between both players. Mr. Fielder’s playing on “Variations on Untitled by Cecil Taylor” reminds me of Andrew Cyrille, the great former Cecil Taylor alumni. Damon Smith is a master of bowed bass and sounds inspired throughout, weaving a web with Mr. Fielder’s equally creative drumming. Best rhythm team only record I’ve heard since those two by William Parker and Hamid Drake, and that is really something special! - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG 

Lake Monsters (Balance Point Acoustics, 2015) — Reviewed by Eyal Hareuveni, Free Jazz Blog

Sandy Ewen Henry Kaiser

Lake Monsters (Balance Point Acoustics, 2015)

Musicians: Sandy Ewen & Henry Kaiser

Reviewed by Eyal Hareuveni, Free Jazz Blog

Sandy Ewen & Henry Kaiser - Lake Monsters (Balance Point Acoustics, 2015) ***½


Kaiser wrote the sleeve notes for the debut album of Ewen, Smith and Walter, advising the trio to "forget about melody, harmony and rhythm for the moment and listen to everything else that you can hear going on." Same advice can be applied to this live recording of Kaiser and Ewen, part of a six-hour marathon of Kaiser from December 2013 in Houston that produced two other releases for the Balance Point Acoustics label. 

Ewen plays here the electric guitar while Kaiser alternates between electric and acoustic guitars. Ewen plays the guitar flat on her lap, her legs are involved, move and knock the instrument around with refined small gestures and full scale violence. Kaiser alternates between playing standing or in a seated manner, allows for chance within his pedal board. Ewen, the architect, explores nuanced textures while Kaiser, a a research diver in Antarctica, always searches for new sound universes, alien and strange as they may sound. Both playing is quite physical and anything but obvious, but Kaiser, the more experienced and stronger - literally - improviser (he trains in martial arts), is also a much stronger musical personality. His vocabulary references elements from psychedelic rock - as one who is proficient in the Grateful Dead legacy, the history of jazz, different folk and world music traditions and of course free improvised music. But here Kaiser opts to explore together with Ewen otherworldly, sound-based textures and spice these free-formed textures with light, rhythmic ingredients. This modest and inclusive approach enriches Ewen playing and charges these duets with fresh tension.  


Live in Texas (Balance Point Acoustics, 2016) BPALTD 808 — Reviewed by Eyal Hareuveni, Free Jazz Blog


Live in Texas (Balance Point Acoustics, 2016) BPALTD 808

Musicians: Sandy Ewen / Damon Smith / Weasel Walter

Reviewed by Eyal Hareuveni, Free Jazz Blog

Sandy Ewen / Damon Smith / Weasel Walter - Live in Texas (Balance Point Acoustics, 2016) ****

Ewen has collaborated closely with double bass player and Balance Point Acoustics label founder Smith since his arrival in Houston in 201o. They recorded a duo album, Background Information (BPA, 2013), and Smith introduced her to avant-guitarist Henry Kaiser, worked together in an ad-hoc quartet with Dutch vocal artist Jaap Blonk, and played in a trio with Smith punk-jazz drummer Walter, that released its debut album, Untitled, on Walter's label (ugEXPLODE, 2012). Ewen continues to collaborate with Walter in a trio with vocalist Lydia Lunch. 

Live in Texas offers seven hyperactive and urgent improvisations of the reunited trio of Ewen, Smith and Walter, three were recorded recorded in Austin at the NMASS festival in 2014 and the other four in two venues in Houston - Cactus Records and Avant Garden - with no mention of the time of the latter recordings. This is a hard-working trio, busy searching for uncharted, alien terrains, exploring intense dynamics and then deconstructing its them with sheer brutal force, melting their sound universe into a buzzing, explosive unity and always opts for abstract, structural disruption.

Live in Texas - BPA LTD 808 — Reviewed by Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG


Live in Texas - BPA LTD 808


Reviewed by Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG

SANDY EWEN / DAMON SMITH / WEASEL WALTER - Live in Texas (BPA LTD 808; USA) Featuring Sandy Ewen on guitar & objects, Damon Smith on double bass & 7-string electric upright bass and Weasel Walter on percussion. This is the second disc from this trio which features Houston-based guitarist Sandy Ewen along with bassist Damon Smith (recently moved from Houston to Boston) and NY drum wizard Weasel Walter. Since the first disc was released Ms. Ewen has gone on to record a duo with Henry Kaiser and a quartet with Damon Smith, Jaap Blonk & Chris Cogburn. It was actually Mr. Kaiser who first sung the praises for Ms. Ewen’s guitar playing, making sure that other guitar fanatics took notice. Both Damon Smith and Weasel Walter are well-seasoned improvisers who have worked with a diverse array of musicians from across the spectrum: Damon has worked with Peter Kowald, Fred Van Hove & Frank Gratkowski while Weasel Walter gets around with Lydia Lunch to Mary Halvorson to Marc Edwards. Hence, these two gifted players give Ms. Ewen a chance to stretch out and go wherever she wants. Ms. Ewen, who is still pretty young, sounds like Derek Bailey at times, uncompromising, focused and determined to navigate the never-ending stream of rapidly changing ideas that Smith and Walter provide. There is a certain magic that strong, spirited improv provides when it works and there is quite a bit of that magic/glue going on here. My favorite part is when the spirits or ghosts start to peek their heads through the other side… so say hello to the friends spirits as they usher us into another land. - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG 

Nearly Extinct — Reviewed by Bill Meyer, The Wire (May 2016 (Issue 387))

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Nearly Extinct

Musicians: Henry Kaiser/Steve Parker/Damon Smith/Chris Cogburn

Reviewed by Bill Meyer, The Wire (May 2016 (Issue 387))

 Three of the musicians on this record are based in the state of Texas, which hosts a viable improvising music scene despite its reputation for being a ferociously revved up engine for American cultural know-nothing-ism. The fourth, guitarist Henry Kaiser, is a visitor from San Francisco, where a decade ago he and bassist Damon Smith forged a connection. So at one level, this is
a good old-fashioned improv session that exemplifies several practices known to the genre's fans: it rekindles an old partnership, brings a ringer out to the relative sticks, showcases the talents of the locals, and documents the encounter generously (the CD runs to 77 minutes). It could easily have been called Mr Kaiser Goes To Austin TX. But the musicians have other geographical and musical destinations in mind. As the title Nearly Extinct implies and the map of past improvisational styles and ensembles (AACM, aleatory, EAI/onkyokei, etc) on the cover confirms, they are quite aware that they are navigating known territory_ They aren't freely improvising to find something new; they're doing so because that's the way to accomplish certain ends. The act of collectively deciding what they're doing from moment to moment generates quite a charge. The quartet's collective CV includes free jazz, rustic and ethereal soundtracks, new music and Malagasy folk. With all this experience to draw on, making good decisions about what to bring in and what to leave out is essential. Kaiser in particular has spent a lifetime learning to play everything he ever liked and making sure that someone knows it, but his judgment pedal is fully powered and engaged throughout the CD. When he throws in some savage funk or psychedelic freakout licks, someone else is ready to make sense of them without betraying the music's commitment to instant creation. Trombonist Steve Parker pitches right into the fray, contributing voluptuous smears and rude exhalations that contrast most satisfyingly with the slash and spikiness of the strings. Drummer Chris Cogburn is the voice of restraint, using tiny rubs and quick whirling circuits to add calorie-free energy and texture. Historical precedent is both a guide and a goad on Nearly Extinct, challenging the players to be as good as their inspirations, and it works.

Bill Meyer
The Wire (May 2016 (Issue 387))

The Happymakers — Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Msic Review

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The Happymakers

Musicians: Wolfgang Fuchs, Jacob Lindsay, Damon Smith, Serge Baghdassarians, Boris Baltschun

Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Msic Review

Who are the Happymakers? Will they make you happy? What music is this? The answer is yes. At least to the second question, provided you make yourself disposed towards the sounds that come at you in joyful torrents of improvised care. This is a five-person quintet of players who develop a special chemistry in the process of creating eleven segments of freely improvised avant music, all on the self-titled CD (Balance Point Acoustics BPA 008). Free jazz? You can call it that. It has some jazz rootedness, but then some rootedness in new music as well.

So who are these Happymakers? As of May 2003 they all were in Oakland California at least part of the time to record this album. After and before that they are from a diverse set of places, the US, Europe....and of course wherever they happen to be.

To be more specific, the Happymakers are Wolfgang Fuchs on sopranino saxophone and bass clarinet, Jacob Lindsay on Ab, Bb and bass clarinet, Damon Smith on double bass,  Serge Baghdassarians on guitar and electronics, and Boris Baltschun on electronics.

This is about the notes, but especially about how the notes are shaded with timbre-colors, how they lay out in pointillistic counterpoint, how each instrumental contribution fits in with an expressive whole. Everyone works together impressively well, listens closely and responds with creative musical strokes of their "brush" to creative a collective tone painting, or rather a series of them.

In truth this is a group with an unusual cohesiveness, a multi-being organism, a flair for creating an ever-evolving blend of differences-in-sameness. We can thank Damon Smith for getting this recording together, as Balance Point Acoustics is his baby and we tip our cap to him for the copiously absorbing fare that has come out on the label.

As for the various ins and outs of the artists and their backgrounds, I refer you to the lucid liners written by Lisle Ellis and Damon Smith. I find this one an essential for its skilled and exciting synthesis of Euro-American improv channels. Not a note is extra here. And yes, it WILL make you happy if you let it.

Burns Longer — Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards , Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog

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Burns Longer

Musicians: Fred Van Hove, Peter Jacquemyn, Damon Smith

Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards , Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog

Fred Van Hove, Peter Jacquemyn, Damon Smith, Burns Longer, 2008

From the significant holdings of releases by avant bass master Damon Smith comes this single-mindedly focused trio outing from 2008. It consists of European avant free piano icon Fred Van Hove mixing it up in excellent ways with two bass voices of note--namely Damon and Peter Jacquemyn. Burns Longer (Balance Point Acoustics BPA-2) may have an amusing, ironic title that echoes with the tone of the cigarette ads many of us were brainwashed with before they were banned, but it also captures the essence of this date.

For this outing does give us some excellent long burns, "Archiduc 1" and "Archiduc 3" respectively clocking in at 27:39 and 35:38, with number two adding another 10 minutes. But the point is that the length brings us an intensity of focus. We get some thorough fire-spitting piano (and some hip accordion) such as Fred Van Hove has built his reputation upon. Add to that the sprawling matrix of two bass adepts laying down an ever-varied carpet of rumbling, searing, widely colorful bass emanations. And you have something.

This is the sort of uncompromised free attacking that gives you a kind of Zen equilibrium as you experience it start-to-finish. Everybody is in high gear and the distance traveling willy-nilly through rugged terrain brings on a feeling of exhilaration that the best of this sort of thing will do if you let go and go where it leads.

I am reminded very pleasantly of some of the old BYG recordings done in 1969. It does not stand on formalities. It lets loose and you get with it or it will not work.

Needless to say this excels for the two-bass contributions and how they interact with Van Hove's unrelenting inventiveness.

I recommend this one to you for its nervy outness and the success it achieves. This IS what free music is about! 

Place Meant for Birds — Reviewed by Gary Brown, Classic Rock Radio

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Place Meant for Birds

Musicians: Biggi Vinkeloe / Mark Weaver / Damon Smith

Reviewed by Gary Brown, Classic Rock Radio

Writing while under the influence of Desert Sweets


I begin by visualizing a watering hole that could be located in any small town, or large city. A building on the corner, where the wooden floors could use a good mopping. In the middle of the business establishment was a spot where there were several pool tables. Musical notes from different instruments can be heard throughout the bar, but I was too twisted to figure out if it was a performance, or a rehearsal. The faint smell of cigarette smoke courtesy of a lady outside smoking nonchalantly near the barely opened shit house window.

One night in the Big Apple, I literally walked face first into the front doors of an old and at the time nearly forgotten Ed Sullivan Theater, because I wasn't looking where the fuck I was going. In my late teens, or early twenties. Bar hopping in NYC, decades ago, was always an eye-opening experience for me. 

For hours I sit and drink at my favorite at the time drinking establishment. I simply felt at home. As a child in 1969, I watched the Apollo Moon Landing while sitting on a bar stool, on a television set located in a South Amboy, New Jersey tavern because my Father stopped going home after Mom died. A professional musician who drank herself to death. On nights she worked, I was allowed to watch her perform one set, while eating a hot tomato pie. And here we were, my Father and myself, back at the scene of the crime. 

While Pops best friend, and he were on non speaking terms, Dad's drinking buddy aka the town drunk, while out and after having consumed possibly one alcoholic drink too many, fell backwards from his bar stool, and landed head first on the hard floor below. Looking the same as any of the other times he was publicly intoxicated, 
people at first stepped over and around him. Again, not the first time Ace was found while looking down from a stand up position. This would be his last. The man when breathing and not totally shit-faced, enjoyed quiet times at home watching the boob tube with his elderly Mother, who unfortunately had the difficult task of having to bury her one and only son.

The End. 

"OK Class, time to put down your pencils." 

And there you have it. I had totally no idea what I was writing about, before I wrote (typed) it. While the creative juices were flowing, in the background, coming out my home stereo system, was my one and only inspiration. Desert Sweets newest release; A Place Meant For Birds. An almost all instrumental true avant-garde project. The groups first in over a decade. Just under fifty-five minutes long. Seven tracks total, with two of them coming in at over the ten minute mark. Three very talented / seasoned musicians. Captured live in New Mexico a couple years ago. While I was recently thinking about how I was to go about writing about it, the idea popped in my mind about doing some 'improvisational writing'. 

Hearing 'A Place Meant For Birds' inspired me to apparently write about pubs of long time pass, and of some of my recollections regarding one, King Alcohol. Wasn't planned. Sounds triggering old thoughts and memories. Glad the opportunity arose to tell the world about about Ace. He was really into baseball, and favored pitchers. Totally blitzed while standing in the middle of a public street, he'd pitch a perfect game. Never got to experience his glory because the police would always arrive by the ninth inning. When quized later on, he would respond with how the rest of the game went. Happened more than once. People would come out of their house, and sit on the curb watching him. Didn't like it when someone would trash talk. Was skinny like Gilligan on that tv show about the stranded castaways. Wish I remembered the man's real name. May 'Ace' rest in peace.

Knowing your craft, one learns keeping doors open, can help one get craftier. Expand one's regular horizons. Exceed one's boundaries. Frank Zappa was perhaps my first exposure to anything musically out of bounds. That and the sounds I would hear when I spun my Partridge Family albums backwards. Instead of hearing them singing 'come on get happy', in my already then warped little mind it sound to ME like; "I AM SATAN AND I WILL EAT YOU!" And then I'd let go of the needle, and I'd hear them sing normally; "Come on get happy." I digress. For myself progressive rock exceeded the three minutes / three chord / repetitive beat format of pop radio that I was immersed in my youth. Also, being incarcerated in Asbury Park, New Jersey, at the ripe age of thirteen, first exposed me to black people and jazz music. The hippest guards were smoking weed when all was clear, and pumping out the jazz fusion. All while beating me in the game of chess. Lesson learned was to always keep an open mind when it comes to music. And for the most part, that I have.

"Sand shits from the corner of my lips" -- Lisa Gill (poem …track six)

All three players of Desert Sweets have interesting musical backgrounds. Worth investigating. Let me introduce; Biggi Vinkeloe (alto saxophone, flute) / Mark Weaver (tuba, didgeridoo) / Damon Smith (double bass).

Desert Sweets @ the Outpost, Albuquerque, NM 03/14/13
Photo by: Mark Weber
Uncle G Rating

Avant-garde not have the same interest with the general public as adult contemporary, standard rock music has. To give this a rating as I would anything I normally would, simply would not be fair. Thing is, some people out there upon giving this thirty seconds of their time, would dismiss what they heard, as perhaps not even being not music at all. Meaning not traditional music per-say. Sally's not coming around any mountain here. Yet it's all sound with one purpose, to make the brain react. So Sally can still come with her six white horses, and hopefully not have any hay stuck between her butt cheeks. The human mind in all its glory, is engaged. Nice when the response is favorable.

Right here and right now, I'm officially saying the new Desert Sweets release called, A Place Meant For Birds, is worth the money to acquire it. If I was doing a one to five star review with one star meaning it sucks uncooked turtle testicles, to five stars meaning it's well worth having in the personal collection, I'd then follow that up by saying something much like this; Uncle G gives Desert Sweets - A Place Meant For Birds …5 stars! 

Also getting a 5 star review … the cover art. LOVE IT! And the paper sleeve the CD comes in that has this uniquely interesting cowboy image, not surprisingly, has a nice feel to it also. No expense spared. The painting is called, Cowboy Angel II, by Delmas Howe (2009). Catches the eye fer sure. An oil on canvas, 70" by 44". 

Honorable Mention: My African Grey Parrot; Bela Brown. Her favorite track on Desert Sweets - A Place Meant For Birds is track six; The Wind Has Taken My Breath.

*Bela Brown's Helpful WebLinks*

Biggi Vinkeloe:

Mark Weaver:

Damon Smith:

Lisa Gill (poet):

Inspiration: Rio Bravo Fine Art Gallery -

To Purchase:

OH..and don't believe that shit about the Partridge Family. No Satan, and besides who isn't happier at this moment any more than David Cassidy? So come on ... get jovial. You'll be glad you did.