"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.