"The Voice Imitator - BPA006" — Reviewed by François Couture, All Music Guide

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"The Voice Imitator - BPA006"

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

Reviewed by François Couture, All Music Guide


In October of 2002, Frank Gratkowski took a trip to the US West Coast, where he teamed up with the rhythm section ("it would be difficult to call us a rhythm section, but we are a section of some kind," writes Smith in the liner notes) of bassist Damon Smith and drummer Jerome Bryerton. The Voice Imitator chronicles two concerts performed on consecutive days in San Francisco and Oakland, CA. The first difference setting this disc slightly apart from Gratkowski's other albums is that the music is 100% freely improvised. The second difference is that he plays more clarinets than saxophones. The first concert, titled "Three Character Attacks" offers the widest range of dynamics and is overall the more enjoyable of the two. It features some of the reedsman's trademark extreme dynamic leaps, moving very quickly from a rapid-fire, Fire Music-inspired section to moments of rigid asceticism. The third piece from that concert is memorable. Halfway in, Gratkowski sticks to Spartan gurgles and smacks while Smith answers him with slaps from his loosened bass string. Bryerton works subtle miracles in the background to lead to a new build-up that will inspire the reedsman to pick up his saxophone and start blowing post-bop style -- the only occasion where one hears traces of a jazz background and a distinction between soloist and rhythm section. The second concert, "Two Instances of Livel/One Memory Lapse," follows a very different path. More homogenous, the music remains textural, occasionally getting very close to the drone. The focus is kept on deep listening, eschewing excitement in favor of complex instant harmonic and textural relationships between the players. A bit less engaging, it still offers an interesting listen, but the concerts are better approached as separate entities.

"Dessert Sweets - BPA004" — Reviewed by Randal Mcllroy - Coda

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"Dessert Sweets - BPA004"

Musicians: Mark Weaver, Biggie Vinkeloe, Damon Smith

Reviewed by Randal Mcllroy - Coda



Through reviewing for this organ your man had the good fortune to be introduced to the music of swedish alto saxophonist/flautist biggi vinkeloe through "One Way Out" and "Slow Drags and Interludes" trio records with Peeter Uuskyla and either Peter Kowald or Barre Phillips on bass that offered short succint reports fro quizzical blues to vaguely folkish fluting. the Dessert Sweets trio continues the economicla programing-- 22 tracks in one hour!--- but pits her against the lower voices of tuba/trombone player Mark Weaver and bassist Damon Smith. While the trio is balanced exquisitely with weaver doing things you dont expect a tuba to do and Smith conjouring rimshot on the bass when nessesary, Vinkeloe remains the magnet. Her alto playing refers to Ornette's blues, but less excitbly, while her flute conjours echos of some lost culture's folk music.

"The Sale of Tickets for Money was Abolished - BPA 002" — Reviewed by Robin Stowell, Double Bassist

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"The Sale of Tickets for Money was Abolished - BPA 002"


Reviewed by Robin Stowell, Double Bassist


The sleeve note declaration that this recording was made in two hours with only one small edit may raise some doubts about the artistic significance of it's content. Further doubts may be fuelled by: the comment that the performers 'were pressed for time since tony had to catch a plane'; the 'instant composition' nature of the recorded fare; and the fact that the titles of the 10 tracks were determined after the recording sessions with reference to Jorge Luis Borges The Babylon Lottery.

Nevertheless, the manner in which Damon Smith and Scott Looney tap a wide range of extended techniques here is astonishing, while bass saxophonist Tony Bevan frequently acts as an intermediary and runs the gamut of grinding, growling, groaning, quacking and singing - notably in the most extended improvisation 'Debris of a Mask Factory'. In the two duo items, Bevan combine with Smith in 'An Adverse Drawing Might Mean Mutilation or Death' and finds Looney in scintilating form in 'To Accept Errors is not to Contradict Fate'. 'The music poses new questions if you are willing to hear them,' says Rubben Radding somewhat puzzlingly in his sleeve note. Perhaps I was merely listening and not 'really hearing'.

Three October Meetings live concert review — Reviewed by Scott Hreha, One Final Note

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Three October Meetings live concert review

Musicians: Fuchs / Bryerton / Smith

Reviewed by Scott Hreha, One Final Note


Sitting inside a dark theater on the first truly beautiful spring evening in Minneapolis wasn't exactly the most enlivening prospect; but then again, it's not every day that we get the opportunity to see a multi-national trio in concert without making the 300-plus mile trip to Chicago. Billed as Three October Meetings, Wolfgang Fuchs (reeds, Germany), Damon Smith (bass, Oakland) and Jerome Bryerton (percussion, Chicago) set up shop in the small theater attached to the Acadia Cafe and proceeded to spin two sets' worth of delicately filigreed free improv for a small, but rapt audience.

Fuchs' choice of reeds was the group's most notable departure from the standard horn/bass/drums trio format; and even if the distance between his favored bass clarinet and sopranino saxophone left a lot of uninvestigated middle ground, the degree of engagement he elicited from his collaborators more than justified his extreme taste in tonality. I'd have to give Fuchs' bass clarinet work the edge, if only for the piece in the second set where he dropped into an overblown exploration of the instrument's lowest registers, making it sound more like one of Sun Ra's farthest-out Moog solos than a member of the woodwind family. His sopranino playing, on the other hand, focused a bit too sharply on the small horn's inherent chirpiness, but still managed to make some impressive statements via circular breathing.

Bryerton's set-up fell in line with what has become increasingly stock-in-trade for improv drummers: A minimal trap kit enhanced by a dumbeck, bowed cymbals and a small army of percussive gadgets. Although Bryerton relied perhaps too heavily on his bowed cymbals over the course of the evening, he did display remarkable discipline in terms of the volume normally associated with that extended percussive technique. Conversely, he used a small Tibetan gong in combination with the snare and toms to wonderful effect throughout both sets, damping its tone in proportion to the music's intensity.

Bassist Damon Smith proved to be the group's linchpin, adjusting his contributions to fit the sonic flow with confidence and expertise. It's no small feat for an unamplified bass to maintain equal footing in a mix that includes percussion of any sort, but Smith was perfectly audible for the entire show. And while his pizzicato work was solid by any definition, it was his dexterity with the bow that really stood out—particularly his ability to coax a myriad of harmonics from beyond the neck of his bass.

Together, the trio constructed its music with an incredible amount of restraint—an element that's so often lacking in freely improvising ensembles. The first set had its share of strong moments, but the group really seemed to connect for the second set's three distinct pieces—to the point where the musicians themselves were surprised by the level of communication they had achieved. But that's the beauty of creating music in the moment—sometimes it's brilliant, sometimes it falls flat on its face. This trio looked, despite its geographical challenges, like one of those singular groups that understands itself well enough to stand upright under just about any circumstances.

"The Happymakers - BPA 008" — Reviewed by Andy Hamilton, The Wire. Issue 247

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"The Happymakers - BPA 008"

Musicians: Fuchs / Lindsay / Smith / Baghdassarians / Baltschun

Reviewed by Andy Hamilton, The Wire. Issue 247


In his sleevenote, Lisle Ellis comments that clarinetist Jacob Lindsay and bassist Damon Smith represent a new generation of American improvisors whose models are Derek Bailey, Evan Parker ad Peter Kowald rather than the Jazz masters. Born in 1972 in Spokane, Washington state, Damon Smith's main teacher was Ellis, but he also has a classical background. When he heard Kowald's Duos: Europa he sold his Fender bass and concentrated solely on acoustic bass and free music. The presence of live electronics - in the persons of Serge Baghdassarians and Boris Baltschun, both from Berlin - is another contemporary development in Improv.

Partly because this approach to musical creation is so intuitive, it's often easier to recognise its quality than to know why it's good. Here, the precision and concentration of effects and the players' evident instrumental mastery - Wolfgang Fuch's sopranino saxaphone, antagonistic and abrasive, is a particular delight. Through 11 tracks named simply "Ma(r)ker 1-11", these edgy, intense and often emotional collaborations make for a really outstanding album. A major plus is the vivid recording - no free players' hangups about hi-fi from these guys.

Zero Plus BPA 007 — Reviewed by Ken Waxman for &


Zero Plus BPA 007

Musicians: Josephson/Waschmann/Lindsay/Smith/Blume

Reviewed by Ken Waxman for &

Brimming with a sensibility that comes from both so-called serious experimental music and free improv, ZERO PLUS adds a vocal component to the work of Bay-area bassist Damon Smith, who has taking a Cook's tour of Euro-centred improv over the past half-decade.

Adding American know-how -- and local associates -- to recorded meetings with such accomplished EuroImprov practitioners as German multi-reedman Wolfgang Fuchs and Swedish-based saxist Biggi Vinkeloe, the bassist now tours with Fuchs. Not content reaching one plateau, Smith is part of many other bands, including the triple d trio, expanded by the clarinets of young Jacob Lindsay, a member of Marco Eneidi's American Jungle Orchestra and the wordless vocalizing of Aurora Josephson. Besides working in free improv contexts, Josephson has performed with some of the more open-minded contemporary composers such as Alvin Curran and Christian Wolff

This CD mixes the Bay area trio, with two longtime EuroImprov collaborators: British violinist Philipp Wachsmann -- who often works with reedist Evan Parker-- and German drummer Martin Blume. The drummer's interactions have included work with multi-directional British players as reedist John Butcher.

Overall, strategy seems to be to meld Josephson's tones with one or another front-line instrument, while the other players fill in the gaps. One exception to this rule is "Two men in Straw Hats/Big Fleas have Little Fleas" where the linked titles may be the clue that the tune's first couple or so minutes are a duet between the bassist and vocalist.

Lindsay then enters with harsh tongue slaps that angle up to intermittent squeaks and flutter tonguing, a style that owes as much to Vinny Golia as Eric Dolphy. With a powerful bass interpolation, drum rumbles and cymbal smacks, the space is cleared for Wachsmann to extend his fiddle plucks with electronic loops. At the same time, the vocalist tries on many sound guises from dog barking to strangled yelling. As the piece accelerates to multi-counterpoint at cross-purposes, it takes circular string sections, segmented drums rebounds and a woody split tone from the clarinet to ease it to a finale.

"Scissors Cut Paper", the inaugural -- and at more than 13 minutes -- longest track sets up the situation from the beginning. Working off descending violin spiccato, rattling bass drum bops and bass clarinet buzzes, the tune evolves into a examination of broken harmonies that ricochet between aviary crackles from the reedist and panting breathes from the vocalist. Soon the violinist's and bassist's legato lines coalesce then soften into deconstructed squeaks, clicks and cries. Switching partners -- and with Smith sounding a sul tasto line -- Josephson first warbles, then yawns, then growls. Lindsay and Wachsmann together are soon on the case, the reedman with echoing vibrations and the fiddler with squeaking ponticello. As Blume rolls over the skins, Wachsmann produces frailing banjo-like pizzicato, climaxing in arco unison with Josephson's voice.

Banjo-like, mandolin-like and other pizzicato approximations aren't the veteran violinist's only ruses. On "Long Tail on a Ghost", his double and triple stopping sound as if they're coming from a Chinese guzheng. At best they perfectly match Blume's rattling nerve beats and snare raps that could come from a Chinese dulcimer hammered with bamboo sticks.

Elsewhere, Wachsmann's electronic ponticello loops are most useful on "Table Z", as backdrop for Lindsay's most extensive reed showcase. Twittering-bird like tones, body tube resonation and fluttering vibrations are expelled, at points meeting up with Josephson's verbal peeps.

As for the vocalist, sometimes she warbles like a lyric soprano with feathery whippoorwill cries. Or in contrast she keens like a grieving widow, constructing a portion of her solo out of panting obbligato. She giggles, sniffs and expels semi-orgasmic cries other places. But -- and hopefully this isn't misplaced gallantry -- it's one of the males who supplies the evil growls, cartoon pirate cackles and Bronx cheers. Overall, her timbres fit tongue-and-groove with shuffle bowing and sul tasto string parts, emphasized chalumeau reed portions and speedy fragmented drum patterns.

ZERO PLUS is an interesting change of pace for Smith and the others, but at nearly 69 minutes, the feeling remains that some judicious cutting would have resulted in a far more satisfying CD. The youthful Californians have proven that they can work in the company of the veterans. What else they do will be worth hearing.

Track Listing: Zero: The Hairy Heel of Achilles 1. Scissors Cut Paper 2. Tiger, Tiger! 3. Long Tail on a Ghost 4. The Deadly Tube La Tricoteuse: 5. Two men in Straw Hats/Big Fleas have Little Fleas 6. A Bird with a Wing Down Zerotables: 7. Facts or Figures 8. Table Z 9. Zero Minus 10. Zero 11. Zero Plus

Personnel: Zero: Jacob Lindsay (Ab, Bb and bass clarinets); Philipp Wachsmann (violin, electronics); Damon Smith (bass); Martin Blume (percussion); Aurora Josephson (voice)


"Sperrgut" — Reviewed by Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy




Reviewed by Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy

BIRGIT ULHER - DAMON SMITH - MARTIN BLUME Sperrgut (Balance Point Acoustics, bpa009): Damon Smith (*1972, Spokane, WA) verdankte Mike Watt 1991 den Kick vom BMX-Bicycle-Freestyler zum Fenderbassisten, bevor ihn 1994 die Bekanntschaft mit der Musik von Peter Kowald zum Kontrabass wechseln ließ und damit erneut zum Freestyle. Seitdem war er vor allem im Kontext mit dem Altosaxophonisten Marco Eneidi zu hören, mit Gianni Gebbia und auch Kowald persönlich oder auch im Emergency String Quartet und im Dave Tucker West Coast Project (beides BA-einschlägig). Seit einiger Zeit widmet sich das BPA-Label in Oakland speziell seiner Musik, mit der er auffallend häufig Begegnungen mit Musikern aus Germany sucht - neben Kowald etwa Wolfgang Fuchs, Frank Gratkowski, Serge Baghdassarians, Boris Baltschun oder Martin Blume (Zero Plus, bpa007). Erneut mit dem Bochumer Drummer und mit der Trompeterin Birgit Ulher, beide im Oktober 2004 auf musikalischer Stipvisite an der West Coast, gelingt Smith eine exemplarische Reihe von Soundclashes, geradezu fiebrige Stenographien aus geräuschhaften Kürzeln, die durch ihre Quickness und spritzige Fülle am ‚expressiven‘, besser, am dynamischen Pol der Plinkplonkskala herum wirbeln. Rasende Molekularbewegungen, so schnell und funkelnd, dass die Lautpixel bei aller Kompression und Reibung soviel ‚Luft‘, soviel Zeit und Raum zwischen sich lassen wie die Sternenmilch und der Satellitenschrott im Makrokosmos. Sperrgut ist ein schönes deutsches Wort und lässt anklingen, dass sich darunter noch allerhand Brauchbares finden ließe, statt es zu zerschreddern und in Müllheizkraftwerken durch den Schlot zu jagen. Sperrig ist die schnarrende, spuckig zerstotterte, schabende, rappelnde, mit erstaunlichen Saitenverbiegungen aufwartende Ästhetik des Trios insofern, dass sie nicht glatt ins Ohr rutscht, dass sie aneckt, kratzt, kitzelt, irritiert, manchmal zu winzig für das Auge, oft zu schnell für das Ohr. Dass zwischen Sperrgut und Müll Platz für ein riesiges Kulturindustriegebiet bleibt, ist freilich nicht gerade eine Neuigkeit. Bad Alchemy Rigobert Dittmann Franz-Ludwig-Str.11 97072 Würzburg

"Sperrgut" — Reviewed by Massimo Ricci,




Reviewed by Massimo Ricci,



Currently in a very prolific phase of her career, here Birgit Ulher joins forces with bass player Damon Smith and percussionist Martin Blume in a lively trio which applies various methods to concoct a lively expressiveness, enhanced by the musicians' fine technical abilities. At times almost jubilant, the enthusiastic incitement of these conversations becomes a reflection on contrasting vibrations, enriched by emphatic twists and percussive knots which keep the attention level quite high. The reciprocal responsiveness shown by the participants throughout the nine tracks of this album is particularly significant: Ulher's trumpet maintains - not without difficulty - a strong sense of denial of everything that could be defined as "common", while Smith and Blume's division of the low-frequency range creates additional substance, thus contributing to the transformation of this music from a complex miniature to a dedicated exploration of challenging languages.

"Cruxes" — Reviewed by Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic

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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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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 "


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


"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

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

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"Elengans - Nuscope 1017"

Biggi Vinkeloe/Damon Smith/Kjell Nordeson

Reviewed by Chris Kelsey for JazzTimes

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


"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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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!