Six Situations — Reviewed by John Sharpe, NYC Jazz Record


Six Situations

Musicians: Joe McPhee / Damon Smith / Alvin Fielder

Reviewed by John Sharpe, NYC Jazz Record

Six Situations documents a meeting between celebrated
reedplayer Joe McPhee and the seasoned pairing of
drummer Alvin Fielder and bassist Damon Smith at
NYC’s Roulette in September 2016. Fielder, a founding
member of the AACM, has plied his wares in
Mississippi and Texas over the last half-century, often
in the company of saxophonist Kidd Jordan, but has
thus received less attention than his due. It was in the
latter location that he hooked up with Smith and the
duo even has an album to its credit. That may explain
their seemingly preternatural communication, which
shines through on every one of the half dozen cuts.

  All three converse in a common language derived
from the ‘60s avant garde. McPhee’s post-Albert Ayler
tenor saxophone alternates fiery outbursts with a
recurring lyricism, his emotional range heightened by
judicious use of vocalizations. Smith combines
inventive free time with textural exploration, especially
with bow in hand, while Fielder offers a link to the jazz
tradition through responsive drumming and rhythmic
flurries. McPhee proves typically adept at adding
structure to improvised proceedings through his talent
for extemporizing melodies and riffs, which serve as
anchor points for his more passionate digressions. In
turn those reiterated figures provide building blocks
for others, most obviously in “The Diagonal Of
Personal Ecstasy” where Fielder adopts and elaborates
a tender phrase from McPhee during his solo.
On occasion McPhee shapes how a piece develops,
as in “Alternate Diagonals” where he switches between
foghorn tenor blasts, with roiling drums and throbbing
bass, and vocal hollers to engender stop/start motion.
But more usually, notably on “Red & Green
Alternatives”, McPhee steps back to allow extended
naturally evolving passages for bass and drums,
culminating in exciting bursts of choppy momentum
from Fielder allied to Smith’s insistent sawing. Fielder
and Smith unexpectedly demonstrate a predilection
for loping grooves, even recalling the Art Ensemble of
Chicago’s classic “Dreaming Of The Master” on “The
Blood Of A Martyr”.

For more information, visit Smith is at Noise
Workshop Jul. 14th. McPhee is at The Stone at The New School July 28th

Six Situations — Reviewed by DerekTaylor, Dusted


Six Situations

Musicians: Joe McPhee / Damon Smith / Alvin Fielder

Reviewed by DerekTaylor, Dusted

Bassist Damon Smith and drummer Alvin Fielder have a good thing going. Despite residing in different locales and juggling busy dockets they’ve made it a priority to renew and advance their musical rapport whenever possible, a duo project on Smith’s Balance Point Acoustics being a recent, highly satisfying example. Six Situationsmakes their dynamic dyad even better with the inspired addition of Joe McPhee on tenor to form a trio. Recorded at the venerable Roulette venue in New York City it’s a free jazz conclave at once in the tradition and transcendent of the same in the vibrant gathering of passion and skill each player brings to the stage. McPhee further reveals the lineage in written form through a poem penned to John Coltrane and James Baldwin printed on the gate-fold sleeve.

The six situations vary dramatically in duration and design. Inspired by a series of artworks by Dan Flavin, they find the players planting common ground from the jump.  “The Diagonal of Personal Ecstasy” and “Red & Green Alternatives” are both sprawling marathons, collectively clocking to nearly three-quarters of an hour. On the first a drum invocation from Fielder defers to an opening tenor salvo from McPhee shaded in subtle overtones. Fielder strikes small bells in the interstices between horn phrases as Smith arrives, his bow cantilevering and sawing forcefully against strings to create a startling array of aural activity. Energy and momentum build and ebb with the three players cuing each other through spontaneously devised changes on both outings that feel wholly agreed upon despite their nascency.

Shorter pieces “Alternate Diagonals” and “The Blood of a Martyr” trade duration for intensity. McPhee blows strafing blasts on the former, adding vocal shouts for punctuation as Fielder fluctuates between focused aggression and scrupulous subtlety at his kit. Smith concerns himself with carefully threading a rising and receding bass rumble. The second excursion relies less on velocity than concentrated mood, McPhee honking and slurring only to fall silent as Smith shapes another impressive aural edifice of highly ordered tones. A loping bass figure emerges stamped by Fielder’s snare and the lonely murmur of a haunted tenor extemporization that eventually dissipates into a breathy rasp.

Falling in between their brethren at eight minutes-and-change each are the chromatically-charged “Blue Trees In the Wind” and the closing “Greens Crossing Greens”. The controlled clatter of sticks starts the first with tightly wound strings supplying brooding answer in a marriage of conventional and extended techniques. McPhee brings a modified gospel swagger in response, voicing low and easy on his horn against a robust walking line.  Fielder conjures another drum preface on the second piece, his sticks parsing a clean martial beat that veers smoothly into a deeply resonant improvisation by Smith, running the range of his fingerboard with digits and bow against the faint brushes of his colleague. McPhee’s entry is surprisingly restrained, shaping legato forms over a gently swaying rhythm. Situations such as these bear repeating.

Song for Chico Balance Point Acoustics BPA-6 — Reviewed by Ken Waxman,

BPA 6 Song for Chico CVR DD

Song for Chico Balance Point Acoustics BPA-6

Musicians: Alvin Fielder & Damon Smith

Reviewed by Ken Waxman,


Just as a desk and a swivel chair together don’t necessarily make an office then the coupling of a double bass and drums doesn’t automatically become a rhythm section. This negation of presumptions is never more obvious then when listening to five improvisations that make up Song for Chico. For while bassist Damon Smith and drummer Alvin Fielder have spent much time in conventional rhythm sections, working with a wide range of musicians that include guitarist Henry Kaiser and Sandy Ewen and saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Kidd Jordan, this disc contains all that’s necessary for a clearly defined performance. A short story doesn’t have to be at novel lengths to be meaningful after all.

With the sophistication that marks Free Music more than many other genres, the CD is also a mind-meeting between two generations of improvisers. Fielder, known for his AACM affiliations is now 83; Smith who moves between Free Jazz, Out-Rock and other sounds is 45. A track like “Improvisation 2” delineates the duo’s strategy: mixing any number of diffuse techniques to their utmost, combining and separating timbres in such a way that the need for so-called melodic instrument is superfluous. Here Smith’s high-pitched spiccato thrusts easily make common cause with Fielder’s substantive paradiddles which themselves soon deepen to kettle-drum-like echoes. The bassist’s splayed narrative of rugged bow slides against the strings pause at the mid-point for a display of press rolls and small bell-shaking from the drummer, divorced from any exoticism. Later as Smith turns to a standard walking bass line, it’s soon doubled by common Bebop-like chings from Fielder. By the finale the high-pitched, near-the-scroll swipes and smacked ruffs concentrate into ambulatory chromatic motion.

Along with the tapestry of cymbal splashes, snare jumps, and rim pops on one side plus band-saw-like string slices and shuffle bowing expressed from the other, these musical equivalents of prose experimentation never go far enough into abstraction to negate the players’ basis story-telling qualities. Solo showcases are also on tap with Smith’s staccato double and triple plucking reaching elevated heights on “Variation on Untitled 1” even as he maintains a percussive bottom. Meanwhile Fielder devotes part of “Improvisation 3” to contrast a collection of reverberating tones from little instruments that sound almost malleable, with equivalent resounding bass drum whaps that urbanely link up with a low-pitched double bass line for a notable processional ending

Bent notes are present but secondary on the title track, giving way to expected chromatic pulses from Smith and Bop-drum echoes from Fielder to honor drummer Chico Hamilton (1921-2013). No avant-gardist, but a pioneer in both cool and modal jazz, Hamilton was also interested in new concepts and would have appreciated the craftsmanship that went into creating this CD. So can you.

—Ken Waxman

Six Situations — Reviewed by Squidco


Six Situations

Musicians: Joe McPhee / Damon Smith / Alvin Fielder

Reviewed by Squidco

Frequent collaborators, West Coast double bassist Damon Smith and AACM charter member Alvin Fielder on drums travel north to join free improv saxophone legend Joe McPhee at Roulette in New York City in 2016, recording this excellent example of informed free improvisation.

Six Situations — Reviewed by Avant Scena, Contempograry Music Blog


Six Situations

Musicians: Joe Mcphee / Damon Smith / Alvin Fielder

Reviewed by Avant Scena, Contempograry Music Blog

“Six Situations” – it’s a new album released by “Not Two Records”. Album had been recorded by three famous avant-garde jazz masters – Joe McPhee (tenor saxophone, voice), Damon Smith (double bass) and Alvin Fielder (drums). These three jazz musicians are famous for their original and expressive improvising style, innovative and progressive sound and musical experiments. The music played by these musicians is full of expressive, rigorous and very energetic solos, strange and unheard sounds and timbres, virtuosic elements and innovative musical decisions. The musicians had been improvising together many times in the past in various ensembles.

Album has 6 compositions. All of them are based on avant-garde jazz elements. Expressive and rigorous collective improvisations are full of many different music elements. Virtuosic and astonishing solos, dynamic rhytmic, several different melodies combined with each other and various sound effects – these elements are the main elements of improvisations. The musicians are improvising free and creative. Their improvisations is full of various music elements, short and expressive melodies, innovative musical decisions and strange noises. The music of this album is unpredictable and full of surprises – after virtuosic and dynamic solos there suddenly comes silent and soft episodes with static rhytmic and calm melodies. Effective and innovative sound of the compositions mostly depends on musicians. They show their talent and abilities in their masterfully improvisations and try out high variety of music styles, elements and expressions. Even though they improvising very different from each other, their melodies masterfully combine in one composition.

Plane Crash Two — Reviewed by Christopher Stigliano, Blog to Comm


Plane Crash Two

Musicians: Henry Kaiser / Damon Smith / Weasel Walter

Reviewed by Christopher Stigliano, Blog to Comm

Henry Kaiser actually sounds gnarlier on PLANE CRASH TWO than he has for years. Maybe it's the presence of WW that brings out the angular in him. Not that I'm an expert on the man, but I gotta say that HK is one of the more interesting guys holding a stringed contraption these days---maybe it was all of his blabber about Eddie Van Halen being one of the best guitarists extant that soured me on the guy way back inna eighties.

Plane Crash Two — Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, The Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog


Plane Crash Two

Musicians: Henry Kaiser, Damon Smith, Weasel Walter

Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, The Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog

If sometimes I cover albums that have been out for a while, it is not for lack of anything new. It's because the music is central, more so than the politics of review jockeying, poll-meistering or otherwise fulfilling a role in the INDUSTRY, though some of that is inevitable if you post regularly in the current musical world.

So today we go back to an album from last year that I missed, the potent trio of Henry Kasier's guitar, Damon Smith's double bass, and Weasel Walter's drum set for the album Plane Crash Two (New Atlantic Records 024).

It is a free trio date with Henry Kaiser in a post-Derek Bailey guitar mode, meaning that he seeks clusters of extra-extended sound complexes along with warbling melodically outside sustains. In perfect simultaneity is the bass abstractions of Damon Smith along with the clutter, clash and power diving drumming of Weasel Walter.

The music ranges between sound-color textural emanations and avant psychedelics, and it does so with excellent creative thrust.

In the process all three define personal spaces of out-taking that meld together in ever-interesting and ear-awakening ways.

It is an excellent example of Henry Kaiser on the outer fringe, but also Damon and Weasel in interactive openness to create a trio of special sonance and varied warp drive modes.

This is a fine example of the fine line between power and finesse in avant trios who do not eschew a hint of avant rock as well as free jazziphonics.

Good show! Get it.

Plane Crash (ugEXPLODE) — Reviewed by Sam Prestianni, Sf Weekly


Plane Crash (ugEXPLODE)

Musicians: Henry Kaiser, Damon Smith, Weasel Walter

Reviewed by Sam Prestianni, Sf Weekly

This strange and compelling debut recording by a trio of veteran Bay Area improvisers springboards off an old music-industry concept. Record labels would apparently prepare in advance "beautifully repackaged" records aimed to squeeze the last big bucks from top-selling artists if they happened to bite it unexpectedly (e.g., in a plane crash). The double-edged joke here is that Henry Kaiser, Damon Smith, and Weasel Walter are still very much alive and well, thankfully, and if they did meet untimely ends, no one would make a cent reissuing their work. The hardcore free-improv in which they tend to traffic enjoys a limited, if global, cult appeal. Together they layer irony upon irony, playing as if they were rocking their last gig on Earth. From the first to last notes of this blistering 14-track session, Kaiser blasts a hole in the sky with his electro-bent six-string, which simultaneously sounds like bombs bursting in air and a big ol' jet airliner careening toward a spectacular smash-up. If the guitar in Kaiser's inventive hands is a weapon of rampaging self-destruction, Smith's acoustic bass and Walter's drums are the sympathetic blood and guts of the music, no less urgent in their ferocity, but warmer, more human. This combination of polar elements coalesces into a massive aural assault that will have you praying for a parachute.

Plane Crash Two (New Atlantis) — Reviewed by Jeph Jerman, Squid's Ear


Plane Crash Two (New Atlantis)

Musicians: Henry Kaiser / Damon Smith / Weasel Walter

Reviewed by Jeph Jerman, Squid's Ear

The second communique from this trio of improvisers, from April of 2014, is a heavily-laden grab bag of style, technique and quick-witted change of approach. Beginning with ominous strummed acoustic guitar chords ("Cactus Makes Perfect") they drop the hammer at 19 seconds in and it's off to the races. Spiky texture abounds for a while, with each man tossing splintered asides into the minute cracks that appear. At about the 5 minute mark Kaiser switches to electric and things get a bit more surreal. Toward the end of this first track the air is filled with floating wobbly guitar underpinned by low-end ruminations before subverting the rock and roll equation by making reference to it and laughing at the same time. All three of these guys are at the top of their game here, introducing a curve ball when a slider would work just as well, or laying out at just the right moment. So integrated is their sound that at times it all melds into an amorphous rolling ball of power.

"False Alarms" introduces more elbow room in its hovering tension and episodic sectioning. It also conjures up memories of Kaiser records past, reminding me of why I was so startled by his playing when I first heard it. "Violent Is The Word For Curly" might be a Three Stooges reference, but there's plenty of nose pulling and head slapping going on. When Walter introduces a steady throb it anchors everything for a few seconds, a collecting mechanism that he returns to frequently. I think I hear the faint ghost of Hendrix arising briefly too. It's one of those frequent nudge-nudges that keeps popping up. Listen carefully and you're likely to find your own.



Plane Crash Two — Reviewed by GLENN ASTARITA , All About Jazz


Plane Crash Two

Musicians: Henry Kaiser, Weasel Walter, Damon Smith

Reviewed by GLENN ASTARITA , All About Jazz

This album was created shortly after experimental guitarist Henry Kaiser's large ensemble collaboration with fabled Brit guitarist Ray Russell The Celestial Squid (Cuneiform, 2015), as Plane Crash Two marks the second installment of the trio's unadulterated free improvisation exploits. Here, three longtime associates generate that special synergy required to pull it off. Regardless of tempo or pitch, the musicians expand, contract and generate call and response patterns via microsecond-like reactions amid the ensuing developments. 

The program is consummated by four 10-minute plus workouts. On the humorously titled opener "Cactus Makes Perfect," drummer Weasel Walter's stimulating, hyper-mode cymbals, drums and small percussion instrument fabrications tender a bulbous platform, contrasted by bassist Damon Smith's rugged arco-lines and limber bottom-end. Moreover, they gel to a cavalcade of jagged phrasings and flex some muscle, offset by a few quiet interludes. But when performing on electric guitar, Kaiser's off-centered choruses complete with phased, reverse-engineering effects and eerie tonalities present a bizarre outlook as the band also ventures toward subterranean depths and volcanic zeniths. They delve into asymmetrically oriented avant-metal wonderlands and on "False Alarms," Kaiser's volume control techniques and Walter's peppery snare drum rolls offer a fractured stream of consciousness with edgy dialogues. 

The trio pulls out the proverbial stops with all out blitzes and frenzied soloing galas akin to a lethal aerial assault; although, "Fifi Blows Her Top" features the guitarist's nimble plucking and Smith's mournful bowed-lines and other contrapuntal schemas. In sum, the group's simmering narratives, animated exchanges and free-spirited risk-taking mechanisms spawn an indubitably intense joyride.

Song For Chico — Reviewed by Anders Griffen, New York City Jazz Record

BPA 6 Song for Chico CVR DD

Song For Chico

Musicians: Alvin Fielder/Damon Smith

Reviewed by Anders Griffen, New York City Jazz Record

Prospective listeners may be circumspect approaching a set consisting entirely of duets between an upright bass and drum set but, in these capable hands, any such misgivings quickly dissolve as the first improvisation unfolds. Each musician has an array of vocabulary from which to draw: drummer Alvin Fielder is articulate and has a lot of traditional sounds
to mix into the adventurous stew while bassist Damon Smith is both consistently ‘out’ and inviting. Fielder takes a solo during “Improvisation 1” in which one may hear hints of melodies like “Salt Peanuts” or “Rhythm-A-Ning”; more likely the drummer happened to play so many ideas that certain cells are reminiscent of familiar tunes, like seeing
images in clouds. “Improvisation 2” embarks with an active, almost frantic, bow accompanied by round drum tones. Smith then switches between pizzicato, arco and percussive sounds as the musicians keep moving, changing from one theme to the next. Smith moves in and out of the proceedings, sometimes sneakily, other times more abruptly. The percussion on the title track, the shortest piece, and “Improvisation 3” is especially beautiful. One may sometimes wonder where the sound is coming from or how it is produced with metal, wood and mallets. With scratched tones (generally not a compliment to arco performance as it
is here) Smith conjures worlds and gets an evocative sound like a distorted whistle. “Roots (Johnny Dyani)” is all bass at first: lovely bending arco melodies over adrone and some pretty single-note lines, then a four-note ostinato. Fielder plays melodies galore before his
solo midway through, referencing the bassline. The bass does not return.

The track listing itself tells you something about what they were up to: three improvisations, one set of variations and two titled tunes. Without playing a groove per se, the musicians get into one with a mutual feeling of forward motion.

For more information, visit

the shape finds its own space — Reviewed by Trybuna Muzyki Spontanicznej Improwizowany przewodnik w czasach nadprodukcji dźwięków


the shape finds its own space

Musicians: Alvin Fielder - drums
Frode Gjerstad - alto saxophone, clarinet
Damon Smith - double bass

Reviewed by Trybuna Muzyki Spontanicznej Improwizowany przewodnik w czasach nadprodukcji dźwięków

Trzyosobowa ekspozycja, pocztówka z Austin, Texas, No Idea Festival, Luty 2016
Szybko opuszczamy norweskie Stavanger i lotem upalonego trzmiela, docieramy do gorącego Texasu. Jest luty, zatem upał jeszcze dość znośny. Szczęśliwie nasz bagaż nie zaginął na wielkim lotniku w Austin. Trafiamy na lokalny festiwal o fantastycznej nazwie No Idea. Na scenie, obok naszego norweskiego podróżnika, dwóch podejrzanych typów. Pierwszy zwie się Alvin Fielder i zagra na wielkim zestawie perkusyjnym. Powiedzieć o nim, że to weteran amerykańskiego free jazzu, to jakby nic nie powiedzieć. Gość w czasach, gdy Frode pobierał pierwsze w życiu lekcje pisania, grywał już w słynnej Orkiestrze Sun Ra. To było jakieś sześćdziesiąt lat temu! Kolejny facet, to Damon Smith. Może nawet jeszcze nie weteran, ale na amerykańskiej ziemi nazwisko tego kontrabasisty znają nawet nienarodzeni fani free jazzu. Zatem, sekcja – palce lizać!

 Panowie pod swymi nazwiskami, ustawieni w kolejności alfabetycznej, grają niespełna 40 minutowy set, który po kilku miesiącach trafia na dysk The Shape Finds Its Own Shape (FMR Records, 2016). Jeden ciąg zdarzeń akustycznych podany nam jest – dla wygody – w trzech odcinkach, a wszystkie one mają jeden tytuł, który warto przytoczyć – Angles, Curves, Edges & Mass. To prawdziwa freejazzowa porcja tłustego mięcha. Energia na scenie gigantyczna, mimo, iż łączny wiek Panów przyprawia o ból głowy. Sekcja jest tak konkretna, dosadna i perfekcyjna, że nawet, gdyby Frode tylko stał z boku i przysłuchiwał się wyczynom amerykańskich kolegów, to i tak, ten niedługi koncert, zapadłby nam na długo w pamięci. Po prawdzie tak jest. Nasz norweski bohater przez cały spektakl musi przebijać się przez ścianę dźwięku, siłując się z gęstą grą pary Fielder-Smith. Jego klarnet i saksofon altowy wiją się w konwulsjach, a momenty, gdy udaje się Frodemu nadawać kierunek tej jazzowej galopadzie są tyleż rzadkie, co artystycznie spełnione. Zresztą ostatnie pasusy tej historii, wybrzmienie ekspresji, odbywają się już bez udziału Gjerstada. Niczemu to bynajmniej  nie szkodzi. Płyta mija w mgnieniu oka i ucha. Po jej zakończeniu konieczność odpalenia restartu wydaje się oczywistością.

The Shape Finds Its Own Space (FMR) — Reviewed by Derek Taylor, Dusted


The Shape Finds Its Own Space (FMR)

Musicians: Alvin Fielder/Frode Gjerstad/Damon Smith

Reviewed by Derek Taylor, Dusted

Recorded at the Museum of Human Achievement as part of the No Idea Festival in Austin, Texas early last year, the music comprising The Shape Finds Its Own Space is the aural equivalent of the all-inclusive ideology espoused by the gathering’s organizers. Drummer Alvin Fielder, reedist Frode Gjerstad and bassist Damon Smith are the outcomes of very different life experiences and circumstances, but the common ground between them is the figurative soil of free improvisation. Fielder’s been at it the longest, but the Norwegian-based Gjerstad and now East Coast-based Smith are at once peers and pupils.

The set-long inaugural performance of the festival indexes into three parts, but is continuous in comportment with each instrument clearly and cleanly positioned in the stereo spectrum. Gjerstad starts on clarinet, fluttering and veering around the fields of sound manifested by Fielder and Smith. The bassist locks on a walking line about two-thirds of the way through, betraying the jazz roots shared by all three players and coaxing a satisfying elasticity from his strings that recalls the kind of rubber band sound signature to the dearly departed Fred Hopkins.

A change to alto signals the second piece with Gjerstad going for figurative broke with freak register wailing across a driving snare-forward charge from Fielder. Free jazz at its most ferocious and garrulous is the collective directive and Smith’s entry is more felt than heard amidst the ensuing tumult. Frothing and caroming the three players devise a swirling dervish dance with the resultant racket no doubt bringing grins en mass to the audience faces. Gjerstad’s lurching honks and staccato squeals bring a dry comedy to bear as well.

Fielder and Smith launch final piece with frothing snare shots stamping a foreground of frenzied bowing. Gjerstad susses the edges with clarinet, his strangled tone adding slippery commentary to the tightly wound interplay of his colleagues, but the bulk of the piece gives over to bass and drums. A lull into relative calm commences with Smith strumming another dusky trotting line and Fielder adding cymbal splashed snare beat. At various points the cohesion threatens to fray, but Smith’s steady bass anchor supplies the harmonic glue to keep the constituents in continuous loose alignment. No single idea, but rather many, this is a trio that makes the most of moment-to-moment improvisation and reaps the ample rewards.

The Shape Finds Its Own Space (FMR, 2017) — Reviewed by Eyal Hareuveni, Jazznytt


The Shape Finds Its Own Space (FMR, 2017)

Musicians: Alvin Fielder / Frode Gjerstad / Damon Smith

Reviewed by Eyal Hareuveni, Jazznytt

This is the original English text before being translated to Norwegian: 

American double bass player Damon Smith is well-versed at the many incarnations of jazz and free improvisation. He initiated this live meeting with two legends who represent these rich legacies - American drummer Alvin Fielder, 81, a founding member of the seminal Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), and local reeds player Frode Gjerstad, coming from Stavanger, apparently, the home of Smith great- grandfather. Gjerstad’s Detail trio albums influenced Smith development as a free improviser.
The trio played at the No Idea Festival in Austin, Texas on February 2016. Smith already worked before with Fieldr and the two recorded last year a duo album (A Song for Chico, BPA), but neither of them have played before with Gjerstad. Gjerstad arrived to the concert with flu, feeling he couldn’t get decent sound from his alto sax and clarinet, but was was surprised to learn how good the recording sound. The trio connects immediately and the music flows organically, intense and free-spirited. The trio swings hard, dances and often gets wild, playing with an inspiring conviction, passion and compassion, as if they have known each others for ages.

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

Live in Texas

Musicians: Sandy Ewen; Damon Smith; Weasel Walter

Reviewed by Ken Waxmam, The Whole Note

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

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

Interview on Jazz New England — Reviewed by Gordon Forman

Interview on Jazz New England

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

Reviewed by Gordon Forman


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

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

We talked about:

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

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


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


Reviewed by Bruce Lee Galanter

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

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

Kaiser NearlyX FRONT700x700

Nearly Extinct

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

Reviewed by Massimo Ricci, Squid's Ear

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

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

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

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

Sandy Ewen Henry Kaiser2

Lake Monsters & Relations

Musicians: Damon Smith, Henry Kaiser, Sandy Ewen

Reviewed by Dan Sorrells, Free Jazz Blog

Damon Smith, Henry Kaiser, Sandy Ewen


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

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


By Dan Sorrells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Reviewed by Ken Waman,


Balance Point Acoustics BPA 014

Günter Baby Sommer

Live in Jerusalem

Kadima Collective KCR 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Ken Waxman

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

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

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

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