Reviews

"The Voice Imitator - BPA 007" — Reviewed by Ken Waxman, Jazz Review

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"The Voice Imitator - BPA 007"

Musicians: Frank Gratkowski, Jerome Bryerton, Damon Smith:

Reviewed by Ken Waxman, Jazz Review

Review: This live CD matches veteran German improviser Frank Gratowski with Americans Jerome Bryerton (Chicago) and Damon Smith (San Francisco). The music here is more about mood and textures than it is about cacophony. The opener, photographers , unfolds at an unhurried pace. Gratkowski blows long, low clarinet tones, while Bryerton bows metal objects and Smith bows his bass. These sustained tones then give way to clangs and accents from Bryerton leading to a faster pace from all three. Even when they are at their most frenetic, the music is still very subtle and personal. the prince opens with a strong bass line and Gratkowski blowing air through his alto. He creates rhythmic pulses that move into notes that weave between Smith's strong bass line. Bryerton creates long, pulsating metal tones by scraping and bowing his instruments. This provides an interesting balance to the normal staccato percussion sounds and allows him to match the sound of his trio mates.

profound and shallow starts with near imperceptible sounds. The players restraint draws you in as an active listener. At the two minute mark, Bryerton hits a cymbal, almost as if a cue, and things pick up. Smith's high pitched arco tones match Gratkowski's horn and it's difficult to tell who is who. They continue this duet with slight punctuation from Bryerton, then move to the lower register, keeping their tonalities similar. They then echo each other with a brisk walking line as Bryerton picks up the pace offering quick and sharp sounds. The piece expands and contracts over nearly twenty-five minutes.

The remaining three tracks offer more of the same. This is high level improvising played by three masters of the genre. Highly recommended.

 

 


The Sale of Tickets for Money Was abolished BPA 002 — Reviewed by Jason Bivins, Cadence

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The Sale of Tickets for Money Was abolished BPA 002

Musicians: TONY BEVANS / SCOTT R. LOONEY / DAMON SMITH

Reviewed by Jason Bivins, Cadence

 

An interesting, unorthodox trio centered around the low-end sounds of Bevan's rumbling bass saxophone and smith tempestuous bass. It's said that improvised music thrives on either long-running groups or on fly-by-night meetings. Well, these these fellows take the latter option to the extreme, recorded during a rare interval in the hectic lives of the these three. Smith works for a local ticket broker and spends many mornings waiting in line for concert or sports tickets; having just finished snatching up a batch for Lou reed, he rushed to the studio for a session before Bevan had to split for his plane. Wild. But, nothing about this music sounds rushed or compressed. Surprisingly, quite the opposite. The three players are each masters of extended technique. Looney plays a prepared piano, garnishing it with tasteful electronics, producing music somewhere close to the zone inhabited by Denman maroney - pitches are bent strings are attacked, mallets used, but there is a real warmth to his playing that distinguishes him from other many prepared pianists. Smith's bass work is highly graceful. Without sacrificing heft and presence, he works in limber figures (often arco) that situate him in the same general stylistic camp as Kowald, Guy and Rodgers.

Bevan, now playing only his bass saxophone, unleashes the most raucous but can follow them with the most delicate gestures. Together, they patiently unfolds music of rich detail, concentration and passion. The smallest sounds speak for themselves and silence is generally incorporated- when they rise up and roar for a bit it actually means something.

"debris of a mask factory" is a great study in texture - it's constant flow of buzzes, rattles, and sounds like those that might come from the ocean floor. Bevan has amazing control over his massive horn, able to create intense caustic sounds even playing triple piano. On many of these pieces such as "Sacred Drawing of lots" and Quapha", the range of sound is just huge. Indeed there are many moments when the listener is bathed in such multiplicity that it's impossible to tell which instrument is responsible for which sound. "An Adverse drawing of lots" is a splendid bass/bass sax duet that starts as a gurgling drone and works it's way into a concise squeal. The following track is a highly abstract duo of Bevan and Looney. �A brief Argument� begins with barely audible scrapping and rumbling. It's very satisfying to listen to players concentrating on a small area of the, exploring all of it's possibilities, music then moving on without aimless meandering.

The enigmatic titles come from a Borges piece. These creations - gestural, incisive, elusive - have something of the great man's ellipticality, something of his penchant for complex but almost impenetrable layers of meaning. A really fine recording that stands out from the pack.

Three October Meetings BPA 003 — Reviewed by Jay Collins, Cadence

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Three October Meetings BPA 003

Musicians: Wolfgang Fuchs, Jerome Bryerton, Damon Smith

Reviewed by Jay Collins, Cadence

 

For listeners who do not enjoy freely improvised music or 'instant compositions', this release may prove to be a difficult experience. The sounds are based around colors, moods and textures, rather than melodic lines or avant wailing. As such it is very demanding of ones attention (this is not background music). Those who enjoy free improv or have a curious ear may find themselves rewarded by these improvisers who clearly enjoy working together on their collective expressions.

Three October meetings is the third release on bassist damon smith's balance point acoustics label. These three musicians met on three occasions in the bay area during October of 2001. The disc consists of two live performance s on consecutive days followed by a single studio encounter, which although last in time is the first music heard. What is noteworthy is that these musicians all hail from different geological locations; Fuch is based i nBerlin, Bryerton in Chicago and Smith in the bay area. While they may originate from different parts of the world, their work here is in harmony, as the focus of the music is on the manner in which silence is used in conjunction with free improvisation. Much of the music contains tension akin to an impending storm, which at times proves to be a demanding task. Some may view the music here as too abstract, wondering when more melodic or flowing lines will emerge, but thats really the point: the music is about using silence and space and the way these three musicians exploit these organic conceptions.

Meeting Three begins the album with seven relatively short vignettes, each capturing a mood or feeling. they generally dark with much of the focus on rhythmic sounds that jump around the surface. Fuchs emits disparate tones from his bass and contrabass clarinets and sopranino saxophoness in order to offer variance. They range from short blasts, to car horn honks, to bubbling sopranino squeeks to low rumbling, simmering bass clarinet reflections that sound like the hum of assembly line machines. Such contributions inspire both Smith and Bryerton. Smiths bass technique utilizes a range of arco lines to percussive scraping and hand plucked string notes. What is particularly engaging is to listen to the interaction between Fuchs clarinets and Smiths techniques, which constantly play off of one another. Perhaps it is my drum/percussion bias, but the real stand out here is Bryerton. Because the music is very percussive Bryerton really shines. Bryerton's approach suggests the influence of the Oxely/Lytton/Lovens axis, driven by the manipulation of a variety esoteric, multi-ethnic percussion as well as the exploration of the sound of an arco against his cymbals. Meeting One and Meeting Two feature lengthier explorations, perhaps showing works in progress. these live performances suggest that the musicians were getting to know one another's ideas and boundaries. As above, the music is similar in that what is particularly engaging is listening to Bryerton navigate his way around the textures of his instruments and as a counterpoint to the dialogs between Smith and Fuchs. Bryerton mixes away like scientist, a little of this and a little of that.

This music is not for the weak hearted and certainly not everyones cup of tea. That is fine of course, as this is a challenging recording, calling for focused listening. this recording demonstrates that these musicians have a rapport one that must have been fascinating to witness live.

"Zero Plus -BPA 007" — Reviewed by François Couture

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"Zero Plus -BPA 007"

Musicians: Josephson, Aurora/Wachsmann, Philipp/Lindsay, Jacob/Smith, Damon/Blume, Martin

Reviewed by François Couture

 

Singer {Aurora Josephson}, clarinetist {Jacob Lindsay} and bassist (and {Balance Point Acoustics} owner) {Damon Smith} perform regularly as the Triple D trio. Keen on developing projects with European free improvisers visiting the United States, the latter arranged for three consecutive days of concerts and recording sessions, in April 2003, with violinist {Philipp Wachsmann} and drummer {Martin Blume}. The two concerts at {21 Grand} (Oakland, CA) and {The Luggage Store} (San Francisco, CA) were recorded on a multitrack machine by {Scott R. Looney}, who also presided the studio session. As a result, {Zero Plus} offers very good and consistent sound quality throughout, the shift from one venue to another detectable only through the few extra seconds of silence separating the three "chapters" of the CD. The music could easily have taken the form of a "trio+2" setting, the guests attempting to find a niche among the existing dynamics of the core unit. Instead, we assist to a total reconfiguration of the group. Lindsay and Wachsmann team up, developing intricate dialogues (themselves interacting with the other voices). Smith and Blume form a partnership that answers the modus operandi of a bona fide rhythm section, even if they never actually sound like one (the bass also establishes a strong connexion with the violin at times). Josephson either leads the way -- her warm tone and extended techniques captivate the listener's attention in a way that gives her predominance over the other improvisers -- or integrates a sub-unit by mimicking a particular sound that has attracted her. In the quieter passages, her voice can often be confused with the clarinet or violin. Highlights include {"Tiger, Tiger!"} and {"Zero,"} but the level of involvment is high from start to finish, with excellent balance between the pensive and the frantic ends of the free improv spectrum. Recommended.

1.The Hairy Heel of Achilles: Scissors Cut Paper~13:05~
2.The Hairy Heel of Achilles: Tiger, Tiger!~9:05~
3.The Hairy Heel of Achilles: Long Tail on a Ghost~3:48~
4.The Hairy Heel of Achilles: The Deadly Tube~7:18~
5.La Tricoteuse: Two Men in Straw Hats/Big Fleas Have Little Fleas~7:59~
6.La Tricoteuse: A Bird with a Wing Down~4:42~
7.Zerotables: Facts or Figures~3:50~
8.Zerotables: Table Z~3:57~
9.Zerotables: Zero Minus~3:22~
10.Zerotables: Zero~8:16~
11.Zerotables: Zero Plus~3:39~

Josephson, Aurora/voice
Wachsmann, Philipp/violin/electronics
Lindsay, Jacob/clarinet (Ab)/clarinet (Bb)/clarinet (bass)
Smith, Damon/double bass/liner notes
Blume, Martin/drums
May, D.E./artwork
Anzalone, Alan/graphic design
Looney, Scott R./engineer/mastering

-Avntg
-Free Improvisation
-69:32

"Desert Sweets - BPA 004 (ALSO REVIEWED Accretions - JOSCHA OETZ)" — Reviewed by Ken Waxman, Jazz Review

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"Desert Sweets - BPA 004 (ALSO REVIEWED Accretions - JOSCHA OETZ)"

Musicians: VINKELOE / WEAVER / SMITH

Reviewed by Ken Waxman, Jazz Review

Back in the 1957, four-string specialist Paul Chambers put out an LP called Bass On Top. Now while bassists Damon Smith and Joscha Oetz are definite team players on these CDs, that title could be used to describe the state of the bass -- hm, another potential title -- in 21st century California.

Smith, a native of Oakland, Calif., has already recorded a series of fine CDs, encompassing a duo with his bass mentor Peter Kowald, and in trios with different saxophonists, drummers and keyboardists. DESERT SWEETS is a souvenir of a visit to the Bay area by Swedish saxophonist/flautist Biggi Vinkeloe -- who recorded with Kowald in the past -- where she was matched with Smith and tuba player Mark Weaver from Albuquerque, NM. Cologne, Germany-born Oetz, moved to San Diego, CA, about 500 miles south of the Bay area, a couple of years ago. Vieles Ist Eins includes three solo bass tracks; one duet with German tenor saxophonist Andreas Wagner; one with local percussionist Greg Stuart; and five with long-time American expatriate, bassist Barre Phillips.

Bustling with interesting improvisations, the two discs illustrate three escalating trends in improvised music. For a start they -- like a high percentage of other exceptional sounds -- were created outside of so-called major American music centres like New York and Los Angles. Both feature an admixture of European and American musicians. And the two highlight non-standard instrumental combinations. This is especially apparent on Smith's disc, where in a way, Weaver's tuba functions as both a rhythm and a solo instrument. An educator, the low brassman works on-and-off with other bands featuring Smith, drummer Dave Wayne of Santa Fe, N.M. and San Diego-based multi-reedman Alan Lechusza.

During the course of the 22(!) tracks on this disc, Weaver shows off his facility in all ranges of his instrument. At times, as on tunes like "Jojoba" he produces a high-pitched ghostly sound as if he was the personification of a child's nightmare, while on other instant compositions such as "Cholla" his tone is mineshaft deep as he rumbles and reverberates in the basso region. He can even turn out falsetto cries that by rights should come from a cornet as he does on "Biting Cactus."

He's versatile as well. Take "Mesquitilla" for example. Here Weaver's phrases are both legato and staccato with his musical output moving from the very bottom of his valves to the very top of his mouthpiece, as Smith bangs his strings for a percussion effect and Vinkeloe ornaments the proceedings.

With the three often functioning as if they were interlocking parts of a single instrument, Smith is as often the percussive force as anyone else. He uses his bow to whack the strings in such a way that they become four reverberating drum skins. He can strum the strings as if he was playing a banjo, pluck them in a traditional jazz manner or create tones that sound as if he's giving them and the bass body a spring cleaning. Elsewhere, as on "Incienso," he scratch away on the strings as if he was a small animal let loose on a telephone wire, while Weaver keeps the mood buoyant by blowing nearly imperceptible tuba lines.

Northern guest Vinkeloe divided her embouchure between flute and alto saxophone. On the former she comes out with a wide, dissonant tone that's slightly sharper than that of most saxophonists'. When expressed it can take up a lot of aural space as on "Yellow Sweetclover." On the other hand, in response to the elephantine tuba rumble and low bass lines, she can put a Middle-Eastern cant to her solos, as on "Utah Juniper."

Flute finds her with a different persona, expressing the sort of gritty respiring in which Rahsaan Roland Kirk and others used to specialize. There's even a time on "Tasajillo" that she seems to be straying into repetitive Energy Music territory in contrast to Weaver's lightly articulation blasts and Smith's percussive ostinato. Overtones that can arise from both her horns are showcased on "Chili Coyote," a near-ballad which unrolls over the soundfield created by swelling low notes from Weaver and constant plucking from Smith. At slightly less than five minutes this number point out one weakness of the recital -- the extreme brevity of the tracks. With some clocking in at barely 11/2 minutes, you wish some themes and techniques had been given longer times to germinate and develop.

Tunes range throughout the time clock on Oetz's disc, with the shortest tracks bass solos. He does leave himself open to ethnic stereotyping on "M�sica Alemana," the first number which he announces as "German music." Using strings "prepared" with small round wooden sticks inserted between them, close to the bridge, he slashes the instrument and carries the piece forward with the power of an elite panzer division.

Luckily his subsequent solitary displays are less bellicose, with the more-than-seven minutes of "Konstantin" including frequent moments of silence as if he's pausing for thought. Played arco with string reverb, he sounds more than one note at a time and attaches himself more to the New music tradition than he does elsewhere.

Facing percussionist Greg Stuart on the other hand, both quickly get knee deep into EuroImprov, with the drummer utilizing what sounds like chain rattles, palm strokes on his drum heads, pealing bells and ritualistic cymbal pings, plus at one point, the suggestion of Afrocuban percussion. Oetz alternates between scraping out his melodies and concentrating his strings as bass percussion.

Recorded three years before the rest of the album, "Sipan" find the bassist plus saxophonist Wagner in an even more experimental frame of mind. Echoing tongue slaps and squeaks, that culminate in an elongated goose call, characterize the sax work so that Oetz make extensive, colorful use of those sticks between his strings.

Partnerships rather than a duels or tutorials, Oetz's five meetings with Phillips provide an object lesson in all that can be done with eight strings. At times relying on supple romantic legato lines or single bow strokes that produce a unique twanging, the results are most distinctive when each defines his own identity. On "Toqua," for instance, both slink into a pizzicato flamenco mode that after some woody reverb slides into a steady accelerating march tempo. Soon one is pressing straightahead, while the other is extending the strings away from the bridge and smashing the bow against them.

Alternately, when they're not moving in lockstep with one another on "Roronra," the strumming and picking seems to resolve itself as one creating the sound of a dobro, while the other creates what a bass guitar would play in surf music.

Song titles on both CDs couldn't be more different, with Smith & Co. honoring flowering plants and Oetz mixing German and Spanish words. Yet both discs are outstanding. Either or both should please bass fanciers, Californians and those interested in modern music.

 

"Mirrors - Broken But No Dust - BPA 001 The Sale of Tickets for Money Was Abolished - BPA002" — Reviewed by Ken Waxman, Jazz Review

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"Mirrors - Broken But No Dust - BPA 001 The Sale of Tickets for Money Was Abolished - BPA002"

Musicians: PETER KOWALD / DAMON SMITH & TONY BEVAN / DAMON SMITH / SCOTT R. LOONEY -

Reviewed by Ken Waxman, Jazz Review

It's altogether fitting that Bay area bassist Damon Smith has put out a duet session with German bassist Peter Kowald as the first release on his own label. After all it was exposure to Kowald's DUOS: EUROPA LP in 1994 that convinced the young musician to sell the fender bass he had been playing in punk and art rock combos to concentrate on double bass and creative improvised music.

Since then, after extensive formal and informal studies, he has begun to establish himself as an in-demand stylist, collaborating with dancers, actors and poets and a variety of musicians. These have included Americans of such different temperaments as Miya Masaoka Marshall Allen and John Tchicai plus Europeans ranging from extrovert Gianni Gebbia to minimalists Wolfgang Fuchs and Boris Hauf.

Nearly 30 years the American's senior, Kowald was around for Continental free improv's genesis and flowering along with the likes of Peter Brötzmann and Evan Parker. Always ready to trade ideas with others, the bassist has made a practice of working with U.S. as well as European players.

Smith's studies have obviously paid off, for the CD sounds much more like a father-son meeting than equivalent sessions with real life relatives Dewey and Joshua Redman or Peter and Caspar Brötzmann. Not that it's a clone act; it's just that the two bull fiddle specialists have a similar powerful attack and conception.

Often working in unison, it's a compliment to Smith to say that it's almost impossible to distinguish his lines from those of Kowald, who had already recorded his first important session four years before the American was born. Pulling, pushing and extracting sounds from the strings, wood and pegs, the two lead their instruments through various states of loudness and silence, interchangeably using bows as well as fingers, without the common cop out of one playing arco while the other sticks to pizzicato and vice versa.

Instead the passages range from microscopic pointillistic examinations to nailing great swaths of melody onto the air. Every bass sonance you can imagine is here, as well as tones that resemble those produced from guitars, violins as well as oddities like bagpipes or baroque flutes. The final track even ends with one of the musicians -- Kowald perhaps -- gutturally vocalizing in unison with the notes he creates on the bass like a free jazz Slam Stewart.

Put together in a somewhat more conventional configuration, the other CD offers a program of instant compositions from Smith, Oakland, Calif.-based Scott R. Looney on prepared piano and live electronics, and British bass saxophone champion Tony Bevan, exactly as it unrolled in the studio.

Bevan, a full-fledged evangelist for the low-pitched beast has concentrated exclusively on that little-used woodwind since 1994, playing with the likes of Steve Beresford, John Edwards and Mark Sanders. Looney who has a background in interactive electronics as well as formal composition, jazz and improv has worked with Leo Smith, Eddie Gale and the Oakland Electroacoustic Quartet.

Although only three men were present in the studio, their flexibility and versatility meant that there is at least double the number of sounds you would expect on offer. Bevan is as apt to head off on an altissimo flight as he is to unleash a subterranean rumble or literally blow hot air through the cylindrical metal. Smith can create cello, not to mention violin and viola string approximations, when he's not using his instrument as a bull fiddle. At times, as on "Debris of a mask factory," his attack is so ferocious that he appears to be bowing more than one instrument. Looney's prepared piano and electronics multiply the potential keyboards and string sets he has at his fingertips. There are times, in fact, such as on "Brilliant result of 30 or 40 drawings" where it seems either the piano's entrails or the bass' surface approximate the sound of an entire percussion ensemble.

Often the players play unexpected roles as well. On "Sacred drawing of lots," for instance, Bevan takes up the constant bass rhythm as Smith soars into viola range. When the saxophonist alternates stratospheric reed biting with what sounds like duck calls, Looney somehow manages to approximate accordion tones. While all this is going on, Smith's bow appears to be marching up and down one of those long strung wires so beloved of minimalists.

Other times, as on "Preferred to scribble a brief argument," Looney somehow manages to induce conventional pianisms, electronic bell ringing and internal clinking to appear at the same time. And this is right after the three have created what could be termed an outside swing session with Bean's sax blats, some flowing bass asides and a few right-handed pinched notes from the piano put into the mix.

Bevan and Looney duetting may not exactly remind you of Gerry Mulligan and Tommy Flanagan either, but the two know how to chase each other like fox and hare on "To accept errors is not to contradict fate." Here the pianist works curt, nervous notes from his keyboard as the saxophonist blows out long-lined harmonic interludes. However "An adverse drawing might mean mutilation," Bevan's duo with Smith, sees him spouting great gouts of notes as the bassist saws bass clef lines with the delicate finesse of a bass flautist.

Take your pick of either session. With strong work like this, it would seem that the future of Left Coast, leftfield bass playing is in good hands -- and bow -- with Damon Smith.

 

"Three October Meetings BPA 003" — Reviewed by Ken Waxman jazzweekly.com

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"Three October Meetings BPA 003"

Musicians: WOLFGANG FUCHS / JEROME BRYERTON / DAMON SMITH

Reviewed by Ken Waxman jazzweekly.com

 

Except for misguided xenophobes, no one still insists that the best improvised music is played by Americans in the United States. Yet while jazz and improv are now as universal as soft drinks and computers, a transformation still seems to take place when foreign musicians play with Yanks on their home turf.

Take these two masterful sessions for instance. Woodwind players Luc Houtkamp of Holland and Wolfgang Fuchs of Germany link up with a different set of bassists and percussionists in Chicago and the Bay area respectively and produce some uncharacteristically hard-edged sounds. Houtkamp, who revels in modulated alto sax interactions tempered with electronics, comes up with a paraphrase of a midwestern tough tenor showcase on his disc. While Fuchs, whose work in small groups and with his large King Übü Orchestrü often produce sounds so rarified and vaporous that they make other restrained players appear to be creating Death Metal riffs, is upfront and in your face on his three horns here.

Conceivably the reedists' new aural posture(s) are the result of their collaborators. Houtkamp goes head-to-head with veterans, bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Michael Zerang, who have played with sax masters as powerful as German Peter Brötzmann, Swede Mats Gustaffson and fellow Windy City denizen Fred Anderson. Young Chicago percussionist Jerome Bryerton has accompanied soloists as different as British reed men John Butcher and Tony Bevan, plus pioneering free pianist Burton Greene. While Bay area bassist Damon Smith has proved his mettle with dancers, actors, and poets, fellow bassist German Peter Kowald plus other take-no-prisoners saxists like Bevan, Italian Gianni Gebbia and the late Californian Glenn Spearman.

Meandering through seven of his own or group compositions named for different Chicago musical landmarks or personages, Houtkamp often showcases an aural dictionary of multiphonics complete with echoing tongue slaps, colored hissing and speedy key pops, adding the coagulated vibrato of every bar-walking saxophonist's nightmare. Imagine Archie Shepp's slurred buzz playing a version of "Yakity Sax" and you'll come up with how he sounds on some tracks. Other times Houtkamp produces heavy, unaccompanied split tones for several unrelieved minutes. Still elsewhere his dense note-sounding will be so steady that it reminds you of the electronic pulses he manipulates on other sessions or of a musical vacuum cleaner sucking every sound out of the air.

Faithful aide-de-camp Kessler, with his with a rock-steady modern pulse, generally keeps things orderly throughout. However there are times, especially on "Pershing Ballroom Jump", where his execution appears to take a bit from Dixieland bass slappers like Pops Foster who thrived in early 20th century Chi-Town. It certainly drives an undercurrent of primitive, honky-tonk bluesiness from the saxist that reappears at intervals throughout.

Unveiling a dark, almost legit tone when playing bowed bass on "Richard Davis at DuSable" Kessler draws some irregular conga-like drum beats from Zerang and momentarily seems to interrupt the saxophonist's all out onslaught. But maybe everyone was puzzled. Why honor Davis, the versatile Chicago bassman for his apprenticeship in legendary DuSable high school band rather than, say, his duo with Eric Dolphy?

Historical veneration seems to affect the percussionist as well. Probably the Windy City's most experimental traps expert, Zerang has applied his sounds to dance and theatre work as well as interactions with many international improvisers. Here he does more than just add to the mix by creating ascending crescendos, and displaying prowess on miscellaneous percussion that has been a Chicago tradition since the early days of the Art Ensemble. On "New Wabash", for example, he constructs a rare (for him) jazz-style solo à la Max Roach, individually emphasizing different parts of the kit as he faces off against Houtkamp's breakneck, squeaking nervous riffs.

If the Dutch saxophonist exposes his inner Gene Ammons here, his German,sometime boss in the King Übü Orchestrü meets his Yankee rhythm pals half way. Switching between contrabass and bass clarinets and sopranino saxophone often on the same number, his solos are certainly a lot more audible then elsewhere. At the same time, he's so astute at pulling the other two into his particular sound world that you often can't relate individual tones to particular instruments. Over 12 tracks ranging from slightly more than one minute to 16 minutes plus, Fuchs goes Houtkamp's extended techniques many times better. On the fourth track of "Meeting Three", for instance, he ranges from producing a boar's snort with the contrabass clarinet to the bird cries of his sopranino saxophone to reed-biting foghorn squalls from his bass clarinet. In response, bassist Smith produces a washboard style strum and Bryerton appears to be using a small hammer to produce a distinctive ping from one cymbal as he apparently scatters the rest in a pre-selected manner on the ground.

Other times as on the seventh track from "Meeting Three", low tones predominate. Smith works his bass strings as if he was digging out a basement, while the drummer creates tiny hamster scratches and the reedist huffs out extended rolling waves of basso ostinato. On the eleventh track, which dates from "Meeting One", higher, strident tones are the order of he day. Fuchs wiggles out piercing sounds from the sopranino, appearing so effusive that he actually appears to be playing straight time, while Smith strums his top strings for a guitar-like effect. The ninth track from "Meeting One" is more of the same with sax whinnying, further bird cries and whistles. There's even a point where Fuchs appears to be whispering through his mouthpiece. Timed cymbal scratches that sound like chalk being yanked across the blackboard appear as the bassist's pulse maintains the tune's momentum. Elsewhere the three face off with parade ground rumbles from the snare, duck quacks from the horn man and a menacing bass interlude that suggests a mental picture of the old magician's trick with the bow serving as the sword that saws au audience member in two.

With some of the miniscule tracks appear to be no more than rapid exercises in different extended techniques, the real meat of the proceedings seems to come on the two longest ones. Here each man gets to figuratively step forward, offering up his specialty. If the woodwind player has the space to spray great gouts of notes into the air followed by a unique pinched reed sound, then the bull fiddle moves upfront with a subterraneous, masculine tones and a bodybuilder's string pulls. Finally the cymbals and drum brigade clatters into the foreground. Eventually what you hear is each trio member improvising at once, each in his separate space, but responsive to all that's being produced around him.

If there's a caveat that should be applied to this session, it's that its excessive length --more than 71 minutes (!) -- creates a certain sameness in timbre by the time you make it to the end. A better idea may have been to drop some of the microscopic tunes.

Besides that minor drawback, however, both these CDs are very much worth investigation as yet other examples of improvised music's universality and the excellence of its practitioners.

 

"Mirrors Broken But No Dust BPA 001" — Reviewed by Francois Couture, All-Music Guide

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"Mirrors Broken But No Dust BPA 001"

Musicians: Peter Kowald, Damon Smith

Reviewed by Francois Couture, All-Music Guide

 

Mirrors Broken But No Dust
Balance Point Acoustics
Can you think of a better reason to start your own small label? Bay Area bassist Damon Smith, in 2000 a youngster of the up-and-coming type in improvised music, had a chance to perform live in a duet with European master Peter Kowald, one of his main influences. The encounter took place on Smith's ground in Oakland (California) on April 28, 2000. Mirrors - Broken But No Dust contains a half-hour piece from that concert. The remainder of the disc comes from a studio session recorded by Myles Boisen} five days later. The two-part "Broken Mirrors" showcases the two bassists in a piece of civilized exchanges. It would have been nice to have better stereo separation in order to hear more distinctly what each brought to the music, as the two basses tend to mesh in the middle of the spectrum. Nevertheless, it's a good improv, fairly in Kowald's average even though it lacks a bit of excitement. The seven "Reflections" (the studio recordings) are much better. Individualities become more tangible and the ideas developed are shorter and simpler. Parts 1 and 5 have particular appeal. Smith clearly emulates his elder (he even vocalizes like him in the last track, although here it takes the form of a homage/pastiche) but he doesn't sound intimidated by his presence, which would have been the real trap

"Three October Meetings BPA 003" — Reviewed by Francois Couture, All-Music Guide

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"Three October Meetings BPA 003"

Musicians: Fuchs, Wolfgang/Bryerton, Jerome/Smith, Damon :

Reviewed by Francois Couture, All-Music Guide

 

Fuchs, Wolfgang/Bryerton, Jerome/Smith, Damon
Three October Meetings
Balance Point Acoustics 003
The third and finest release yet on Damon Smith's label Balance Point Acoustics, "Three October Meetings" chronicles a few days young Bay improvisers Smith (double bass) and Jerome Bryerton (drums) spent with German clarinetist Wolfgang Fuchs. The CD combines material from two concerts in Berkeley and San Francisco, and a studio session. All recordings took place within a three-day period in October 2001. Smith has rarely displayed such colorful and varied playing. Fuchs, like Radu Malfatti an instigator of silence-focused free improv, alternates between his soprano saxophone, bass and contrabass clarinets. The low, breathy growls of the latter intermingle with the bassist's sinuous arco, while the overtones of the soprano sax mesh with the drummer's bowed cymbals. Bryerton is the real discovery here. His playing is light, inventive and pertinent. Never busy for the sake of it, he focuses on the cymbals in a way strongly reminiscent of John Stevens. The CD starts with a few short studio tracks that explore rather specific textures mostly triggered by Fuchs' choice of instrument or initial technique. Then come the live selections. The long improvs of "Meeting One" are captivating, thanks to a high degree of listening. Despite age difference, these three share the same language. Recommended.

The Sale of Tickets for Money Was Abolished BPA 002 — Reviewed by Francois Couture, All-Music Guide

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The Sale of Tickets for Money Was Abolished BPA 002

Musicians: Bevan, Tony/Smith, Damon/Looney, Scott R.

Reviewed by Francois Couture, All-Music Guide

 

Recorded in-between the live and studio sessions that yielded Damon Smith and Peter Kowald's "Mirrors Broken But No Dust", The Sale of Tickets for Money Was Abolished finds the Bay area bassist sounding more assured, daring and involved. Maybe it is because his playing is more complementary here. Pianist Scott R. Looney is a regular acolyte of his. A visit by British saxophonist Tony Bevan provided the impetus for this encounter. The session lasted a mere two hours, but it produced some very good free improv in a typical West Coast vein: not necessarily jazz-tinged but somewhat warmer than what can be heard in London. Bevan's bass saxophone is a prince of deception, mimicking the bass, grunting and howling like a wild animal. Looney makes a resourceful musician on prepared piano, creative in the sounds he gets out of it. His duet with Bevan, "To Accept Errors Is Not to Contradict Fate," allows him to display his Borah Bergman side and his explosive style in the opener "Custody of an Enemy" immediately grabs attention. On the other hand his contributions on live electronics don't rise over the laptop masses and they don't bring the best out of the other two players. Given more time in the studio, maybe this trio could have recorded a bit more material and rule out two or three weaker tracks, but as it stands before us, this CD still makes for an enjoyable and provoking listen.

Zero Plus BPA 007 — Reviewed by Robert Iannapollo, Cadence

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Zero Plus BPA 007

Musicians: Aurora Josephson, Phillip Wchsmann, Jacob Lindsay, Damon Smith, Martin Blume

Reviewed by Robert Iannapollo, Cadence

 

One cannot accuse the musicians that comprise the international ensemble featured on Zero Plus of mere professionalism. (Not that they aren't professional musicians.) This is pure improvisation, unfettered and free. Violinist Phil Wachsmann is an asset to any group in which he appears and this disc is no exception. He's a player of great delicacy. Check out the early moments of Long Tail On A Ghost or the middle section of The Deadly Tube. Yet when this ensemble is going full bore, his violin is an integral part of the group fabric. Aurora Josephson's wordless vocals place her on an equal footing with the rest of the group. (This is not a vocalist with instrumental accompaniment.) Her vocal swoops, shrieks, barks, and god-knows-whatelse work as a particularly good foil with clarinetist Lindsay. Bassist Damon Smith has particularly good arco technique and drummer Blume has a kinetic energy that continually pushes the music forward but never swamps it. But most impressive about this quintet is its group interaction. The beginning of A Bird With A Wing Down, with high-pitched clarinet sounds, Josephson chirping and whistling, Wachsmann's pizzicato, and the rhythm section pattering around the perimeter is one of the high points of the set. It builds to a remarkable climax and then decays with a satisfying finalness. To these ears, the improvisation has British qualities. It's a spacious, conversational approach. It's clearly a group music and all members appear to be on the same wavelength. Worth hearing.

Sense of Hearing BPA 005 — Reviewed by Michael Anton Parker, Bagatellen

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Sense of Hearing BPA 005

Musicians: CAROL GENETTI/DAMON SMITH + FRED LONGBERG-HOLM

Reviewed by Michael Anton Parker, Bagatellen

 

In some circles Genetti is the reigning queen of free improv voice in America, and this is her best release so far. When you think about the flurry of innovation in current improv that's based on air passing through the human oral cavity, but attenuated by metal tubing, it's puzzling why more folks don't just pursue the most direct and flexible option in this game, the naked voice. Listening to Genetti's abstract, language-free, maneuvers among all manner of sonorants and obstruents on this program of duos with bassist Damon Smith, I'm struck by how much untapped potential there is in vocal music, and I wish I'd need more than two hands to count the Genettis, Blonks, Mintons, and Makigamis of the world. The impression is especially forceful thanks to the incredible recording quality of this disc, another triumph for Genetti's Chicago comrade Bob Falesch--it feels like I'm hearing it live sitting only a few feet away from the musicians! The tiniest details burst out of the speaker, and this is the kind of music that pivots on such details--the faint shards that fall off Smith's bowed notes; the split-second buzz of string against wood; the swooping fricatives that escape between Genetti's sweet squalls. Although it's pretty restrained relative to the history of free improvisation, the music here is not lowercase improv; it's alternately elegaic and frenetic music constantly taking off in new directions, and Smith in particular exemplifies the classic Euro-improv aesthetic of sounding at the boundary of momentum, the region where phrases hold together by the thinnest threads, where the failures bleed into new moments so quickly they aren't noticed, and the successes slam you in the face. Both Genetti and Smith have virtuosic control of a huge range of unconventional sounds; there are parts where Smith's bass sounds like some unidentifiable southeast Asian stringed instrument in a fit of ecstatic pitch leaps, and parts where Genetti digs into the sound world of small animals and insects. A highlight can be found in the startling passage in "fragility itself" where Smith continuously generates several distinct sounds from his bass simultaneously, creating a massive texture of burbling, groaning, grinding, and wheezing. This is the first disc of Smith's work I can specifically recall listening to, and it's so wonderful I'm excited about further investigating his fair-sized discography, which includes work with luminaries like Wolfgang Fuchs, Frank Gratkowski, Serge Bagdassarian, and Boris Baltshun, much of it released on his own label for personal documentation, Balance Point Acoustics. With the dozens of great improv bassists out there, noone could be blamed if they happened to overlook Damon Smith's brilliant work, but improv vocalists of Genetti's caliber are so rare that this release is absolutely essential for anyone with an interest in avant-garde settings for humanity's first instrument. The second part of the disc is 27 minutes of live trio recordings of Genetti, Smith, and Fred Lonberg-Holm. By now most folks know how potent Lonberg-Holm is in just about any improv situation, and this session is mind-blowing and essential for fans of America's leading cello improvisor. For a disc of music for double bass and female voice, it's fitting that the booklet includes a beautiful short poem by a master of both instruments, Joelle Leandre, which refers to three things abundantly present in this music: "intensity, fragility, and love".

"MIRRORS - BROKEN BUT NO DUST - BPA 001 THE SALE OF TICKETS FOR MONEY WAS ABOLISHED - BPA 002 THREE OCTOBER MEETINGS - BPA 003" — Reviewed by Don Warburton -Signal To Noise

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"MIRRORS - BROKEN BUT NO DUST - BPA 001 THE SALE OF TICKETS FOR MONEY WAS ABOLISHED - BPA 002 THREE OCTOBER MEETINGS - BPA 003"

Musicians: Peter Kowald / Damon Smith ,Tony Bevan / Scott R. Looney / Damon Smith, Wolfgang Fuchs / Jerome Bryerton / Damon Smith

Reviewed by Don Warburton -Signal To Noise

 

Peter Niklas Wilson, writing in the notes to "Three October Meetings", is right to take issue with Derek Bailey's longstanding assertion that improvised music is (or perhaps should be) "non-idiomatic". In each of these three fine albums, distinct codes and protocols are respected, in terms of individual vocabulary - extended techniques, and the like - and overall form and structure. Seasoned improvisors like Wolfgang Fuchs, Peter Kowald and Tony Bevan can fly into the Bay Area and head straight for the studio or the gig with bassist Damon Smith and his friends and record several hours of high quality free improvised music with apparent ease. Though the conventions of a "language" are understood and appreciated by the performers (and experienced listeners), the music is fresh, energetic and appealing. Damon Smith is excellent throughout - there are some great bassists out there in the Bay Area, what with Matt Sperry and Morgan Guberman - and goes the distance with Peter Kowald most impressively on "Mirrors". It's less a battle of the bassists (it's clear that Kowald is a major influence on Smith's playing), more one of Peter And Damon Against The World. The trio with Scott Looney on prepared piano and electronics and Tony Bevan on bass sax is surprisingly agile, technically and idiomatically - Looney's eclectic style, somewhere between Benoit Delbecq, Michael Jefry Stevens and early Steve Beresford, joyously admits brief flashes of jazz as well as various crashes and wallops from inside the piano (which is, unfortunately, woefully out of tune). Culled from three dates last October, two live and one in the studio, "Three October Meetings" features the King Übü of clarinets and saxophones, Wolfgang Fuchs, and Chicago's outstanding Jerome Bryerton on percussion. It's a total triumph: the turn-on-a-dime reactivity of his younger sparring partners pushes Fuchs to deliver some of his best work for years. Check this out.

 

"The Voice Imitator - BPA 006 — Reviewed by Stuart Kremsky

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"The Voice Imitator - BPA 006

Musicians: Gratkowski, Frank/Bryerton, Jerome/Smith, Damon

Reviewed by Stuart Kremsky

 

More determinedly abstract (Frank's quartet on with gerry Hemmingway, Wolter Wierbos and dieter Manderschied Leo Records was previously reviewed in the article) are the concert ruminations of Frank Gratkowski, Damon Smith, & Jerome Bryerton captured for the voice imitator. these delicate and slowly building performances, with occasional hints of intense expression, were taped two days apart at experimental venues in San francisco and Oakland. Teamed with a very different bass and drum team, Gratkowski's emphasis here is on group interaction and the way it develops over the course of a performance. The live-to-two-track recording, while faithful to the rooms, lacks the immediacy and presence of Leo's studio date.

This rarefied music's mostly gentle ambiance requires close attention for it's specialized charms to be revealed

"The Voice Imitator - BPA 006" — Reviewed by Bill Shoemaker - The Wire

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"The Voice Imitator - BPA 006"

Musicians: Gratkowski, Frank/Bryerton, Jerome/Smith, Damon

Reviewed by Bill Shoemaker - The Wire

 

Although the German saxophonist/clarinettist Frank Gratkowski runs with somehigh profile improvisers, his most promising collaboration may be with two emergent players, percussionist Jerome Bryerton and bass player Damon Smith. Documenting two 2002 Bay Area gigs, Voice Imitator is free ranging improvised music with a strong, innate sense of design. In his sleevenotes, Smith provides part of the answer in stating that he and Bryerton "are a section of some kind"; their foundation-laying, yet non-subordinate approach accounts for much of the music's cohesion. Their approach accomodates both the deliberative and explosive components of Gratkowski's playing. This is egalitarian trio music.

"The Voice Imitator - BPA006 (ALSO REVIEWED - The Welsh Chapel - GJERSTAD/EDWARDS/SANDERS)" — Reviewed by Ken Waxman

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"The Voice Imitator - BPA006 (ALSO REVIEWED - The Welsh Chapel - GJERSTAD/EDWARDS/SANDERS)"

Musicians: FRANK GRATKOWSKI/DAMON SMITH/JEROME BRYERTON

Reviewed by Ken Waxman

 

What do you get when you put a German and two Americans together in a small room or unite a Norwegian and two Englishmen? While those situations may sound like the set up for a joke from the Second World War, the correct answer, from the evidence of these CDs, is exemplary improvisation.

The Norwegian-British concord involves veteran Nordic alto saxophonist Frode Gjerstad --who at one point led a band featuring the late British drum pioneer John Stevens -- and two players from a younger British generation. Singly and together Londoners bassist John Edwards and drummer Mark Sanders have played with many of the United Kingdom's reed heavy hitters: John Butcher, Paul Dunmall and Evan Parker. When they connect with Gjerstad on these five instant compositions the result is superior free jazz.

To grasp the distinction between free jazz and free music all you have to do is listen to the second disc featuring another woodwind player with the initials FG. German reedist Frank Gratkowski never reaches the ecstatic heights of Gjerstad's improvising, but his carefully modulated output meshes with that of his rhythm section to produce low-key group music. Gratkowski spreads his improvising among the alto saxophone, clarinet, and bass clarinet. His American confreres -- Bay area bassist Damon Smith and Chicago percussionist Jerome Bryerton -- are also closer to his age than the Brits are to Gjerstad's. Furthermore the Yanks' singular or collective experience with European reedmen such as Wolfgang Fuchs, Tony Bevan and Butcher has led them to synthesize European aesthetics in their work. You can hear this most clearly on �Profound and shallow", The Voice Imitator's almost 25-minute core composition, which clocks in at more than twice the length of anything else on the CD.

Probably the most abstract of all the tracks, it features Gratkowski's amplification of a single, growling reed whine on bass clarinet gradually reconstituting itself into a replication of the practice scale heard through the prism of sheets of sound. As swifter and swifter reed tones slide into one another then dissolve into bird-like squeaks, Smith holds things together with impressionistic bowed bass lines. Limiting himself to single note excursions, Bryerton splashes out a pressure point on orchestral metal, ethnic percussion and Chinese cymbals, often emphasizing his points with mallets. At times, Gratkowski sounds a sonorous clarinet note that is echoed by the drummer's cymbal top and strummed by the bassist. No one tries to outplay the other, though. All three are sidemen or all are soloists. Closely follow a single rhythm section solo phrase for example, and suddenly you realize that the bass and drums have turned to accompanying the reedist, who is warbling out a series of high-powered split tones.

Throughout the disc, silences are as important to the output as concentrated notes. Gratkowski hisses colored air through his mouthpiece then concentrate on mouth pulses, until occasional notes escape in between the air and spit tones. He overblows to expand his tone and mixes his output with reed kisses, tongue slaps, Bronx cheers, monkey-like gibbering and basso snorts that could come from a baritone. Moving in-and-out of false registers, he uses many of the techniques he's developed for solo playing in this group situation.

Meanwhile Bryerton counters with rumbling drum rolls, abrasive scratches on his ride cymbal, shimmering sizzle cymbals and bull's eye whacks on his Chinese gong. Some timbres seem to result from rim shots on the side of his drums or on wood blocks or from sounds created by hitting the cymbal holder or clamp rather than the instrument itself. More often than not on purpose, his time is beveled rather than operating in a straight line.

The dense blanket of pulses the bassist creates is used by the others as a launching pad for their improvisations. Sometimes, in fact, Smith even plays standard jazz time. Rarely, though, does he have a chance to display the sort of spectacular virtuosity he has shown on discs with Fuchs and the late bass master Peter Kowald.

The set up is a little less democratic on The Welsh Chapel, where, without slighting the contributions of the rhythm section, it's definitely the saxist's show. Moreover, the sort of side-slipping, screeching alto tone Gratkowski sometimes exhibits on the first disc is stock in trade for Gjerstad in his many solos. Irregular honks, prolonged squeal, a Rudy Wiedoeft-wide vibrato and playing entire passages in dog whistle territory are favored.

Not that he's an empty show-off though. On the rare occasions when the energy music subsides to a less frantic pace, a strain of Nordic melancholy infects his solos. The Norwegian has played clarinet and bass clarinet on other discs, and while he's listed as only playing alto saxophone here, some of the more vehement, tone-sliding passages sound like they may come from those wooden horns.

�The Welsh chapel: Part 3" has more than enough space to indicate how the trio setting plays out. With a wheezing bass line and drum and cymbal brush work underneath, Gjerstad first begins mutating and bending his alto work from trills to clenched squeaks and hollow whistles. The crack of a drumstick on the snare introduces speedier altered and slurred tones, violent triple tonguing and honking. Cycling through many keys and pitches, the saxman introduces a feeling of constant motion, using glosolalia as extreme as anything blown in the energy music years. Cymbals and cowbell pressure from Sanders and a vamping ostinato from Edwards move the accompaniment up a notch, as Gjerstad plows on regardless. Wiggling raw excitement, his staccato phrasing and foghorn honks seem to consume the music in one gulp.

A resonating bass solo plus indirect cymbal pings calm the presentation. Here in this lower-pitched, more pacific output is where Gjerstad sounds as if he's playing a bass clarinet. With the rhythm section occupied with passing tones, he slides chromatically further down the scale, ending with a crescendo of trills matched by the drone of arco bass strings.

Perhaps due to the recording process, there always seems to be an echoing drone emanating from Edwards' strings, unlike the clear sound of Smith produces form his axe. Be that as it may, the Englishman still produces timbres that range from ones that resemble Charlie Haden's foursquare work with Ornette Coleman to steely, Dobro-like finger picking. Sanders, who isn't adverse to exercising his cowbell, sometimes produces tones that sound as if miniature cymbals have been placed on top of his ride and sizzle cymbals. At times he also appears to be using his hands on the snare skin for a more African-style sound.

As for the Norwegian, between his swirl of shrieking high notes and wet bubbles of clearly emphasized split tones -- among other reed exercises -- he exposes a constant fount of ideas, confirming his leadership here, as well as his long tenure as an outside musician in his native country.

Choosing between two woodwind players with the initials FG who both work with bass and drums is impossible. In their hands-across-the-sea meetings both reedists expose two equally valid ways of creating improvised music on these fine CDs.

Track Listing: Voice: 1. Three character attacks: Photographers; 2. The prince; 3. Profound and shallow Two instances of libel/one memory lapse; 4. Increased (a); 5. Increased (b); 6. Impossible Track Listing: Welsh: 1. The Welsh chapel: Part 1; 2. The Welsh chapel: part 2; 3. The Welsh chapel: Part 3; 4. The Welsh chapel: part 4; 5. The Welsh chapel: part 5 Personnel: Voice: Frank Gratkowski, alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Damon Smith, bass; Jerome Bryerton, percussion Personnel: Welsh: Frode Gjerstad, alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; John Edwards, bass; Mark Sanders, drums

 

"Mirrors-Broken But No Dust - BPA 001" — Reviewed by RENT ROMUS, Transbay Calendar/Jazz Steps

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"Mirrors-Broken But No Dust - BPA 001"

Musicians: Peter Kowald, Damon Smith

Reviewed by RENT ROMUS, Transbay Calendar/Jazz Steps

 

Mirrors-Broken But No Dust -Balance Point Acoustics
Peter Kowald double bass
Damon Smith double bass
www.balancepointacoustics.com
From the newest upstart D.I.Y. musician run label Balance Point Acoustics, comes Damon Smith, a blasting, bombastic bhrama bull of a bass player joining stellar forces with bass master and iconoclast Peter Kowald to produce a sonic gem of a recording. Normally, I would not have been into listening to a recording with only strings but the tonal concepts displayed here warrant a good hard listen. The recordings took place both live at the now defunct Gallery 2310 and the studios of Miles Boisen. The interaction of the two massive double basses is to say the least, impressive. Massive walls of sound and textures bouncing and playing off each other like the rushing of a waterfall come to mind. Here on these dates the two are definitely in their element and firmly on the same page of surreal landscapes. They utilize the instruments to their fullest capability everywhere from percussive tonal slapping to elongated solemn bowing. The most amazing aspect is the music holds my attention by pulling in so many e (Incomplete)

Mirrors Broken but No Dust - BPA 001 The Sale of Tickets for Money Was Abolished - BPA 002" — Reviewed by Derk Richardson - SFWeekly

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Mirrors Broken but No Dust - BPA 001 The Sale of Tickets for Money Was Abolished - BPA 002"

Musicians: Peter Kowald, Damon Smith & Tony Bevan, Damon Smith, Scott R. Looney

Reviewed by Derk Richardson - SFWeekly

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In the Bay Area's tight-knit but internationally networked creative music community, few have worked harder at mastering an instrument and boosting the scene than bassist Damon Smith. His willingness to throw himself into every available context, even when he's in over his head, has accelerated the advancement of his technical skill and his on-the-spot creativity. On the first two releases from yet another local label dedicated to documenting the extemporaneous encounters that occur where only a fraction of the population is willing to go (in terms of both musical ideas and the physical spaces where they're played out), Smith exercises burgeoning talents to absorbing effect.

Mirrors is a set of contrabass duets with German virtuoso Peter Kowald. The first half of the CD captures an April 2000 live performance at Gallery 2310 in Oakland, a half-hour-long musical conversation with extended bowed and pizzicato techniques as the vocabulary. Five days later the pair went into an Oakland studio and recorded seven shorter improvised encounters. What these uncannily like-minded musicians explore is far removed from jazz bass solos that skitter up and down the neck with fluttering runs and tricky double stops. They are immersing themselves in a vast moment in which listening and instantaneously responding are one, with fascinating, rich textures and sonic landscapes as the result.

The Sale of Tickets is a set of 10 instant compositions performed in a two-hour session that took place between the two Kowald-Smith encounters. The instrumentation — Englishman Tony Bevan plays bass sax and local new-music activist Scott R. Looney plays prepared piano and electronics — generates a different, often more pointillist field of sound, but the feel of simultaneous urgency and focused attention is similar to that on Mirrors. Investigating a world opened up by Cecil Taylor, John Cage, Bertram Turetzky, and others, these musicians give us the chance to renew our understanding and experience of music.

 

Three October Meetings BPA 003 — Reviewed by Bill Smith, Vancouver Jazz

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Three October Meetings BPA 003

Musicians: Wolfgang Fuchs, Jerome Bryerton, Damon Smith

Reviewed by Bill Smith, Vancouver Jazz

 

Article before review added for your reading enjoyment.

UNAMERICAN ACTIVITIES
Compact Discs in review

The echoic whispers of ghosts, howls from hidden vanished places. (WhereDead Voices Gather - Nick Tosches). Jazz has a substantial documented history, providing quotable references in abundance, often repeating facts that are merely hearsay and often untrue. The six CDs under observation are not "jazz", are not American and are not referenced by that lineage. Four of the participants have been part of my own personal performance history.

Spoken language seems to be a pertinent factor in improvised music, the dialects and colloquialisms creating natural inherent sound and rhythmic structure. The rhythm of the American spoken language, for example, is a major element in the idea of swing. The music under review is influenced by the language systems of Europe and Britain.

Up Deaf Cat Lane, far enough away from even a country road, the chattering classes' endless urban noise is absent from my everyday life, replaced at worst by the occasional whine of a chain saw or the warning bark of a dog, presenting the opportunity of quietude often augmented by the melodious musical calls made by birds and insects, allowing me to relate to the sound of improvised music from another perspective, often appearing as an extension of this natural order.

Having always been a great lover of tunes, especially those of Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman, and half-a-century of fanatical devotion to jazz music, it is clear that European improvised music is not a natural extension of that art form, and it cannot be described utilising the same criterion; certainly past academic reasoning. To play improvised music demands a formidable technique, great attention to detail, and an outstanding imagination, as there is no standard support system to lean upon. Only the moment, a moment that is occurring for the audience and performers simultaneously. All hearing it for the first time. The experience is not the simple minded notion of pleasure, although that could be enough, but rather the stimulation of senses, an awakening to a music spontaneously conceived. The CDs under review are a duet and five trios, possibly perfect configurations, allowing an unrestrained familiarity to develop.

Trombonist/cellist G�nter Christmann appears on two of the recordings; in duet with vocalist(!) Phil Minton ("(for) friends and neighbo(u)rs" - concepts of doing cod 008/explico 12) and in trio with Serge Baghdassarians (guitar & electronics) and Boris Baltschun (sampler & electronics) (mal d'archive - concepts of doing cod007/explico 11). (http://www.concepts-of-doing.de)

The duet presents two highly experienced free improvisers at the top of their form � quite my favourite improvised music CD of recent times � illustrating the level of diversity and interaction it's possible to achieve; their dialogue never just casually conversational. Serious wide-ranging topics are clearly apparent. Christmann's arsenal of trombone techniques vocalize their own accord; pops, slurs, squeals and squeaks � a certain grumbling, gathering together with close listening purity. His cello a little more scrabble scratch. There are trade-mark Minton effects; the lunatic opera singer, and Mickey's friend Donald makes a brief appearance. They emerge occasionally sanctified, small chills creeping from darkly shadowed ominous corners, a certain casual danger, only to burst forth into uproarious laughter.

G�nter Christmann's musical journey began in 1968 and embodies a variety of disciplines which include a tenure with the legendary Globe Unity Orchestra. From the late seventies on he developed a series under the generic name VARIO working and touring with an international who's who of musicians; once even in Canada (1979). His fancy has seen him working with dancers, actors and acrobats, and in live performance with film; some of which he himself creates. He has also mastered the difficult art of solo trombone playing.

The second CD has a quite different feel, more minimalist in character with spikey, brittle and somewhat edgey results utilising the current language of electronically generated sound sources, the 15 short pieces (1:44 - 8:04) seemingly tightly contained, often creating an unsettling urgency, or in contrast carefully restrained and overly fastidious character refinements.

Drummer/percussionist Roger Turner, an accomplice of both Christmann and Minton, appears on two trio CDs, Konk Pack - Big Deep - GROB 102 (http://www.churchofgrob.com) with Tim Hodgkinson (flat guitar, electronics, clarinet & alto saxophone) and Thomas Lehn (analogue synthesizer), and PUT - Umlaut - NURNICHTNUR CD 1000425 (www.nurnichtnur.de) with Birgit Ulher (trumpet) and Ulrich Phillipp (double bass).

As with Minton, Turner and Hodgkinson come from a British history with the influential language of two 1950's shows; the Goon Show on radio and Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men on television. Both revolutionary programs that utilised an incredible array of sound effects, much of which has found its way into everyday language. For example The Flowerpot Men's language, officially called Oddle Poddle, was notable for being almost completely incomprehensible: "Waddle oo tikoo dop? Gloob a waddle a hop" for example, translates as "What do you think of that? Gloves as well as a hat".

The inclusion of percussion, or indeed dissimilar combinations of instruments, immediately alters the music's personality, and with Konk Pack percussion appears as its centrepiece, with Turner's facile, fleet and focussed contribution giving the music an internal rapidity. Unlike many free improvisers his history begins with strong sixties jazz roots, a love of music performed by Ornette, Mingus, Coltrane et al, often giving this music an original element of "swing". As a trio they demonstrate a visceral integrated music, the end result a recognizable collective character. Over the course of the six pieces � each with a different personality � the dynamic/aural range and the vast array of electronic and rhythmic combinations allow us to experience the possibilities available. The longest piece (not head only in - 18:41) is a superb example of how interest is sustained in improvised music; moving about, developing from minimal flutter-click-clatter to a powerful surging "composition" � dare I say: "swinging like the clappers" � always creating an unhesitant linear story. In contrast there is the quietly abstracted; or elongated wave forms creating great drama, imagining other bodies, a mime perhaps. Bursts of energy from a landscape of tiny tinny squiggles, pushing jerkily forward. Occasionally a skittery clarinet, the odd jolly moment, but certainly not a joke. And not a music of high-tech electronics � even an old radio might do it. The finalé approaches roar with a most dramatic ending of abrupt silence. Quite my favourite band at the Victo 2000 gathering, and the first example of electronically integrated music to catch my fancy.

The final 2 CDs, the above listed Umlaut, and Three October Meetings - balance point acoustics 003 (www.balancepointacoustics.com) with Wolfgang Fuchs (contrabass & bass clarinets, and sopranino saxophone), Jerome Bryerton (percussion) and Damon Smith (double bass), could superficially imply that the inclusion of bass and drums would steer the results toward jazz, create a rhythm section. This of course is not the case, not the intention, for even with this configuration the music is collectively created.

Umlaut gives us a continuous series of mostly miniatures, a series of dramatic vignettes in the form of sound sculptures � textural, pointillist portraits � each containing a certain delicacy among its brusque phrasing. A tad secret with a Zen sensibility, relying on a listener's certain mood. I believe it was Gerry Mulligan who said of Monk's music � "it is the silences as much as the notes", and in this music, so far removed from American history, it is often the silences that guide its course.

The recording with Wolfgang Fuchs finds him in the company of two younger Americans born in the same year that he began performing in public. His journey is well documented, his founding and leading the King Übü Örchestrü in 1983 an important stage in the ongoing language of Improvisation. This music, although with American partners, is much in his customary style; buzzy, insistent and often densely forceful. The snakey, sliding, somewhat brittle sopranino, popping, squealing, manipulated with fleet of tongue technique; the lower clef clarinets burbling away. The three meetings, two live and one in a studio, vary from brief forays to more extended works, and have an inclination toward obliging.

Are these replications of life sound, of everyday experience? Does it matter if it's rural or urban? In the end it's written language describing sound, sounds for which other ears may hear other voices.

 

"Mirrors - Broken but no Dust - BPA001" — Reviewed by Paul Sharpe, Double Bassist

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"Mirrors - Broken but no Dust - BPA001"

Musicians: Peter Kowald, Damon Smith

Reviewed by Paul Sharpe, Double Bassist

 

On their new recording, Kowald and smith take improvisation to levels of artistic and technical virtuosity rarely encountered, and the fresh, stimulating and exploratory quality of their improvisations are well preserved here.

The disc is comprised of nine unnamed tracks. The first two are actually one 31-mintue improvisation recorded live. Something that marks the entire recording is an extremely dense and intense texture, and it took me several minutes to accept that only two basses were playing. The pace is generally frenetic, but never lacks direction, and the pieces range from brutal and explosive to ethereal.

The interplay between both artists is symbiotic, and it seems to spring from one source rather than two. The bassists exploit the complete palette of technique, color, register and noise, producing a gripping collage. Every non-traditional technique used not only fits the music perfectly, but it also portrays the eclectic tastes of both artists. The double bass with it's resonance, range, versatility and expressive power, is the ideal instrument for this sort of musical exploration.

The high-quality of engineering of this recording helps to fully experience this music. The quality and closeness of the sound are very similar to what one hears while actually playing an acoustic instrument, which makes the music and it's effect very direct and visceral for the listener.