Zero Plus + The Happymakers — Reviewed by Jason Bivins

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Zero Plus + The Happymakers

Musicians: Aurora Josephson/Philipp Wachsmann/Jacob Lindsay/Damon Smith/Martin Blume + Wolfgang Fuchs/Jacob Lindsay/Damon Smith/Serge Baghdassarians/Boris Baltschun

Reviewed by Jason Bivins

Damon Smith / Jacob Lindsay / et al
Zero Plus + The Happymakers
(Balance Point Acoustics)

Anyone who's read my reviews knows that I am regularly given to complaining about the woeful lack of coverage of the Bay Area improvising scenes. Though this wonderful area is blessed with dozens of musical talents, ample opportunities for performance, and several labels documenting the creativity (including Rastascan and Limited Sedition, along with Balance Point Acoustics), listeners haven't gotten sufficiently hip to what's going on out there. Damon Smith's Balance Point Acoustics imprint seems to specialize in summit meetings between often globetrotting improvisers, who form partnerships both lasting and ever-morphing in various global cities. 

For the first of these releases, we find violinist/electronician Philipp Wachsmann and percussionist Martin Blume—who have played together for a long time in the collective Lines—meeting up with vocalist Aurora Josephson, clarinetist Jacob Lindsay, and bassist Smith. Improvised vocals tend to polarize listeners. Some dig the playful deconstructions of, say, David Moss or Maggie Nicols, while others favor the wordless instrumentalisms of singers as diverse as Phil Minton or Ami Yoshida. And some would prefer none at all, save the occasional commentary by Joelle Leandre.

Me, I go back and forth, but I'm not entirely certain that Aurora Josephson's dramatic vocalisms work with the very miniature improv that seems the inspiration on Zero Plus. She has a big wide instrument and—like Vanessa Mackness—occasionally indulges in full-throated operatic booming. While this does inspire Wachsmann to come out with some of his most effusive playing in recent memory, it occasionally makes for an awkward contrast with the more reserved, muted gestures from Lindsay, Smith, and Blume. Regardless of that relatively minor quibble, though, this is rich, thoughtful improvised music in the tradition of London minimalism.

The second release features Lindsay and Smith as well, this time joining reeds player Wolfgang Fuchs, guitarist/electronician Serge Baghdassarians, and electronician Boris Baltschun for an hour of eleven improvisations. Somewhat surprising to me, this release was the more conventional of the two. I'd expected something much less expressionist than the music here actually is, most likely because of the presence of Baghdassarians (who contributed a fine track to Absinth Records' Berlin Strings compilation) and Baltschun.

The majority of this quintet's personality, however, comes from the interplay between the chirping, squawking clarinets and Smith's slippery bass playing. A bit too much time seems to be spent in instrumental imitation: The reeds seek to vibrate in a way that emulates electronics, and the electronics work in areas of consonance and relative pitch for the most part, rather than setting up significant contrasts. This is done very well, and is exactly the sort of thing that many listeners relish in these instrumental combinations, so it's not like this is a negative comment. This strategy works best when the focus isn't always on pitch or tone, but rather on attack and decay: The multiple voices work against the conventions of breath and line to create moments of compelling suspension.

Fuchs' unique voice on his clarinets meshes well with the energetic, probing Lindsay and the splendidly resourceful bassist Smith. Funny, but in some ways Baltschun and Baghdassarians seem too tangential. Maybe that's my problem, more than anything else. Of course they're full participants—buzzes, washes, and drones are everywhere here—but they simply seem a bit more reactive than I'd hoped for. Yet despite this kind of general reservation, one of the major successes of this disc is the amount of space the players leave each other and the relative rapidity of the responses they make. So while the blending of approaches might not necessarily work for me, there's no denying the skill of the players, both as individuals and as a group. At any rate, I go back and forth about this recording—maybe that's a positive, a sign of challenges and questions raised, about expectations unsettled.

Ausfegen BPA 012 — Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog

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Ausfegen BPA 012

Musicians: Paul Hartsaw, Kristian Aspelin, Damon Smith, Jerome Bryerton

Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog

Just because a release has been out a few years doesn't disqualify it for a review, if it is worthwhile. That's true ofAusfegen (BPA 012). It is a 2006 date of avant new music free jazz dedicated to abstract conceptual artist Joseph Beuys. The title refers to the performance art piece by that name where Beuys swept Karl-Marx-Platz in Berlin with a broom in 1972.

In many ways the music here represents a sort of "clearing" as well. It is a quartet of musicians dedicated to improvisations of the avant variety, as much influenced by "new music classical" as it is by "free jazz."

In the mix are musicians both familiar and unfamiliar to me. Paul Hartsaw is on tenor and soprano saxes--and I have reviewed a good number of his recordings here (type his name in the search box). Damon Smith plays contrabasses (two simultaneously for "Broom with Red Bristles"). He is now well-known to me thanks to his sending a batch of his recordings recently, of which this album is a part. Kristian Aspelin is on guitar (and broom activated guitar on the cut mentioned). Jerome Bryerton is on percussion.

We have eight collective improvisations in the set. All are uncompromising in their dedication to the abstract realms of expression, splattered and scattered timbral events that follow in the path of such pioneering ensembles as the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, MEV, AMM, etc. That means a striving for a four-part group sound composed via the counterpoint-pointillism of a four-in-one totality. No one is soloing. Everyone is soloing. The distinction loses meaning in the four-part melange.

Each player brings a special instrumental approach to bear on the whole. And each is finely attuned to the others so that a totality emerges over time for each segment.

This is an excellent example of the new music side of contemporary avant improv. It remains always at the farther edge of tone and in the center of timbre. So of course a listener not used to such playing must adjust to the sound events and suppress expectations of conventional melody, pulse and form that one would ordinarily hear in less avant contexts.

In the end the question becomes, "does this ensemble express new sonances with an expressive cohesiveness, a sense of goal-orientation and sheer viscerality?" That's one question this sort of music raises, anyway. The answer is yes, most definitely. And so I do recommend this one for you for its thoroughgoing exploratory mode and its success at creating the new sounds now available to us, as listeners, as players, as humans in the post-before world. Check this one out.

Mirrors - Broken But No Dust BPA 001 (cassette version) — Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog


Mirrors - Broken But No Dust BPA 001 (cassette version)

Musicians: Peter Kowald & Damon Smith

Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog

Thursday, October 22, 2015
Peter Kowald & Damon Smith, Mirrors - Broken But No Dust

Peter Kowald was one of the greatest avant jazz improv bassists alive before his untimely demise. Damon Smith was and is an important bassist on the scene as well, very deserving of our attention. The two recorded an extended album of duets when Peter made a rather triumphant tour of the US in 2000. It has been out of print for a while but happily is now again available as an audio cassette. Mirrors - Broken But No Dust (BPA 001) brings us the music in all its glory.
What is perhaps most striking about the duets is the incredible rapport established between the two. Whether a hornets nest of busy pizzicato, an ethereal thicket of bowed harmonics or a jungle of slapped string tones, the two form a perfect interlocking of duality-in-singularity.

It is music of great energy, manic expression, exuberant simultaneity. It gives you improvisational segments of sonic unity and virtuoso outness.

For a supremely unified two-bass expression, this recording has few rivals. Grab it while you can. Contrabass aficionados take note. A two-bass hit!

Posted by Grego Applegate Edwards at 6:13 AM
Labels: avant free improvisation, duets for two acoustic bass players, free jazz for two bassists, peter kowald and damon smith mirrors broken but no dust reissue gapplegate guitar and bass review

"Mirrors Broken - But no Dust - BPA 001" — Reviewed by David Keenan, The Wire, issue 215

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"Mirrors Broken - But no Dust - BPA 001"

Musicians: Peter Kowald, Damon Smith

Reviewed by David Keenan, The Wire, issue 215


Bassist Damon Smith originaly came out of the U.S. hardcore scene, playing electric bass in various avant punt combos under the bewitching spell of minutemne/fIREHOSE bassist Mike Watt until a chance encounter with Peter Kowald's Duos; Europa lp rearranged his senses. smith promtly switched to acoustic double bass and let it all hang out. Since then he's played with free musicians like bassist Alan Sliva and the late saxophonist Glenn Spearman, but this date was the first time he'd come face to face with his mentor. Not that you'd guess that by listening: Smith gels instantly with Kowald and the whole session has the feel of one multi-directional instrument droning and throbbing rather than any notion of call and response or follow the leader. Right for the get-go the duo follow their initial idea with rigorous intuition, and the the tracks-the first of which is a live perfomance, the rest shorter studio snatches- are characterised by continous organic movement, whether the duo are generating dark drumming vibrations or dizzy weaving drones.

"Sense of Hearing - BPA 006" — Reviewed by François Couture, All Music

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"Sense of Hearing - BPA 006"

Musicians: Genetti, Carol/Smith, Damon/Lonberg-Holm,

Reviewed by François Couture, All Music


For a while, bassist Damon Smith's preferred free improvising unit was the trio, as his previous releases on {Balance Point Acoustics} testify. But despite its triple bill, {Sense of Hearing} consists mostly of duets with singer {Carol Genetti} -- cellist {Fred Lonberg-Holm} joins in only for the last four pieces, representing half an hour of music. The duets have been recorded in the studio; the trio tracks are taken from a live performance at the {Empty Bottle} in Chicago. Genetti plays her voice like an instrument, drawing on the legacy of {Phil Minton} and {Maggie Niccols} to develop her own identity. Several of her idiosyncrasies evoke bird songs (ululating, in particular), but she also uses a lot of croaking and half-enunciated nonsense sentences , along with jazzier-sounding scat lines. Her tone is raspier than {Aurora Josephson}, another Bay Area singer often performing with {Damon Smith} (see their quintet CD {Zero Plus}) and if she's not the most striking improv vocalist in America, she delivers a touching performance. The eight duets presented on this disc range in duration between two and seven minutes. They showcase a musical language that is still growing or undergoing a certain mutation: the vocabulary isn't fixed, there is tension in the delivery, like an incertitude in how to interpret given signifiers. That provides an attention-grabbing level of unrest, especially in {"The Hard and the Soft I"} and {"Experimental Sentences,"} the latter exploring softer, more fragile sounds. The trio pieces, performed the day after the studio session, are more assured, transmuting the previous tension into confident energy. {"Self-Perpetuating Duplicity,"} with its train whistles, stands out as a potent free improv statement.

1.Wuppertal is an Idyll~7:32~~Genetti, Carol/Smith, Damon
2.The Hard and the Soft I~3:56~~Genetti, Carol/Smith, Damon
3.Urbanch Method~2:22~~Genetti, Carol/Smith, Damon
4.Simulate Bearability~2:48~~Genetti, Carol/Smith, Damon
5.Fragility Itself~6:12~~Genetti, Carol/Smith, Damon
6.Experimental Sentences~4:02~~Genetti, Carol/Smith, Damon
7.Ore, Oil, Open~4:36~~Genetti, Carol/Smith, Damon
8.Overhearing~4:04~~Genetti, Carol/Smith, Damon
9.Deadly Togetherness~6:12~~Genetti, Carol/Smith, Damon/Lonberg-Holm, Fred
10.Pouring Out Civilities~7:41~~Genetti, Carol/Smith, Damon/Lonberg-Holm, Fred
11.Self-Perpetuating Duplicity~9:32~~Genetti, Carol/Smith, Damon/Lonberg-Holm, Fred
12.A Sudden Fit of Abstraction~4:06~~Genetti, Carol/Smith, Damon/Lonberg-Holm, Fred

Genetti, Carol/voice/executive producer
Smith, Damon/voice
Lonberg-Holm, Fred/cello
Falesch, Bob/engineer
Looney, Scott R./mastering
Brightbill, Edgar Alan/artwork
Anzalone, Alan/graphic design/photo

-Free Improvisation

Mirrors - Broken, but no Dust — Reviewed by Frank Rubolino, Cadence

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Mirrors - Broken, but no Dust

Musicians: Peter Kowald, Damon Smith

Reviewed by Frank Rubolino, Cadence


(note: this review was done togther, it is reprinted in full here because Biggi is featured on the BPA  releases: "Desert Sweets", " A PLace Meant for Birds", and "Elegans on the NUscope Label with Damon Smith & Kjell Nordeson) 
An old French church setting provides the inspiration for the very personalized communication transpiring between Vinkeloe and Phillips on (1). Their music is instantly composed in a most knotted, interwoven way. Vinkeloe is an imaginative woodwind player who gracefully develops spirals of light-as-air sound on alto, while her approach to the flute has leanings toward the robust, wind-over-reed style. In both situations, she constructs her improvisations with an inventive bent that have forward moving direction at all times. While the ideas continuously pour from her instruments, there does not appear to be any randomness about it. Her phrases are always resolved in logical order, making her statements extremely pointed and effective. Reinforcing her strong effort is the stunningly clear acoustics of the venue.

Phillips is a dynamo in this type of setting. Absorbing the cornucopia of cascading notes pouring from the reeds of Vinkeloe, he constructs this multiple-movement sinfonietta with his noted dexterous command of the strings and bow. Phillips is a percussive bassist who uses the body of the instrument and its full tonal range to extract gorgeously resonating tones. In rapid succession, he slaps the sides of the bass, plucks the strings, bows intently, and rattles the bow between the strings to get yet anotherpercussive variation on the dark music. The density of his sound pitted against the higher tonality of the alto and flute yields a sonic contrast having beauty and brawn. This pairing was wonderfully conceived. The two artists immerse themselves in this music overflowing with ripe concepts and rich textures, and these qualities are generously conveyed to the listener.

In March 2000, Kowald began a major 50-city tour of the USA playing the first half of each concert as a soloist and then teaming with area artists for the second set. I witnessed his performance in Houston a few weeks before the bass duets on (2) with Smith were recorded in California. Kowald's music is founded on intensity, and he found a kindred spirit in the younger Smith. They ignite a dual brand of fire that never reverts to embers - it flames continually with the outpouring of emotion and creativity that makes the music fully satisfying without the need for other instrumentation. What comes across most vividly in their musical discourse is the depth of the communicative skills. While each musician is effectively playing an enlarged virtuosic solo, the streams of sound from each merge and unite as though predefined, which of course they were not.

Kowald is furious as ever on these dates. He forcefully grabs at strings, massages them with vigor, slaps them with near brutality, and bows them with hardy intensity, yet the result of this overt display is always a thing of beauty. His music rings with sensitivity that belies the tactics used to generate it. Smith approaches the bass in very much the same way. He is aggressive and affirmative, building a huge soundstage with thick notes in either arco or pizzicato mode that careen off his instrument, shoot directly toward Kowald and are returned with altered structure but no loss of velocity. The first date was one extended dissertation, while the second was performed as seven shorter movements and features an example of Kowald's noted gutteral throat singing. Both sets are equally endowed with energy, transference of ideas, and markedly emphatic originality. There is no generation gap here.

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

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"The Voice Imitator - BPA 007"

Musicians: Frank Gratkowski, Jerome Bryerton, Damon Smith:

Reviewed by Ken Waxman, Jazz Review

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

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

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



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

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The Sale of Tickets for Money Was abolished BPA 002


Reviewed by Jason Bivins, Cadence


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

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

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

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

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

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Three October Meetings BPA 003

Musicians: Wolfgang Fuchs, Jerome Bryerton, Damon Smith

Reviewed by Jay Collins, Cadence


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

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

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

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

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


"Zero Plus -BPA 007"

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

Reviewed by François Couture


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

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

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

-Free Improvisation

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

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


Reviewed by Ken Waxman, Jazz Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Reviewed by Ken Waxman, Jazz Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


"Three October Meetings BPA 003" — Reviewed by Ken Waxman

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"Three October Meetings BPA 003"


Reviewed by Ken Waxman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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"Mirrors Broken But No Dust BPA 001"

Musicians: Peter Kowald, Damon Smith

Reviewed by Francois Couture, All-Music Guide


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

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

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"Three October Meetings BPA 003"

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

Reviewed by Francois Couture, All-Music Guide


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

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

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The Sale of Tickets for Money Was Abolished BPA 002

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

Reviewed by Francois Couture, All-Music Guide


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

Zero Plus BPA 007 — Reviewed by Robert Iannapollo, Cadence


Zero Plus BPA 007

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

Reviewed by Robert Iannapollo, Cadence


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

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

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Sense of Hearing BPA 005


Reviewed by Michael Anton Parker, Bagatellen


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


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

Reviewed by Don Warburton -Signal To Noise


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


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

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"The Voice Imitator - BPA 006

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

Reviewed by Stuart Kremsky


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

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