Reviews

"Cruxes" — Reviewed by Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic

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"Cruxes"

Musicians: Josephson/Leandre/Smith/Blume

Reviewed by Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic


This latest offering on Damon Smith's Balance Point Acoustics imprint, like its immediate predecessor Sperrgut, features the Bay Area bassist in the company of German percussionist Martin Blume. They're joined by Aurora Josephson on vocals – her linocuts also grace the album's back tray and booklet – and French bassist (and occasional manic vocalist herself) Joëlle Léandre, who was paying a return visit to Oakland's Mills College when this was recorded in October 2004. Léandre's background in contemporary classical music, which included notable friendships with Giacinto Scelsi and John Cage, will be familiar to readers of these pages, and, in conjunction with Josephson's occasional well-rounded soprano, it adds a touch of conservatory gravitas to Cruxes, notably on the drone that opens the closing "Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi!", one of four tracks recorded live at the Berkeley Art Centre. Three of the eight studio takes recorded the day before are duets – the Smith / Léandre bass battle on "Siberia of the Mind" is particularly exciting – and Blume sits out the trio, "Scriabin the Derailer", which begins with Smith and Léandre slashing out into space with their bows. A fitting metaphor for the two bass jousts that characterise the album as a whole. It's a subtle, supple set of pieces, but despite the fact she has a pretty voice I'm not entirely convinced by what Josephson is doing when things really get swinging on "Tanglefoot Flypaper". She sounds more at ease on the live cuts, which also feature some splendid arco interplay between the bassists – and don't fall for that dumb old line that Léandre's the "classical" player and Smith the "jazzman", because it doesn't work like that – as ever tastefully accompanied by Blume's meticulous pointillism.–DW

"Elengans - Nuscope 1017" — Reviewed by Bruce Galanter

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"Elengans - Nuscope 1017"

Musicians: Biggi Vinkeloe/Damon Smith/Kjell Nordeson

Reviewed by Bruce Galanter

 


"This is another extra-special trio offering from the consistently excellent nuscope label featuring Ms. Biggi Vinkeloe on alto sax & flute, Damon Smith on contrabass and Kjell Nordeson on drums & vibes. Commencing with the somber, "Today, The Sun is Blue", the sax and bowed bass softly drift together. All but one of the 14 pieces is under 5 1/2 minutes, so that each piece remains focused on a few ideas at a time. The title piece is the only one that passes the 7 minute mark and the pace starts to speed up a bit, as the trio slowly ascend and swirl together modestly. Biggi's warm tone and careful placement of notes make this one of the most dreamy of any improv discs I've heard for quite some time. Kjell's spacious, hovering vibes also add a most subtle haunting vibe to the proceedings. Damon also does some fine work by adding exquisite punctuation a note or two at a time, making each one count, never too busy, yet always helping center what is slowly revealed. At times, I hear Ornette's "Golden Circle" trio from the mid-sixties, played almost in slow motion, yet they remain fascinating and quite restrained simultaneously. I hear the ghost-like spirit of Jimmy Giuffre in there somewhere as well." Bruce Galanter, Downtown Music Gallery

"Cruxes" — Reviewed by Marc Medwin

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"Cruxes"

Musicians: Aurora Josephson/Joelle Leandre/Martin Blume

Reviewed by Marc Medwin


I admire both Jöelle Léandre and Damon Smith for their ability to adapt convincingly to whatever situation presents itself. This new disc is a particularly strong case in point. All members of the group prove malleable without necessitating any sacrifice or creating negative tension. Of course, there are the most readily apparent meldings, such as the finest moments of “Un Souer de Charite”; Léandre and Josephson become a single instrument as the latter switches from shrillings and raspings to a beautiful full-voice that blooms rather than simply swelling. Léandre reacts—precipitates?—with arco tremolo in thirds or seconds, all elements meshing in a kind of static “third space”. As wonderful as such occurrences are, it’s even more spectacular to hear how the two basses joust, react and merge; there’s some extraordinarily intense listening going on, every moment realizing one combinatorial possibility only to leave myriad others satellite, yet the results are almost always satisfying. The other “pitched” musicians indulge Smith’s penchant for tonal passages with alacrity, Josephson swinging the gamut from Mintonesque gurgles and screeches to full-throated Patty Waters-inflected blues. Far removed from it’s “French” counterpart from the live material, “Imaginary paintings/Imaginary Frames” becomes a song without words as Josephson slides, swoops and glides over it, Smith, Léandre and Blume providing a rock-solid and immensely sensitive landscape through which she travels. As with many improv discs, it is sometimes difficult to tell precisely who’s responsible for any given sound, Martin Blume being partially responsible for the confusion. He is superb, and this project, as well as his other work for the label, make me eager to hear as much from him as I can. He strikes with force, rattles and shimmers with wisdom and clarity, changing timbre if not style from piece to piece. “The Elusive Basilisk” finds him at his most transparent, and are those whips he’s woofing around? The studio half of the disc bristles with as much energy as do the live portions. The recording is first-rate. Another fine disc from what is becoming one of my favorite improv labels. ~ Marc Medwin

"Sextessense: A Tribute to John Stevens & SME " — Reviewed by Bruce Galanter

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"Sextessense: A Tribute to John Stevens & SME "

Musicians: JOHN BUTCHER/HENRY KAISER/AARON BENNETT/DANIELLE DEGRUTTOLA/DAMON SMITH

Reviewed by Bruce Galanter

 


JOHN BUTCHER/HENRY KAISER/AARON BENNETT/DANIELLE DEGRUTTOLA/DAMON SMITH/JEROME BRYERTON - Sextessense: A Tribute to John Stevens & SME [Spontaneous Music Ensemble] (Balance Point Acoustics 11; USA) Featuring Henry Kaiser on guitar, John Butcher & Aaron Bennet on saxes, Danielle DeGruttola on cello, Damon Smith on acoustic bass and Jerome Bryerton on drums, plus Kurt Newman on guitar on one track. John Stevens is perhaps the most influential and most beloved of all British modern "jazz" drummers, he certainly cast a large shadow on the entire European avant/jazz scene since his the mid-sixties. As a leader or co-leader of so many diverse and influential ensembles, Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME), an original member of Company, Amalgam, Detail and John Steven's Away, his playing embraced so many different streams, free/jazz, Ornette-like grooves, fusion, South African and rock-like groove-space. He played in duos and trios with Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Frode Gjerstad, John Butcher and Gary Smith. He worked with musicians as diverse as Bobby Bradford, Dudu Pukwana, Alan Holdsworth, Julie Tippetts and John Martyn. So, it makes perfect sense that a musicians like Henry Kaiser, John Butcher and Damon Smith, would want to do a tribute to this great man, spirit, teacher, drummer and multi-bandleader. Much of Stevens' best work was done with the legendary SME, which le led for nearly thirty years (1967-1994), with changing personnel on almost every recording. Although SME were known as a "free" ensemble, it is Steven's direction that made them so cohesive and often so magical. I get the feeling that the same vision or direction was used to guide this extraordinary session. Henry has chosen some like-minded players here and although I am unfamiliar with Mr. Bryerton, Mr. Bennet & Mr. Newman, everyone fits just right into the often nimble, yet focused world of directed improv. Most carefully recorded so that one can swim within sea of rich details. This is one of the finest improv dates I've heard in recent memory, you get the feeling that there is some close listening and responding going on here. Nice to hear from the wonderful cellist Danielle DeGruttola, whose playing can only be heard on a few other discs with Henry. An extraordinary session on all accounts. - BLG

"Ghetto Calypso" — Reviewed by Paweł Baranowski

"Ghetto Calypso"

Musicians: Eneidi / Kowald / Smith / Spirit

Reviewed by Paweł Baranowski


Eneidi / Kowald / Smith / Spirit - Ghetto Calypso Krakowska Not Two od kilku lat zaskakuje jazzfanów w Polsce, pokazując, że może w naszym kraju istnieć wytwórnia płytowa, prezentująca nagrania czołówki światowego jazzu. Tym razem, do czołówki na pewno zaliczyć można Petera Kowalda, zaś Marco Eneidi, moim skromnym zdaniem, to jeden z najciekawszych, wciąż chyba jednak niedocenianych saksofonistów. Od dłuższego czasu, Marek Winiarski, prezentuje muzykę raczej dla świadomych odbiorców, o dość ściśle sprecyzowanych gustach. Przyjąć należałoby, że kolejne płyty Not Two, trafią raczej do świadomych odbiorców awangardy współczesnego jazzu, niż staną się przyjemnością słuchaczy lżejszych jego odmian. Nie inaczej jest z "Ghetto Calypso". Firmowana przez czwórkę instrumentalistów: Marka Eneidiego, Petera Kowalda, Damona Smitha i Spirita, muzyka już samym składem instrumentalnym wskazuje, że artyści chcieli pokazać coś oryginalnego. Bowiem kwartet, kwartetowi nie równy. Tutaj saksofon altowy i perkusja wspomagane są aż przez dwa kontrabasy. I choć tego typu "wzmocniona" sekcja rytmiczna jest wypróbowywana przez coraz to nowych muzyków, trudno powiedzieć, by zadomowiła się na stałe. Zawsze postrzegana jest w kategoriach eksperymentu. Dość często, w składach z dwoma kontrabasami, jeden z nich wykorzystywany jest jako instrument rytmiczny, drugi raczej jako harmoniczno-melodyczny. Tym razem, w wielu partiach płyty, ani Kowald, ani Smith nie zapewniają żadnego rytmicznego kontekstu dla muzyki, pokazując raczej kolorystyczne możliwości swych instrumentów. Zresztą taka jest ta muzyka. Jeśli nawet nie w całości, to w olbrzymich partiach, przypomina raczej dźwiękiem malowany obraz. I choć obecnie (nawet w chwili nagrywania tej muzyki, co miało miejsce w roku 2000), nie dziwi już muzyka pozbawiona praktycznie całego rytmiczno-melodycznego kontekstu, to w dalszym ciągu postrzegana jest jako awangarda. Prawdopodobnie tak będzie także z "Ghetto Calypso". Nagranie prezentowane przez kwartet na pewno do łatwych nie należy i wymaga od słuchacza dość dużej uwagi i skupienia. Prezentując swobodne free, na pewno nie jest płytą dla każdego. Osoby, które chciałyby jednak się z nią zaznajomić czekać będzie kolejna lekcja pokory, bowiem muzyka zagrana przez Eneidiego i kompanów potrafi rozszerzać horyzonty myślenia. PS: W opis płyty wdarł się mały błąd, albowiem Marco Eneidi gra na saksofonie altowym, a nie, jak podano, na tenorowym. Paweł Baranowski

"Sperrgut" BPA 009 — Reviewed by Brian Olewnick, Bagatellen

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"Sperrgut" BPA 009

Musicians: Birgit Ulher/Damon Smith/Martin Blume

Reviewed by Brian Olewnick, Bagatellen


The specific meaning of terms migrates over time. “New School” inevitably becomes “Old”, not that the phrase should necessarily take on a pejorative aspect. The three other discs featuring Damon Smith’s playing could, I think it’s fair to say, be described as post-Parker/Bailey improv (Evan and Derek, not Charlie and Buster), music that’s relatively active and given to short flurries, pointillist rather than spatially oriented. It’s also characterized, to an extent, by something of an insular quality, much more self-referential than outward looking, for instance tending not to incorporate sound/music from without the free improv ambit. Absolutely nothing wrong with this, of course, and I’d strongly encourage those for whom that area holds general attraction to check them out, but some listeners, myself included, prefer hearing such music produced when the very notion carried with it more of a sense of explorative excitement. Smith, in his writing, has shown himself to be quite open to various other modes of improvisational expression, but it was only on “Sperrgut” that I received a sense of this being translated into sound. To be sure, it’s not a decided break from the previously mentioned discs but there’s something—one assumes it might largely revolve around the presence of Ulher—that breathes extra life into this session, that expands it well beyond any whiff of hermeticism. As seems to be the rule on these releases, the tracks are shorter than normally encountered in this area, here nine spread over about 50 minutes, but unlike elsewhere where I often wanted to hear ideas expounded upon at greater length, the durations on “Sperrgut” feel just about right. Ulher brings out the more liquid side of Smith’s and Blume’s playing largely by dint of her own deliciously wet sound as the trio slides and slithers through the pieces (all titled with what appear to be measurements for some arcane purpose, e.g. “0.30 x 1.60 x 3.25m”) with abandon, the stops and starts possessing a great sense of being embedded in an underlying continuum rather than sputtering in isolation. The three work together beautifully, percussionist Blume actually providing a good deal of the more “melodic” content, allowing Smith to salt the brew with some needed, more astringent palate cleansing, though he works in a good deal of lovely, rich, low arco in several of the tracks as well. Although they’re actually quite varied, the improvisations feel very much of a piece, excerpts from an ongoing conversation. There’s not a weak performance in the bunch; an excellent effort.

Brian Olewnick on April 23, 2006 07:41 AM 
http://www.bagatellen.com

"Elengans - Nuscope 1017" — Reviewed by Chris Kelsey for JazzTimes

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"Elengans - Nuscope 1017"

Musicians:
Biggi Vinkeloe/Damon Smith/Kjell Nordeson

Reviewed by Chris Kelsey for JazzTimes


BIGGI VINKELOE, DAMON SMITH, KJELL NORDESON
Elegans (Nuscope)


Bowed double bass makes me think of an elephant wearing a tutu or a pastry chef trying to frost a wedding cake with a snow shovel. Damon Smith sounds like he’s put in a lot of work learning to play arco, and he does a respectable job. Nevertheless, his occasional over-reliance on the bow gives this otherwise light, airy music a ponderous quality. On flute and alto sax, Biggi Vinkeloe is a graceful player, inclined toward slow, unadorned melody—except, of course, when she’s being fast and ornate, which happens more and more as the album goes along. Vibist/drummer Kjell Nordeson can likewise be careful and considerate, quick and impetuous. Smith is better when playing pizzicato. His touch is lighter, his ideas more free-flowing and his contribution generally more appealing. Ultimately, the disc is a showcase for Vinkeloe, and she proves herself an engaging player, abstract but ineffably accessible. I’ve said it before—there are an infinite number of free improvisations floating around out there in the ether, just waiting for musicians to give them form and commit ’em to disc. This one’s better than most, not as good as some. -Chris Kelsey 
Jazztimes June, 2006

"Sperrgut,BPA 009" — Reviewed by Troy Collins, Cadence

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"Sperrgut,BPA 009"

Musicians: Birgit Ulher/Damon Smith/Martin Blume

Reviewed by Troy Collins, Cadence


Hailing from the Bay Area, (1)delivers a collection of open-ended improvisations that traffic in classic call-and-response mode. With boundless invention, all three members of the trio delve deep into their respective instruments to dredge up the most esoteric varieties of sound imaginable. Melody, harmony, rhythm and structure are concepts best left at the table when confronting an album like this. This date is concerned solely with texture, timing and dynamics. Birgit Ulher’s trumpet playing is suitably expressive, veering from sputtered whinnies to blats, smears and whispers. Upright bassist Damon Smith plays his instrument much as its smaller cousins are commonly used. Rather than plucking the instrument in a traditional way, he uses his bow to generate sound instead, veering from subtle harmonics to dissonant scrapes. Martin Blume flails around his trap set with a coloristic sensibility, less concerned with pulse than tonal variety. A competent session of limited appeal, this will satisfy those seeking cerebral improvisation, but for those in the market for harmony, melody and rhythm, best look elsewhere.

Troy Collins, Cadence

"Sperrgut + Cruxes" — Reviewed by Richard Moule, Signal To Noise

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"Sperrgut + Cruxes"

Musicians: Birgit Ulher/Damon Smith/Martin Blume + Aurora Josephson / Joelle Leandre / Damon Smith / Martin Blume

Reviewed by Richard Moule, Signal To Noise


Two examples of the restless, small gesture free improv U.K. style from Bay-area bassist Smith’s Balance Point Acoustics label. Smith and German drummer Blume are the constants here on this pair of discs which differ only slightly in sound, and are remarkably similar in approach, featuring sonic modulations, timbral explorations, spatial dynamics and jump cut exchanges.

It’s all for one and one for all on Sperrgut, but ultimately it is German trumpeter Ulher who stands out on this 2004 session of spirited cross hatches and pretzel-like lattices. Like her fellow European exponents of minimal brass and breath resonations, Axel Dorner and Franz Hautzinger, Ulher’s Bill Dixon-like morse code extended techniques of sputters, chortles, chirps, spurts, bleats and air generations dart and hover like a hummingbird pecking at a flower. Smith and Blume bob and weave, cutting and thrusting when there is an opening. Like Ulher, they aren’t interested in adhering to any conventions as they roam, rattle and stroke their instruments in focused bursts, never lingering too long in one place. Ulher has long been interested in painting, particularly abstract expressionism, and accordingly she gives the tracks canvas-like specifications, ie 6.30 X 1.60 X 3.25 m.

Jackson Pollock’s feverish slash and drip painting strategies would easily fit in just as easily here as they would on Cruxes, compiled of tracks from a studio session and live performance from 2004. Smith and Blume employ the same kind of rhythmic vocabulary as on Sperrgut, but the presence of blood curdling vocalist Josephson and French contrabassist Leandre beef up the improvisations and fill in the spaces laid bare on Sperrgut. The two women also bring an austere acidity to these knotted and tangled interactions. Leandre is known for her muscular astringency and she brings this power to these exciting dialogues, especially when she locks horns with Smith (who shows why he was more than capable of keeping up with the late Peter Kowald on their duet disc Mirrors—Broken But No Dust). On the closing 19-minute “Hodie Mihl, Cras Tibi!”, Leandre, Blume and Smith not only ebb and flow between meditative drones and pugilistic sparring, they also leave plenty of room for Josephson to showcase her demonic Diamonda Galas vocalese. Screw Norah Jones, Diana Krall and all the other retro divas. In a perfect world, Josephson would be the standard for female jazz vocalists. Then again her possessed moans and upper register, tonsil-stretching cries might scare off the chain store latte drinkers. Too bad. They could use a jolt and not just of caffeine.

Richard Moule, Signal to Noise

"Sextessense: A Tribute to John Stevens & SME " — Reviewed by Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic

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"Sextessense: A Tribute to John Stevens & SME "

Musicians: Bennett / Bryerton / Butcher / De Gruttola / Kaiser / Smith

Reviewed by Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic


Seems tribute albums are in the air over at Damon Smith's Balance Point Acoustics. Sextessense is "a tribute to John Stevens and the SME" (the title refers of course to the two albums Stevens recorded with the Derek Bailey, Kent Carter, Evan Parker and Trevor Watts line-up of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble in 1973, Quintessence 1 and 2). Stevens was one of the prime movers and arguably the most important catalyst in improvised music as it emerged in late 1960s London, and his SME remains one of free music's mythic acronyms, along with AMM, ICP, FMP, LAFMS and LMC. It's fitting then that Smith's tribute should notch up a few points of authentic Stevens street cred by recruiting former SME saxophonist John Butcher, who joins a stellar cast of West Coast improvisers – Aaron Bennet (sax), Jerome Bryerton (drums), Danielle DeGruttola (cello), Henry Kaiser (guitar) and Smith himself on bass – on these nine, lean, mean workouts. It's rare to hear Butcher in the company of another saxophonist, so it's a special treat to hear him trade licks with Bennet. If the music seems pretty agile and spiky, altogether in a different ballpark from the more pared down stuff Butcher's been getting into in recent years, it's not surprising – it was recorded way back in 1999. You might wonder why it's taken so long to see the light of day, but you should certainly rejoice that it has.–DW

"DOMO ARIGATO DEREK SENSEI!" — Reviewed by Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic

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"DOMO ARIGATO DEREK SENSEI!"

Musicians: Henry Kaiser

Reviewed by Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic

 


At least Henry Kaiser's honest: if it hadn't been for Derek Bailey he probably wouldn't have picked up a guitar in the first place. ("Would you have become a scuba diver instead?" wonders Damon Smith.) So there are few people better placed to curate a Bailey tribute album than Kaiser, especially since, just glancing at the photos in the digipak interior, it looks as if he's got every record the man ever made, including of course his (Kaiser's) own duet outing with Bailey, the splendid Wireforks (1993, Shanachie). In addition to three fine solo tracks, Domo Arigato consists of duets and trios featuring Kaiser and a host of guests: Kiku Day (shakuhachi), Sang-Won Park (changgo), Toshinori Kondo (trumpet), Greg Goodman (piano), percussionists Andrea Centazzo and Charles K. Noyes, bassists Smith and Motoharu Yoshizawa, saxophonists Henry Kuntz, Larry Ochs, John Oswald and Mototeru Takagi, and guitarists Davey Williams.. and Bailey himself. Wait a sec, how come Derek Bailey gets to play on his own tribute album? Easy – because his track was recorded in 1993. In fact, as you've probably guessed while casting your eye through the list of featured musicians, many of whose names come as something of a blast from the past (Centazzo, Noyes..), the pieces on offer span Kaiser's entire recording career, from 1978 – the duos with Kondo and Centazzo – to this year's duo with Smith and "Metalanguage Trio" with Goodman and Ochs. As well as doing a pretty nifty Bailey imitation when he wants to, Kaiser has also adopted the late guitarist's habit of telling a story while he plays, so that the album is as much a spoken tribute to Bailey as a musical one. For the most part the spoken bits are of the order of fan mail ("So what does Derek Bailey mean to you? What do you get from him?" he asks Smith), and Kaiser can't resist having a go at the Ben Watson biography (though he recommends people read it nonetheless), but the music is what matters most. There's some fabulous playing here, most notably of course by Kaiser, who despite being a self-professed Baileyphile has always cultivated his own idiosyncratic approach to the instrument. A fresh and touching act of homage to a great musician.–DW

Elengans - Nuscope 1017 — Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Cadence

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Elengans - Nuscope 1017

Musicians: Biggi Vinkeloe/Damon Smith/Kjell Nordeson

Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Cadence


Paul Desmond once jokingly referred to himself as the slowest alto in the music. He has a worthy successor in Swedish alto artist Biggi Vinkeloe, whose latest CD is a fine example of her lyric introspection. I do not mean to disparage her playing by calling it slow. She is generally in no hurry to say everything in her first five-minute solo. Instead, we get a thoughtful series of vignettes with Kjell Nordeson's drums and vibes laying down a backdrop along with Damon Smith's arco and pizzicato bass. It is Biggi that shines throughout, on alto as well as flute. Every cut has its merits. I find the "coolness" of her playing quite refreshing and it is certainly beholden to "New Thing" roots. Russell Summers in the liner notes suggests Ornette and Lee Konitz as some influences and they are there. Biggi has gone pretty far along her own stylistic road however. This is cool outness at its best. I am glad to have had the opportunity to review this one and look forward to checking out some of her previous releases!

"Elengans - Nuscope 1017 — Reviewed by Stuart Kremsky, NAJRC Journal

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"Elengans - Nuscope 1017

Musicians: Biggi Vinkeloe/Damon Smith/Kjell Nordeson

Reviewed by Stuart Kremsky, NAJRC Journal

 


The trio of Vinkeloe/Smith/Nordeson offers a series of polite, well-mannered improvisations on Elegans. Saxophonist and flutist Biggi Vinkeloe, bassist Damon Smith, and percussionist/vibraphonist Kjell Nordeson are clearly attuned to one another while in the process of creating these generally brief soundscapes. Their music exudes an air of serenely serious exploration, and they use the varying instrumental combinations available to them to great effect. Smith is often heard using the bow to create a rich presence at the bottom of the group's sound, with Vinkeloe, with her purity of sound and unflappable sense of movement, floats her notes above it all. Nordeson's highly developed dynamic sense, both on drums and vibes, lets the music breathe as the conversation grows more or less heated. A lovely set, most enjoyable and most rewarding.

"Cruxes" — Reviewed by Philip Clark , Double Bassist “Cruxes”

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"Cruxes"

Musicians: Aurora Josephson/Joelle Leandre/martin Blume

Reviewed by Philip Clark , Double Bassist “Cruxes”

 


Double Bassist (Summer 2006:73) 

Joëlle Léandre (db) 
Damon Smith (db) 
Aurora Josephson (v) 
Martin Blume (dr)

This quartet, headed up by bassists Joëlle Léandre and Damon Smith, is featured in a studio set from 2004 and a live set recorded around the same time at the Berkeley Art Center. The music parades all the techniques for which Léandre has become known – there’s dazzling balletic movement across and around the bass, while her heady sense of the theatrical comes to the fore in the live material, where the presence of an audience adds to the drama.

If the music has any fault, it’s that greater clarity in the structures could be forthcoming. The final track, Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi!, is a whopping 19 minutes along, and although stuffed full of great ideas, the stuttering continuity makes the music feel overly episodic. Nonethless, there’s a brilliant moment when the two bassists collide head-on with flurries of pizzicato notes, each player tuned slightly differently, and Martin Blume’s drumming has much-needed precision and transparency.

Smith is a Bay Area bassist who recorded a fine duo CD with Peter Kowald. The studio set includes a brief duo with Léandre, and Smith uses her vocalizations as a springboard for his own explorations of the extreme outside edge of bass colourings. There’s an attractively incongruous moment in Tanglefoot Flypaper as the music briefly references jazz swing. Vocalist Aurora Josephson is cast shrewdly in the group, with her high-pitched tones counterpointing nicely against the rumbles and percussive quicksand underneath her.

"Ghetto Calypso" — Reviewed by Derek Taylor, Bagatellen

"Ghetto Calypso"

Musicians: Eneidi / Kowald / Smith / Spirit

Reviewed by Derek Taylor, Bagatellen


Posthumous Peter Kowald releases keep coming down the pike and this one looks very promising on paper. The first three surnames on the roll call require no introduction to regular Bags readers. The identity and credentials of Spirit are probably another matter. Patterning a sparse style that draws on both New Thing and European Improv customs, his light pattering touch sometimes feels a bit flimsy and transparent, particularly during the ensemble’s higher density moments. Fortunately, in a group like this one with two strong-willed bassists vying and colluding, it’s a strategy that complements rather than hinders. His brief solo drum foray “Obo” suggests time spent shedding to the sounds of Don Moye and Denis Charles, and like both he’s prone to gruff vocal commentary in conjunction with his stick play. Pale shades of John Stevens also arise in the pointillist side of Spirit’s approach, though I’m not completely sold on his cachet as a contender.

Taped in the spring of 2000 at the tail end of Kowald’s historic 3-month U.S. tour tour, the disc comprises 17 studio tracks, most hovering in the two to four-minute range, that cycle by quickly. In addition to a generous array of full-quartet cuts there are also a handful of pared down improvisations. They vary from the busy duet “Cracked Mirrors…” that recalls Smith and Kowald’s seminal meeting on Balance Point Acoustics, to interstitial pieces like “Sufi Prayer,” a disappointing fragment that ends up little more than Eneidi making raspy percussive sounds through his mouthpiece. Longer excursions like the title track and “Pull, Push, Jump (Up)” work better and yield outcomes that are more memorable. There’s a terrific segment during “New Music Pygmies” where saxophone keypads, bass strings and cymbals mimic the delicate pitches of a Mbuti mbira choir. “The Unforeseen is What is Beautiful” unfolds as six-minute audio slideshow for extended bass techniques, Eneidi adding pursed reed percussion and Spirit mixing whorled colors with sticks and cymbals.

Eneidi’s alto is as raw and recalcitrant as ever throughout the set, ululating in rhythmic vertical geysers and clocking accelerated speeds. Jimmy Lyons’ vernacular still weighs heavy in his horn speech. On pieces like the choppy “Black Dots” tightly fluttering phrases harden swiftly into piercing multiphonics. Clear studio sound captures both Smith and Kowald beautifully and the two cleanly divide into stereo channels to aid in identification. Their elastic give and take and parallel pizzicato lines on the closing “Easinesses Found” draw on a deep rapport and together they make formidable harmonic union. There’s a lot of strong music here, but the sum still seems curiously less than the parts. It’s more like a patchwork of outtakes strung together into the semblance of a program and lacks an overarching album feel as a result. Reservations aside, there’s still enough to recommend the disc. At the very least, it’s a welcome chance for one more visit with the dearly departed Kowald.

~ Derek Taylor

"Sperrgut, BPA 009 — Reviewed by Ken Waxman, Jazzword.com

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"Sperrgut, BPA 009

Musicians: Birgit Ulher/Damon Smith/Martin Blume

Reviewed by Ken Waxman, Jazzword.com

 


Birgit Ulher/Damon Smith/Martin Blume Sperrgut Balance point bpa009 Birgit Ulher/Lars Scherzberg/Michael Maierhof Nordzucker Creative Sources CS 052 Hamburg-based trumpeter Birgit Ulher never misses an opportunity to challenge herself with new improvisational partners – even if she has to leave the country to do so. Take these memorable CDs. Although both are nine-track discs showcasing the trumpet’s reductionist style in a trio setting, the similarities end there. Recorded in Oakland, Calif. in October 2004, Sperrgut finds Ulher in the company of local bassist Damon Smith and percussionist Martin Blume from Bochum, Germany. The drummer of course, is an old hand at kind of stop-and-go improvisation, with partners like British violinist Philipp Wachmann, while Smith has extended his interactions past the Bay area to play with Europeans such as German reedist Frank Gratkowski and Wolfgang Fuchs. Five months later, Nordzucker Ulher is in Berlin with two countrymen. There’s cellist Michael Maierhof, another Hamburg resident, who usually composes spatial music, and Berlin-based alto saxophonist Lars Scherzberg, who not only plays with Europeans like Italian pianist Alberto Braida and Fuchs, but has a long-time affiliation with Brooklyn-based drummer Jeff Arnal. With both CDs slotted firmly in a minimalist grove, it’s hard to choose one over the other. Nordzucker may have a slight edge however, since as a semi-working group, the players are much more familiar with one another. During the course of the related tracks they’re able to expose this-side-of-inaudible timbres as well as sudden voluble trills. Nowhere on either of the discs is there an attempt to set up a soloist-rhythm section hierarchy, with Maierhof and Smith contributing as many percussive impulses as Blume’s drum kit. While Blume’s polyrhythmic showing includes motifs that directly relate to Kenny Clarke’s Bop cymbal pulses, he’d much rather draw a drum stick across his ride cymbal or detach it to let it vibrate in the air. Concurrently he ranges all over his kit, highlighting flams and ruffs from his snares and toms, leaning into dark pounding from his bass drum, scattering bounces and rebounds, and ringing small bells. For his part Smith’s output includes blunt string pummeling and slapped staccato lines, as well as wooden thumps and bumps. There are extended shuffle bowing passages in the bull fiddle’s lowest register and sul tasto squeaks that replicate Ulher’s valve straining. Never brassy, her collection of tubes, bell and valve maneuvering is less than understated, consisting in the main of spittle-engorged bubbling, chromatic tongue- stopping, rubato spetrofluctuation, throat growls and shakes. Midway through the CD, it sounds as if she’s whispering crabby nonsense syllables straight through her bell. Infrequently underemphasized wah wahs and tongue pops arise, making it seem as if she’s creating like an uneasy alliance between the style of Don Cherry and a military bugler’s mess call – although the bulk of her output is linear. This horizontal improvising carries on to the other disc, with Scherzberg’s saxophone using body tube resonation and tongue slaps to meet Ulher’s contrapuntal twitters part way. When sul ponticello sweeps from Maierhof’s cello joins, it’s almost as if the timbres from all three are arising from one organism. Role transference is rife here as well. Commonly the cellist’s spiccato pops and grainy percussive slaps serve as the pedal-point fulcrum on which the horns’ improvisations balance. Yet one variation finds the trumpeter expelling a pitch that resembles and almost replicates percussion. Glottal punctuation from the saxophonist sporadically performs the same function. Nestled among the prolonged silences is an acknowledgement that polyphonic flanges created by the horns come from metallic instruments. This cumulative friction binds the rubato slaps, pops and spits into heavy pressured reverberations. This sibilant power is one of the few aural entities that sets Sperrgut apart from Nordzucker. As examples of exploratory modern improvisation, however, both deserve attention. 
-- Ken Waxman

"Ghetto Calypso" — Reviewed by Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic

"Ghetto Calypso"

Musicians: Eneidi / Kowald / Smith / Spirit

Reviewed by Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic

 


This collection of 17 tracks recorded back in May 2000 is intriguing for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's another posthumous postscript to the already huge Kowald discography, and another chance to hear him in the company of fellow bassist Damon Smith (following on from their earlier duo outing Mirrors – Broken But No Dust on Smith's Balance Point Acoustics imprint, which was in fact recorded at the same time as this). Secondly, it's an opportunity to hear alto saxophonist Marco Eneidi try out a few techniques more usually associated with the younger generation of free improvisers – though to my mind he's still at his best when he plays the horn more conventionally, but then I've long been a fan of the Jimmy Lyons tradition that he extends so successfully. Thirdly, the album is also notable for the drumming of Spirit (whose real name Smith claims to have forgotten): "I have been waiting to play with you ever since I heard Machine Gun," the drummer reportedly said to Kowald. But there's no question of him trying to outgun Bennink and Johansson – his playing here is nothing if not subtle. Finally, Ghetto Calypso is an example of something rather rare in today's free jazz / improv, a series of diverse and genuinely experimental forays into different stylistic regions rather than a grand unified concept album (as it were). As such, it can feel rather loose and unfocused – one wishes several tracks had been allowed to develop to considerable length, and I wonder if the order in which the pieces appear couldn't have been improved in the interests of large scale structure – but in the process gains a freshness and an element of surprise.–DW

"Ghetto Calypso" — Reviewed by Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic

"Ghetto Calypso"

Musicians: Eneidi / Kowald / Smith / Spirit

Reviewed by Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic

 


This collection of 17 tracks recorded back in May 2000 is intriguing for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's another posthumous postscript to the already huge Kowald discography, and another chance to hear him in the company of fellow bassist Damon Smith (following on from their earlier duo outing Mirrors – Broken But No Dust on Smith's Balance Point Acoustics imprint, which was in fact recorded at the same time as this). Secondly, it's an opportunity to hear alto saxophonist Marco Eneidi try out a few techniques more usually associated with the younger generation of free improvisers – though to my mind he's still at his best when he plays the horn more conventionally, but then I've long been a fan of the Jimmy Lyons tradition that he extends so successfully. Thirdly, the album is also notable for the drumming of Spirit (whose real name Smith claims to have forgotten): "I have been waiting to play with you ever since I heard Machine Gun," the drummer reportedly said to Kowald. But there's no question of him trying to outgun Bennink and Johansson – his playing here is nothing if not subtle. Finally, Ghetto Calypso is an example of something rather rare in today's free jazz / improv, a series of diverse and genuinely experimental forays into different stylistic regions rather than a grand unified concept album (as it were). As such, it can feel rather loose and unfocused – one wishes several tracks had been allowed to develop to considerable length, and I wonder if the order in which the pieces appear couldn't have been improved in the interests of large scale structure – but in the process gains a freshness and an element of surprise.–DW

"Cruxes" — Reviewed by Ken Waxman

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"Cruxes"

Musicians: Aurora Josephson/Joëlle Léandre/Damon Smith/Martin Blume

Reviewed by Ken Waxman


JOSEPHSON/LÉANDRE/SMITH/BLUME
Cruxes 
Balance Point Acoustics bpa 010

 

Despite appearances and personnel this isn’t an Old World-New World double bass face-off between a practiced French master and an American tyro, seconded by a representative of each continent.

Rather CRUXES is a document of Bochum, Germany-based percussionist Martin Blume’s visit to the Bay Area, where he improvised live and in-studio with one veteran of the European scene – French bassist Joëlle Léandre – plus bassist Damon Smith and Aurora Josephson’s voice.

Smith, whose work here is complementary rather than antagonistic to Léandre’s, has already improvised with some of the top EuroImprovisers, including German reedist Wolfgang Fuchs and British bass saxophonist Tony Bevan. Josephson has recorded in the company of Smith, Blume and British violinist Philipp Wachsmann. Blume’s collaborators have ranged from saxophonist Luc Houtkamp of the Netherlands to Belgium pianist Fred Van Hove; while Léandre cohorts stretch from the late American saxophonist Steve Lacy and Portuguese fiddler Carlos Zingaro to partners appropriate for this meeting – improvising vocalists Lauren Newton and Maggie Nichols.

Josephson doesn’t yet have the commanding vocal personality of those other two, and to be honest there is a certain sameness to her harmonic asides expressed on the disc’s 12 selections. Wordless, but not rhythmic scat, her warbling, near-lyric soprano tone insinuates itself into the crevices of these pieces. But while that takes place, her gullet responses ululate from bel canto smoothness to episodes of puppy dog-like panting, crone cackling and frightened child whimpers.

Not adverse to occasionally vocalizing herself, Léandre’s one extended foray into spitting and whispering Bedlam-like vocal interaction on “Siberia of the Mind” fits organically into this bass duet with Smith, as one bows sonorously and the other attacks the strings spiccato.

With Josephson’s peeping and squeaking soprano in-and-out of aural focus, the improvisational mode on most selections follows the pattern of the two bassists inventively improvising upfront, and the drummer commenting on, extending and accompanying the dual string actions. Bringing a wealth of rhythmic imagination to the session, Blume swathes his drum tops with subtle taps and fingertip brush strokes, dabbing not striking them.

He uses gentling cymbal resonation, rotating scratches and slapped tops to not upset the equilibrium when the vocalist introduces a mini-excursion into chimp cries and grunts. Conversely, on “Tableaux Imaginaires/Cadres Imaginaires”, a trio outing with Smith and Léandre, hardened smacks, rattled cymbals, blunt paradiddles and resonating stick rebounds is his snapping rejoinder to slashing tremolo stops and speedy bow pressure. As the bass duo works moderato, in broken chords that plug any spaces, the overall interaction produces wave forms that resemble vibrated flute lines.

Flinging timbres at one another that bring in most string nodes and pressure from the space near the tuning pegs down to just above the spike, Smith and Léandre knit a polyphonic tone blanket that takes in layering spiccato cross references, sul ponticello and sul tasto movements and straightforward double stopping.

The most spectacular version of the layered interaction occurs on the final more-than-19½-minute “Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi!” but the patterns are set throughout. Pops, whorls and spirals from Blume’s percussion, constant and repetitive shuffle bowing and double stopping from the basses as well as echoing squeaks from Josephson complete the sound picture. No contest, the crux of CRUXES is a meeting of minds, and a confirmation that improv thrives in Europe, in the United States and among veterans and near-veterans.

 

-- Ken Waxman

"Cruxes" — Reviewed by Robert Iannapollo, Cadence

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"Cruxes"

Musicians: Aurora Josephson/Joëlle Léandre/Damon Smith/Martin Blume

Reviewed by Robert Iannapollo, Cadence

 
AURORA JOSEPHSON/ JOELLE LEANDRE/ DAMON SMITH/MARTIN BLUME, CRUXES, BALANCE POINT ACOUSTICS 10. Risen Like Venus From The Flatlands Of Brooklyn / Imaginary Paintings-Imaginary Frames / Siberia Of The Mind / The Elusive Basilisk / Scriabin The Derailer / Tanglefoot Flypaper / Napoleon’s Favorite Wine (Gevrey-Chambertin) / Praxis / De Papier Tuemouches* / Un Seour De Charite* / Tableau Imaginaires-Cadres Imaginaires* / Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi! 66:03. Josephson, vcl; Leandre, b; Smith, b; Blume, d. 10/19/04 (studio), Oakland, CA; except * recorded 10/18/04 (concert), Berkeley, CA. Vocalist Josephson and bassist Smith have been contributors to a strong free musicscene in the San Francisco Bay Area. Smith’s Balance Point Acoustics label has been issuing recordings that document their intriguing collaborations. For this set, the two are joined by German drummer Martin Blume (who collaborated with these musicians on 2003’s Zero Plus) and French bassist Joelle Leandre. Although this is an ad-hoc group, they obviously speak the same language, the results making this an excellent recording of conversational free Jazz. The instrumentation of voice, two low string instruments and percussion assures that this grouping will have a unique sound. It achieves its ultimate expression on the final studio track, “Praxis” where both basses are sliding buoyantly over and around each other as Josephson acrobatically leaps atop the lines and Blume provides a chattering accompaniment. Although the majority of these tracks feature full group improvisation, several tracks feature brief duets and trios from the group. The deep sound of the strings of Leandre and Smith put Josephson’s vocals in stark relief on “Siberia Of The Mind.” Josephson and Blume duet on “Napoleon’s Favorite Wine” with each focusing on small gestures that become larger and end in a grand gesture. It’s one of the best free improvs I’ve ever heard that lasts under two minutes. More importantly, it doesn’t feel like a fragment but a complete statement. The live tracks are longer and have a more leisurely pace. But only the 20 minute final track seems a bit overlong. And while it has a few brief dead spots, after a bit of meandering the four find common ground and the music takes off again. Besides, this track has some of the most compelling music of the set, most notably when Leandre and Smith play an arco drone in accompaniment to Josephson’s stratospheric flight. Cruxes is yet another example of the fertile music that’s been brewing in the Bay Area for a number of years now. Robert Iannapollo