BPA 017 The Catastrophe of Minimalism — Reviewed by Bill Meyer, The Wire

BPA 017 The Catastrophe of Minimalism — Reviewed by Martin Longley, Downbeat

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BPA 017 The Catastrophe of Minimalism

Musicians: John Butcher - saxophones
Damon Smith - double bass
Weasel Walter - percussion

Reviewed by Martin Longley, Downbeat

4.5 out of 5 stars in Downbeat

"Recorded live in 2008 at 21 Grand in Oakland, California, The Catastrophe Of Minimalism (Balance Point Acoustics; 54:29 ++++½) finds Butcher in a similar instrumental setting, with Damon Smith (bass) and Weasel Walter (drums). The improvisation sounds less directly derived from the jazz idiom, with pieces of wildly varying length, operating on a much more aggressively spiky level. This trio makes greater use of silences, and then brutal explosions, with ruffled-feather trilling, dragged bass bow and a rumbling skin-barrage. There’s a genuine unpredictability throughout, an extremity of controlled savagery and a belligerent dynamism to Butcher’s roughened tenor sound." - Martin Longley, Downbeat

The Catastrophe of Mininmalism — Reviewed by Paul Acquaro, Free Jazz Blog


The Catastrophe of Mininmalism

Musicians: John Butcher / Damon Smith / Weasel Walter

Reviewed by Paul Acquaro, Free Jazz Blog

Bassist Damon Smith writes in the notes for this release, which was taped live in Oakland, California in 2008, that he likes to let recordings age: "You are very sure about the music when you live with it for a few years before putting it out in the world."

It makes sense: let the ingredients over time interact, if done right, perhaps an unanticipated richness develops around them, ideas that perhaps didn't seem right at the time turn out to be brilliant moves, something perceived as a mistake when it was played has somehow completely melted into the whole. While uncertain what, if any of these things apply here, what is certain is that Catastrophe of Minimalism is a sumptuous and intense album, sure to tickle the most fickle palette.

Saxophonist John Butcher and percussionist Weasel Walter round out the trio. The first track 'An Illusionistic Panic Part 1' begins among a spate of percussive hits, saxophone smears, and bowed bass. The melange of ingredients exist both together and seeking their own space. Coming together with a cymbal crash, the tone is set for how these three musical provocateurs will proceed. 'A Blank Magic' follows, featuring skittering multi-phonics from Butcher, expressive and unexpected anti-patterns from Walter, and textural friction from Smith. The fevered pitch that Butcher brings the group to with a repetitive circular phrase and the subsequent percussive tangent that follows on 'Modern Technological Fetishes' is worth the price of the album alone.

Each track provides a different angle on the inner workings of this trio, each offering it's own complex arrangements of overtones, undertones, and meaty notes between. The titles, like the ones for Six Situations are inspired and borrowed from the mid-20th century artist Dan Flavin
Here, have a whiff of this particular good vintage: 

After Effects — Reviewed by Rick Joines, Free Jazz Blog


After Effects

Musicians: Danny Kamins / Damon Smith / Alvin Fielder / Joe Hertenstein /

Reviewed by Rick Joines, Free Jazz Blog

So much depends upon a title.

After Effects is Danny Kamins’ first album as bandleader. Kamins (baritone sax), a Houston-native and a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory, directs jazz ensembles at Rice University and plays in the lo-fi drone band CARL and the noise band Etched in the Eye. He has good company for his first outing: Damon Smith on bass, and Joe Hertenstein and the legendary Alvin Fielder on lots of things percussive. Fielder, Kamins reports, provided the meteorological titles for these entirely improvised songs, so (I’m guessing) the names postdated the playing. Thus, the titles and their themes would seem to have had no impact on the creation of these songs, but knowing the titles influences how, or what, one hears in them—innocent though they were of their names when brought to life.

Because the first track of After Effects is titled “In the Beginning,” the first two and half minutes of low rumbling of bass and drums, which turns suddenly violent and then rhythmic, which lacks form then gains it, puts me in mind of Genesis. Where there was nothing, now there is something, sorting itself out—gathering and yielding, creeping and flying. The quartet sounds loose and shifty, sometimes hurried or harried, so when Kamins’ baritone finally enters, it is like the spirit moving upon the face of the waters, creating order out of disorder. The rest of the songs’ titles indicate this “beginning” may be of a great storm, so my imaginings may be off track, but if this was called “Improvisation #1,” I may not have imagined anything much at all, and I doubt I would enjoy the song as much.

In the next track, “Land, Sand, Water,” Fielder and Hertenstein sprinkle and grind their percussives like sand accreting and eroding at the water’s edge. Kamins’ baritone flows like waves over their cobbled contours. Then Smith’s bass, like land after the flood recedes, appears. At the cartographic edge of things, each instrument maps its own shapes—intersecting, overflowing, demarcating—until it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. “Storms” (Parts 1 and 2), follows hard upon, as if produced by the confluence of land, sand, and water. Here these musicians hit their stride as a unit. The pair of drummers, one per channel, create constant atmospheric rumbles and irreconcilable rhythms through which Kamins’ breathy, ballsy, red-blooded baritone cuts. Smith’s playing is restrained and pushed back in the mix, but his bruising pizzicato and gashing arco arcs like lightning through the thunderous throatiness of Kamins’ sax.

One’s tempestuous imagination continues to roam over the rest of the album, lulled by Smith’s louré bowing in “The Gentle Breeze,” buoyed and battered by the Doppler effects of Fielder and Hertenstein’s bells and skins in “The Wind,” attentive to Kamins’ lyrical, wavering foghorning in “The Shore,” and magnetized by Smith’s scratch tones and rhythmic walking during “The Hurricane and the Calms.” In “After Effects,” each instrument sounds as if it’s been through the worst of it and is piecing itself back together uncertainly, anxiously assessing the damage in the final song, “The Cleanup.”

Perhaps because of the songs’ titles, everything on this record takes on some added significance. There are often moments of near silence, as when the eye of a hurricane passes over, and, like a hurricane, the playing of the rhythm section swirls, its power rising from within. While an alto sax may zoom like a thunder shower, a tenor squall like a storm front, a baritone lumbers like a slow-moving tropical storm over great space, a behemoth laboring to pick up speed. Kamins has a penchant for long, tremulous notes, but he also has a powerful lyrical ability that avoids the familiar, idiomatic, soporific sounds often associated with the baritone sax. His tone is contemplative, stately, and, like the great storms over the ocean and the beasts beneath, he plays majestically so as to inspire the imagination.

Danny Kamins

The shape finds its own space — Reviewed by Rick Joines, Free Jazz Blog


The shape finds its own space

Musicians: Frode Gjerstad / Damon Smith / Alvin Fielder

Reviewed by Rick Joines, Free Jazz Blog

The Shape Finds Its Own Space is a set featuring Norwegian Frode Gjerstad on clarinet and alto saxophone and Americans Alvin Fielder on drums and Damon Smith on double bass recorded at the No Idea Festival in Austin, Texas, on February 25, 2016. The album’s title, and the title of the three-part 38-minute improvisation—“angles, curves, edges, & mass”—comes from an artist’s statement by Ellsworth Kelly:

I have worked to free shape from its ground, and then to work the shape so that it has a definite relationship to the space around it; so that it has a clarity and a measure within itself of its parts (angles, curves, edges, and mass); and so that, with color and tonality, the shape finds its own space and always demands its freedom and separateness.

Ellsworth Kelly is an apt muse for an improvising, free jazz musician. He sought to escape representation and the conventions of easel painting on a rectangular canvas, yet his abstractions always abstract from real objects: windows, frames, and the wall around them, the tombstone curves of Tour de France kilometer markers, the way light bounces off rippling water. “The form of my painting is the content,” Ellsworth proclaimed.

Can free jazz musicians transpose this visual artist’s goals into their medium? Kelly’s method of composition was to avoid composition: chance eliminated the need to decide where things go. Likewise, Gjerstad, Fielder, and Smith play without knowing how things will unfold. They work their instruments and shape their music, revealing its plasticity, but music also resists and makes its own demands. It has limits both the body and imagination must respect. Fielder modulates in and out of rhythm, riding a cymbal and at times positively swinging as Smith walks growling, fat-fingered bass lines. Smith’s strings whisper into hazes of harmonics and dive in glassy shrieks. Both flirt with mixtures of pure improvisation and conventional musical beauty, unlike Gjerstad who opts for the unrestrained. I am not a fan of his frightened-wounded-nearly-dying-animal-spinning-on-a-rusty-turnstile-whose-tea-kettle-is-at-the-boil style, but he’s been at it for decades, and others find it enthralling. Like the abstract artist, these improvising musicians wander out to the edge of the real and the imaginable and wobble there on the precipice where the aesthetic ends and its opposite begins.

Song For Chico — Reviewed by By Rick Joines, Free Jazz Blong

BPA 6 Song for Chico CVR DD

Song For Chico

Musicians: Alvin Fielder / Damon Smith

Reviewed by By Rick Joines, Free Jazz Blong

That free, improvised jazz gives pleasure to its connoisseurs seems obvious. Even more obvious is the displeasure it causes everybody else.

Avant-garde music of any genre—for those who play it, compose it, and listen to it—answers a desire to be disoriented, a hankering to indulge in lawlessness, a longing to be free. It makes us happy—we get it, and it gets us. If, like other kinds of music, free jazz resembles language, what sort of communication is it? We often refer to the interplay between musicians as “conversation,” but other than the fact that notes follow notes in linear time, most free, improvised jazz eschews ordinary, idiomatic syntax. To some, it sounds like random noise, yet to us, it is beautiful. Or maybe it’s true: we’re just weird.

The album Song for Chico, with Alvin Fielder (b. 1935) on drums and Damon Smith (b. 1972) on contrabass, contains what lovers of free jazz love in spades. Here is an example of the two of them at work:

Even one versed in the intricacies of improvised music would be hard pressed to describe their playing as a “conversation,” yet we believe there is a sort of communion because the playing sings in a language whose mysteries we feel we understand. But how?

There are six tracks on Song for Chico, and each seems completely improvised (though I’m not certain that is wholly true of “Variations on ‘Untitled’ by Cecil Taylor” or “Roots by Johnny Dyani,” but I’d say their improvisational-to-composed content is high). Watching Alvin Fielder behind the drums and Damon Smith behind his bass, and listening to them, leads one to wonder if they are particularly aware of one another’s presence: what each plays might be what they would play even if the other one wasn’t there. Because what they both play—note by note—so lacks a clear, standard harmonic connection or any melodic sequence, when Fielder quotes “Salt Peanuts” in “Improvisation 1,” even that short bit of something familiar feels, somehow, odd. Yet to me, and probably to them, their songs cohere as songs. Perhaps it is a matter of mood or tone, or of some kind of simpatico.

What is most evident on each of the tracks on Song for Chico is Fielder and Smith’s technique. In fact, the album is almost entirely “about” technique. Fielder wields a battery of sticks and brushes; he makes music using every nut, bolt, stand, skin, cymbal, and underside of his kit. He almost never “keeps time.” In this sort of music, time is not a thing that can be “kept.” It is fluid and unpredictable—like nature. Smith’s technique puts me in mind of Wallace Stevens’ poem “Chaos in Motion and Not in Motion”: Smith’s playing is “like the wind that lashes everything at once.” He is an aggressive bassist, stormy and dramatic. Scratch tones, ponticello, tremolo, spiccato, ricochet, glissando, trills, detaché, legato, louré, slurs, slaps, martelé, jeté, sautillé, staccato, saltato, col legno, saccadé, buzz, snap, and nail pizzicato—name a technique, or extended technique, and chances are it’s in a song and in Smith’s arsenal. There is nowhere he won’t bow or pluck or strum—hard. Sometimes he even rubs his bass’s belly.

The species of free, improvised jazz on display on Song for Chico is what music sounds like when the “like” language barely holds, or does not apply at all. Yet Fielder and Smith are not just two guys in a room making an erratic cacophony. If free jazz is “like” a language, or mode of communication, it must be something like the communication within a murmuration of starlings, or a school of fish, or like a peloton of 120 professional cyclists, elbow-to-elbow, hurtling down Rue d’Somewhere at 40 MPH. The consciousness of the other and the communication between them about speed and direction is immediate, precognitive, innate. They are all headed somewhere, but who knows where, how long it will take, or how they will get there, exactly? There is a pleasure in the practice of working together as one mind and one body, in the stretching and condensing, in the speed or agility that would be impossible if alone.

Alvin Fielder and Damon Smith are masters of their art. Their communication—with each other and with us, the listeners—seems subliminal; it transmits outside of the range of the “normal” consumer of music. It is a signal broadcast to all, but not all receivers are able to pick it up, or decipher it as theme or dialogue. Yet for those attuned to it, the music they make is magical, and “what they have to say” is persuasive and elegant, even if we have a hard time explaining why, or how, it is. “To interpret language,” Adorno claims, “means: to understand language.” And “to interpret music means: to make music.” “Musical interpretation,” he notes, “is performance.” Fielder and Smith interpret a style of music that demands and rewards our interpretation, and demands performance from the critic, too.

Six Situations — Reviewed by Paul Acquaro, Free Jazz Blog


Six Situations

Musicians: Joe McPhee / Damon Smith / Alvin Fielder

Reviewed by Paul Acquaro, Free Jazz Blog

The 19 minutes of the first track off Six Situations, 'The Diagonal of Personal Ecstasy', is a journey through the joys of improvised music making. The core duo of bassist Damon Smith, and drummer Alvin Fielder, first played together in 2010 and their collaborative spirit remains strong through today, as evidenced by their recent duo release Song for Chico. Saxophonist Joe McPhee, of course, is a musician whose presence always enhances the 'situation.'

Launching into a spirited set at Brooklyn's Roulette during September 2016 the newly formed trio's approach is captured well in a line from Smith's liner notes: "What emerged between Alvin and myself is mix of total free improvisation with swinging quarter notes never far away." Add McPhee to the proceeding statement and you have Six Situations in the making: swinging, energetic, and free. It's a winning combination that melds the wild pulse of classic free jazz with edgy and exciting improvisation.

The aforementioned first track begins with a long passage where Smith and Fielder exchange ideas and lay the groundwork for McPhee. He comes in with some hearty sounds which builds momentum over tje looping pulse. Smith's solo passage about half-way into the track deftly incorporates space and dynamics to accentuate the taut scratching passage before an actual howl escapes from McPhee as he re-enters the conversation. The tune winds down with a concise bluesy refrain and an extended percussion outro.

The follow up 'Blue Trees in Wind' is again introduced by Fielder's and Smith's extended techniques – deft plucks and bowed skronks, all applied expertly around Fielder's brushwork. McPhee enters with a laid back melody that begins to fray and fracture as the piece continues. Smith injects a tumultuous counter melody as the tension comes to a head. 'Alternate Diagonals' does indeed offer a different perspective on the previous direction. This time McPhee takes the reins and introduces a Gustafsson-like rhythmic figure that the others rally around. It's short but powerful. 
The next track, a 23-minute track entitled 'Red & Green Alternatives' starts off the second half of the album which doesn't disappoint. The song is more textural, starting off with soft percussion and light smears of sounds from Smith. When McPhee shows up, it's nearly 10 minutes in, following an intense duet. He vocalizes through the instrument before settling into a forlorn solo melody.

All said, Six Situations documents three excellent musicians sharing a strong musical rapport. The rich supply of ideas in their collective possession is enough to make the most of any situation.

After Effects (FMR 448; UK) — Reviewed by Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG - 8/9/2017


After Effects (FMR 448; UK)


Reviewed by Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG - 8/9/2017

DANNY KAMINS / DAMON SMITH / ALVIN FIELDER / JOE HERTENSTEIN - After Effects (FMR 448; UK) Featuring Danny Kamins on reeds (bari sax), Damon Smith on bass, Alvin Fielder & Joe Hertenstein on drums. This disc was recorded in a studio in Houston, Texas, where Mr. Kamins lives and where Mr. Smith used to live before moving to Boston more recently. Over the past few years, Damon Smith has been working with legendary drummer Alvin Fielder in a duo and a recent trio with Joe McPhee (on Not Two). Mr. Fielder is a founding member of the AACM while living in Chicago in the sixties, moved back to Mississippi in 1968 and has been involved int music scene in New Orleans and is Houston where he once went to college. I am not sure how German-born drummer Joe Hertenstein fits in this line-up, but I do know that he has been a part of the Downtown Scene for several years paying with a number of key musicians: Jon Irabagon, Thomas Heberer and Mikko Innanen. 
Alvin Fielder and Damon Smith sound like they are connected, swirling tightly together, expanding and contracting as one force of nature. Mr. Hertenstein is a good listener and work well spinning his lines around Mr. Fielder, neither getting in each others way, often sounding like one drummer and not two. Mr. Kamins often plays quietly and with immense restraint, slowly burning from underneath. He sounds wonderful on bari sax, often soaring without screaming or erupting too much like John Surman in the early days. Damon Smith is one of the best acoustic bassists around and is often at the center of this band, providing the spirit/glue that holds things together. He has an immense, powerful sound whether bowing hard or erupting torrents of plucked notes on his mighty contrabass. There is section here where the bari sax is growling while Smith bows and bends those notes inside out, the drums marching in the distance. It sound like a monster movie soundtrack, warning that we are in some danger with some scary ghosts erupting and spewing their volcanic lava all over. Prepare for the worst. This is one of the best free/jazz quartet disc to come along in quite a while. Don’t miss it! - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG - 8/9/2017

Bandcamp Daily Feature on Damon Smith & BPA — Reviewed by Brad Cohan

Plane Crash live in NYC July 14, 2017 review — Reviewed by Clifford Allen, NYC Jazz Record

plane crash review 1

Plane Crash live in NYC July 14, 2017 review

Musicians: Henry Kaiser - guitar
Damon Smith - double bass
Weasel Walter - drums

Reviewed by Clifford Allen, NYC Jazz Record

Concert video here:

It’s hard to think of a better way to spend a humid, rainy Friday evening than in an artists’ bunker in Bushwick bearing witness to free improv and cracked electronic exploration. The venue was Noise Workshop (Jul. 14th), hosting sets from the New York Review of Cocksucking (NYROCS, Michael Foster and Richard Kamerman) and Plane Crash, the volatile but incisive trio of guitarist Henry Kaiser, bassist Damon Smith and drummer Weasel Walter. NYROCS opened, sitting across from one another at card tables festooned with little and not-so-little instruments—harmonicas, rattles, pot lids, cymbals, cassette players, pedals, megaphone, no-input mixer and soprano saxophone— and conjured a landscape of feedback, bilious multiphonic gurgle, percussive clatter and disembodied voices. While both Plane Crash volumes (released on ugEXPLODE and New Atlantis, respectively) have offered sharply-defined acoustic gamesmanship, in person they stuck to a charged energy often veering towards progressive rock, Walter on an expansive rock-drummer’s kit, a sweaty and powerful chug behind Kaiser’s more topographical electric latticework and the throaty incisions of Smith’s arco and meaty pizzicato. The trio worked through one long and one short improvisation, the rhythm section occasionally subsuming Kaiser’s detail under brute force, but the three eventually found a common axis of listening, winnowing their improvisation to a focused, vibrantly undulating language. —Clifford Allen

Six Situations (Not Two 953; Poland) — Reviewed by Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG


Six Situations (Not Two 953; Poland)


Reviewed by Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG

* JOE McPHEE / DAMON SMITH / ALVIN FIELDER - Six Situations (Not Two 953; Poland) Featuring Joe McPhee on tenor sax, Damon Smith on bass and Alvin Fielder on drums. This disc was recorded live at Roulette in Brooklyn, on September 13th of 2016, in the fall of last year. Multi-reeds wizard and brass-man, international traveler on the move, Joe McPhee, always rises to the occasion and sounds inspired no matter who he is playing with and whatever stage or studio he finds himself in. Bay Area-to-Texas-to Boston bassist, Damon Smith also gets around to playing with a wealth of international musicians. Mr. Smith has worked with original AACM drum legend, Alvin Fielder, on previous recordings with Norwegian saxist Frode Gjerstad and Texas-based players: David Dove and Jason Jackson. This was the first time that McPhee and Fielder had played together live. I attended this set myself and recalled how happy Mr. McPhee was to play with drum legend Alvin Fielder. His excitement was infectious.
One of the highlights of this disc is a righteous poem called, “Tell Me, How Long Has Trane Been Gone”, written by Joe McPhee and printed inside the CD case. It is dedicated to both John Coltrane and author James Baldwin. The trio begins quietly, slowly, all three members building and blending their spirits/sounds. You can Trane’s influence in all three players, free yet focused as one deep spirit ascending… On “The Diagonal of Personal Ecstasy”, the trio morph into a sly, blues-like refrain, which feels so good, slowing down our pulse to a safe crawl, peaceful yet probing. There is strong balance of the elements going on here, the trio sound like they are listening closely and creating a strong dialogue. All in all, this is a strong, spirited and intense trio that works together and has their own distinctive sound. I recall enjoying this set but this disc sounds even better than what I remember. - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG 

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.