Reviews

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

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"Cruxes"

Musicians: Aurora Josephson/Joelle Leandre/martin Blume

Reviewed by Philip Clark , Double Bassist “Cruxes”

 


Double Bassist (Summer 2006:73) 

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

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

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

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

"Ghetto Calypso" — Reviewed by Derek Taylor, Bagatellen

"Ghetto Calypso"

Musicians: Eneidi / Kowald / Smith / Spirit

Reviewed by Derek Taylor, Bagatellen


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

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

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

~ Derek Taylor

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

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"Sperrgut, BPA 009

Musicians: Birgit Ulher/Damon Smith/Martin Blume

Reviewed by Ken Waxman, Jazzword.com

 


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

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

"Ghetto Calypso"

Musicians: Eneidi / Kowald / Smith / Spirit

Reviewed by Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic

 


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

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

"Ghetto Calypso"

Musicians: Eneidi / Kowald / Smith / Spirit

Reviewed by Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic

 


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

"Cruxes" — Reviewed by Ken Waxman

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"Cruxes"

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

Reviewed by Ken Waxman


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

-- Ken Waxman

"Cruxes" — Reviewed by Robert Iannapollo, Cadence

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"Cruxes"

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

Reviewed by Robert Iannapollo, Cadence

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

"Ghetto Calypso" — Reviewed by Marc Medwin, Dusted

"Ghetto Calypso"

Musicians: Marco Eneidi/Peter Kowald/Damon Smith/Spirit

Reviewed by Marc Medwin, Dusted


The Polish NotTwo label has been dropping some fantastic music of late, and this six-year-old session is no exception. The bass duo of Damon Smith and the late Peter Kowald can be heard on Smith’s own Balance Point Acoustics label; this set puts the pair in the company of saxophonist Marco Eneidi and the enigmatic drummer Spirit, whom I’d never heard before. The earthiness of the Smith/Kowald duo is in full effect on tracks like “David, with Bert, plays Mahler” or the title track, both players being rooted in a confluence of stereotypically “American” and “European” modes of dialogic improv. “A Tiny Hole in Tuva” is a bit of a surprise when the bassists create a gorgeous drone, but Eneidi’s playing is even more startling. I was not prepared for the sheer force of his presence on this session, the bent bravura and speech-song venom with which he can attack and elongate a phrase. It’s not all Ayleresque or Brotzmanian fire and brimstone, however, even though the dynamic level is often high; “Breakfast with a Dervish,” a brief Eneidi solo outing, is positively other-worldly, exuding a kind of cosmically Eastern ethnicity. Some of his best work. At the other end of the spectrum is the aptly named Spirit, whose sound often hovers on the edges of audibility. It’s actually quite intricate, a myriad of tinkles, soft ametric intertwinings and the occasional rattle and thump only hinting at jazz rhetoric. His handling of timbre and space on “The Unforseen is What is Beautiful” is positively exquisite, his lines cut from the most delicately ornate fabric. The two opposing forces, Spirit and Eneidi, bob and weave around the bassists, who form the axis around which all forces revolve. They are the anchor in an ever-changing stylistic storm, and it’s this oil-and-water aesthetic that makes the disc such a joy to experience. Even though I’d like to have heard some of these pieces extended, most being in the two-to-six minute range, their quick-fire juxtaposition also gives the disc an ironic unity. This is a wonderfully adventurous set on many levels, and I’m glad it finally saw the light of day. By Marc Medwin

"Elegans" — Reviewed by Marc Medwin, Bagatellen

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"Elegans"

Musicians: Biggi Vinkeloe, Damon Smith, Kjell Nordeson Reviewed by:

Reviewed by Marc Medwin, Bagatellen

 

"Elegans"
Players: Biggi Vinkeloe, Damon Smith, Kjell Nordeson
Reviewed by: Marc Medwin, Bagatellen
http://www.bagatellen.com/archives/reviews/001429.html

I chose a late evening to audition this latest Nuscope offering for the first time, and now it never sounds quite right during the day. The duo and trio explorations exist, by and large, in afterglow, in the calm but magical world of overtone and shadow I associate with moonlight. The music is not reticent—far from it! It ebbs and flows with the quiet certainty of expectation, making the occasional moments of more extreme light and darkness more vivid.

The opening to “Kinkajou” is one such instance; Smith’s puckish arco scoops and Nordeson’s percussive twitters giving rise to one of the disc’s most overtly dramatic exchanges. Vinkelowe, far from drawn into the serio-comic fray, exudes long-toned admonishments, she and Smith seeming to have swapped roles to engage in some beautifully orchestral interplay. Her flute work on “Parish”, on the other end of the spectrum, sounds an “Oriental” clarion call amidst ominous rumbles and microtonal clusters, Smith’s shredding moans and sighs sounding like the remnants of some butchered coral. Indeed, it’s hard to tell where bass ends and percussion begins before an uneasy calm is eventually restored.

These are moments of obviously polarized unrest though, and much of the disc’s reflectivity can be gauged from the title track. What might be a military cadence, if Nordeson chose to engage stereotype, pervades the texture, his drum work a series of loosely defined in-tempo patterns that always seem to break down at the last moment. Vinkelowe and Smith dodge and weave, emerging repeatedly from Nordeson’s fractured structures only to be shoved, gently, in another direction.

Most beguiling though, bespeaking midnight, is “Today, the sun is Blue”, a gorgeously contrapuntal Smith/Vinkelowe duet; the silence surrounding each gesture is magical, each phrase leads ineluctably into the next, maintaining a perfect but fragile blend of sound and silence, a recipe for disaster in the wrong hands.

Many of the quieter moments here are so successful because the recording is absolutely first-rate. Nordeson’s subtle vibraphone is captured in a way that forms a perfect stereophonic contrast to the other players’ more sharply defined presences. The disc is a credit to Nuscope, whose output continues to be of the highest quality, and to this fine trio, from whom I hope to hear a lot more.

~ Marc Medwin

"Sextessense" — Reviewed by Marc Medwin, Cadence

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"Sextessense"

Musicians: JOHN BUTCHER/AARON BENNET/ JEROME BRYERTON/ DANIELLE DEGRUTTOLA/ HENRY KAISER/DAMON SMITH

Reviewed by Marc Medwin, Cadence


DANIELLE DEGRUTTOLA/ HENRY KAISER/DAMON SMITH, SEXTESSENSE: A Tribute to John Stevens, BALANCE POINT ACOUSTICS 11. So What do you Think about John Stevens / Deep Six for the SME / Beckett (Sam) / Immeadiate Pasts / Click Piece + Sustain = / Has Duration / Implies its Opposite / Six and One / Septessence. 79:54. Butcher, s; Bennet, s; Bryerton, d; DeGruttola, cel; Kaiser, g; Smith, ac b. Recorded 1999, other info not given. There are very few people I’ve heard discussed with such an overpowering mixture of admiration and reservation as John Stevens. Whatever opinions abound concerning the man, his contributions to improvised music and its pedagogy should never be underestimated, and this disc is a fitting tribute from Stevens’ colleagues and admirers. It’s fitting that Damon Smith’s label should house this session. Balance Point Acoustics has documented a deservedly acclaimed series of fresh encounters between some of the West Coast’s finest and several top-drawer European improvisers and Sextessense continues the tradition. I needn’t rehearse John Butcher’s contributions to later incarnations of Stevens’ Spontaneous Music Ensemble, and his presence on this set is a palpable link to a venerable past. The disc should not, however, be construed as some kind of SME copy, even though two of the pieces are in fact based on Stevens’ exercises. The improvisations on offer here are somehow denser, possibly even more fleet-footedly humorous, than much of the SME’s work, a momentary burst of raucous laughter driving the point home. Even what seem to be attempts to re-enact SME workshop strategies, like the click and sustain piece, sound advanced, proudly boasting the virtuosity gained from thirty-five years of practice and contemplation. It is especially gratifying to hear Butcher in this context, as the free-wheeling nature of the music here is in direct contrast to much of the more introspective work in which he’s been involved of late. The sax-and-strings-heavy lineup is wonderfully conducive to the pointilistically whiplash interplay for which the SME was always famous, and the disc is a joyful celebration from the beginning to its transcendentally hushed conclusion. Marc Medwin

 


"Ausfegen" — Reviewed by Matt Seltenrich, East Bay Express

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"Ausfegen"

Musicians: Hartsaw/Aspelin/Smith/Bryerton

Reviewed by Matt Seltenrich, East Bay Express


Hartsaw/Aspelin/Smith/Bryerton 
Ausfegen: Dedicated to Joseph Beuys (Balance Point Acoustics). 
Avant-garde improvisation? Free jazz? Future music? Leading Bay Area experimentalists Damon Smith (double basses) and Kristian Aspelin (guitar, broom) team up with two like-minded folks from Chicago to make music that doesn't quite sound like music.

"Ausfegen" — Reviewed by Mike Szajewski, WNUR 89.3 FM, Chicago

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"Ausfegen"

Musicians: Hartsaw/Aspelin/Smith/Bryerton

Reviewed by Mike Szajewski, WNUR 89.3 FM, Chicago


Hartsaw/Aspelin/Smith/Bryerton Ausfegen: Dedicated to Joseph Beuys” (Balance Point Acoustics, 2007) Paul Hartsaw (ss, ts), Kristian Aspelin (g), Damon Smith (b), Jerome Bryerton (perc) Here’s an example of highly experimental jazz that is executed in a way that avoids being overly daunting or completely inaccessible. While many of the most experimental jazz albums today incorporate elevated Ayler-esque raucousness or spacey minimalism, “Ausfegen” manages to be both quiet and highly interactive, mostly due the gentle percussiveness of this album. Percussionist Jerome Breyerton displays a beautiful small-sounding percussion kit, which he will play at almost any speed and intensity level. Aspelin’s guitar work is also in this percussive vein, being somewhat similar to the style and approach of New York’s Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut but applied to a more quiet setting. Another interesting note regarding the guitarist’s work – the seventh track here features Kristian Aspelin playing his instrument with a broom. Rounding out the ensemble are Chicago saxophonist Paul Hartsaw and San Fransisco Bay Area bassist Damon Smith, whose Balance Point Acoustics label released this CD. Hartsaw has made his rounds with many of today’s Chicago greats, is also the leader of the Desiring-Machines free improv ensemble. Damon Smith, perhaps the best known member of this quartet, has recorded with greats such as the late bassist Peter Kowald and reed player Frank Gratkowski. - Mike Szajewski

"Ausfegen" — Reviewed by Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes

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"Ausfegen"

Musicians: hartsaw/Aspelin/Smith/Bryerton

Reviewed by Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes


PAUL HARTSAW / KRISTIAN ASPELIN / DAMON SMITH / JEROME BRYERTON - Ausfegen (Balance Point Acoustics) This collection of difficult-to-fathom improvisations is subtitled “Dedicated to Joseph Beuys” for a reason. Nearing the end of this session, bassist Damon Smith recalled a performance that Beuys made in 1972 in Karl-Marx-Platz, Berlin, consisting in sweeping the square and depositing the materials in a vitrine, a recording of the sonic content of the action reproduced through a nearby speaker. As a homage to this artistic gesture, the last recorded track “Broom with red bristles” finds Smith playing (standing, with two bows) two prepared double basses lying on their backs, guitarist Aspelin approaching his instrument with a shop broom in the meantime. The whole CD features the same kind of introvert interplay and five listens haven’t been sufficient for me to sketch something akin to a vague idea of the non-idiom around which these carvers move. Besides Smith and Aspelin’s tools, also soprano and tenor sax (Hartsaw) and percussion (Bryerton) are featured, the latter players coming from Chicago while the previously mentioned ones hail from the Bay Area. The artists’ curricula include a who’s who of the major improvisers from various decades of free expression, such as Kyle Bruckmann, Joe Morris, Fred Frith, Henry Kaiser, Cecil Taylor, Peter Brötzmann to name just a few; moreover, the bassist has collaborated with film director Werner Herzog and the Merce Cunningham dance company (talk about polyhedral visual angles). Does this give you the necessary clues to understand what we’re referring to? Nope of course. These elements will help, though: scraping virtuosity, instrumental photodisintegration, four-dimensional anarchy, systematic refusal of snugness. Figures are revealed for a handful of seconds, then they disappear into themselves like timid creatures whose back is full of spikes. Phrases are repeated then dismembered in dirty crystals of speculation, significance outweighing handy-dandy guessing games in a counter-textualism worthy of this caliber of instrumentalists. Still no definition, and it will probably remain so - another excuse for returning. A substantial work under any point of view, deserving hours of dedicated concentration only to scratch its surface.s

PAUL HARTSAW / KRISTIAN ASPELIN / DAMON SMITH / JEROME BRYERTON - Ausfegen (Balance Point Acoustics) This collection of difficult-to-fathom improvisations is subtitled “Dedicated to Joseph Beuys” for a reason. Nearing the end of this session, bassist Damon Smith recalled a performance that Beuys made in 1972 in Karl-Marx-Platz, Berlin, consisting in sweeping the square and depositing the materials in a vitrine, a recording of the sonic content of the action reproduced through a nearby speaker. As a homage to this artistic gesture, the last recorded track “Broom with red bristles” finds Smith playing (standing, with two bows) two prepared double basses lying on their backs, guitarist Aspelin approaching his instrument with a shop broom in the meantime. The whole CD features the same kind of introvert interplay and five listens haven’t been sufficient for me to sketch something akin to a vague idea of the non-idiom around which these carvers move. Besides Smith and Aspelin’s tools, also soprano and tenor sax (Hartsaw) and percussion (Bryerton) are featured, the latter players coming from Chicago while the previously mentioned ones hail from the Bay Area. The artists’ curricula include a who’s who of the major improvisers from various decades of free expression, such as Kyle Bruckmann, Joe Morris, Fred Frith, Henry Kaiser, Cecil Taylor, Peter Brötzmann to name just a few; moreover, the bassist has collaborated with film director Werner Herzog and the Merce Cunningham dance company (talk about polyhedral visual angles). Does this give you the necessary clues to understand what we’re referring to? Nope of course. These elements will help, though: scraping virtuosity, instrumental photodisintegration, four-dimensional anarchy, systematic refusal of snugness. Figures are revealed for a handful of seconds, then they disappear into themselves like timid creatures whose back is full of spikes. Phrases are repeated then dismembered in dirty crystals of speculation, significance outweighing handy-dandy guessing games in a counter-textualism worthy of this caliber of instrumentalists. Still no definition, and it will probably remain so - another excuse for returning. A substantial work under any point of view, deserving hours of dedicated concentration only to scratch its surface.

"Sextessense" — Reviewed by Nic Jones, All About Jazz

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"Sextessense"

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

Reviewed by Nic Jones, All About Jazz


Anyone for an antidote to repertory? On Sextessense: A Tribute To John Stevens and the SME, the musicians involved are acknowledging what through sheer persistence and longevity has become a part of the tradition (one that is still likely to have the reactionaries foaming at the mouth, which, of course, gives them something to do with their time). The musicians paying tribute are at the same time stating the case for renewal and creativity, which is as it should be. An inherent risk with tribute records arises in the comparison between the celebration and the music being celebrated, but in a sense the presence of John Butcher, a one-time member of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and a sonic explorer in his own right, negates the issue. Moreover, the Ensemble went through so many instrumental configurations that pinning the music down is a happily difficult task. This throws numbers like “So What Do You Think About John Stevens?” into such stark relief that the listener has no option but to deal with the music on its own terms, with the potential and, indeed, need for comparison entirely negated. Here the only common factor is perhaps the music's rise and fall in volume level, although even in this respect it cannot be taken for granted such increases and decreases automatically equate volume with activity; as per the Ensemble itself, the correlation between volume and activity is profoundly undermined. Besides which, musicians like Henry Kaiser on guitar have long since fashioned their own identity; on “Has Duration” his sparse, arid playing is in marked contrast to John Butcher's soprano sax, which by Butcher's standards is relatively expansive. It makes for something close enough to unique as to be not worth quibbling over, especially as Jerome Bryerton's percussive palette is at odds with that of Stevens and entirely his own. Perhaps the only thing that unites the music across the years is this group's appreciation of dynamics. Even at its most frenetic the SME was profoundly at odds with, say, Cecil Taylor's evident fear of inactivity, and the volume level here is often such that it draws the listener in, enticed perhaps by the thought of coming to terms with the music's essence, as per the title track. Overall, this album calls the commonly understood meaning of a tribute into question. Fortunately, the music is much more worthwhile than the notion of a tribute implies, perhaps because the cold, clammy hand of reverence has no place here.

Trio Concert in Chicago" Players: — Reviewed by Bill Meyer, Chicago Reader

Trio Concert in Chicago" Players:

Musicians: Guillermo Gregorio/jerome Bryerton/Damon Smith

Reviewed by Bill Meyer, Chicago Reader


"
JEROME BRYERTON, DAMON SMITH, AND GUILLERMO GREGORIO With his rich tone and unerring technique, Bay Area double bassist Damon Smith sounds equally apposite tracing ghostly harmonics around Birgit Ulher’s agitated trumpet on the trio record Sperrgut, underscoring Richard Thompson’s melancholy guitar on the soundtrack to Grizzly Man, or asserting order against the woolly, anarchistic playing of reedist Vinny Golia, guitarist Henry Kaiser, and drummer Weasel Walter on the Albert Ayler tribute Healing Force. In this otherwise local trio, which has a couple recordings in the can but no releases yet, he straddles the fault line where improvisation and composition meet. Clarinetist and alto saxophonist Guillermo Gregorio is an old hand with graphic scores, not just as a performer but as a composer and conductor, and here he plays all three roles: in the studio the group has worked from his graphs, Christian Marclay’s deck of cards, and the Roscoe Mitchell piece “Cards.” Smith and Gregorio play isolated shapes as starkly demarcated as architectural drawings, and percussionist Jerome Bryerton—one of Smith’s longtime collaborators—creates a sense of ceaseless motion with his restrained, jazzy flourishes and arrhythmic crashes. The Hats headline and Blink opens. 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $7. —Bill Meyer

 


"Cruxes" — Reviewed by Nic Jones, All About Jazz

"Cruxes"

Musicians: Josephson/Leandre/Smith/Blume

Reviewed by Nic Jones, All About Jazz

 


Here's music the realization of truly collective endeavor. Each of the participants is acutely aware of the needs and demands of the moment, and the music they fashion is accordingly free of overt precedents at the same time as it works the seam of free improvisation in trenchant fashion. The nature of the forces deployed Aurora Josephson's voice, two basses and drums—perhaps pejoratively focuses the attention on the first of these, but Josephson is astute enough to know that non-verbal communication in this area best serves the needs of the music. On “Praxis” for example, she brings her knowledge of technique to bear in a way suggesting she abides by Bill Evans's dictum with regards to learning technique and then forgetting about it. This piece also serves notice that both Joelle Leandre (bass) and Damon Smith (bass) are acutely aware of the tonal and timbral variety the double bass has to offer. ”Siberia Of The Mind” is a similar case in point and also one of the infrequent occasions when the music gets frenetic. Taken as a duo by Leandre and Smith, at less than three minutes in duration it serves as a microcosm of what the quartet's music is all about. It amounts also to an element of it being displaced and thrown into stark relief, with both players combining to give the music an impetus and at the same time a less reflective air. Duration here happily serves far from obvious ends, however. “Un Soeur De Charite” is one of four live tracks and the duo of Josephson and Leandre fashion an other-worldly lyricism. That's in marked contrast with the following “Tableaux Imaginaires / Cadres Imaginaire” where the trio of Leandre, Smith and Martin Blume (drums) achieve a level of interplay that's only remarkable. The cohesiveness of the whole is helped in no small part by Blume's instinctive knowledge of percussive color, and there are times when the smallest sound comes as the biggest surprise. If there is a shortcoming here, it lies in the fact that so much of the music is put out by groupings smaller than the full quartet. Whilst there is no discontinuity between the full group's efforts and those of the smaller groupings, it's kind of frustrating. That said, the free improvisation genre's seemingly infinite capacity for self- renewal is emphatically stated, as is the creative validity of music fashioned so profoundly 'in the moment.'

"Ausfegen" — Reviewed by Jon Dale, Signal to Noise

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"Ausfegen"

Musicians: Hartsaw/Aspelin/Smith/Bryerton

Reviewed by Jon Dale, Signal to Noise

 


"Thierry de Duve one called Joseph Beuys "the last of the proletarians." In his discussion of the relationship between capitalism and creativity, Duve refers to Beuys's democratic formations--social sculpture, his claim that "everyone is an artist"--as manifestations of an "actual political economy" with creativity as its "anchor point." While inherently problematic, as Duve convincingly argues in his article, there's something to be said of Beuys's benign naivety. If one of improvisation's key discursive formations in the post-DIY era is a kind of blithe "anyone can do it (but they don't)" relativism, then players like Paul Hartsaw, Krisdan Aspelin, Damon Smith and Jerome Bryerton become artists whose practice represents the possibilities latent inside of "everyone/anyone." On Ausfegen, they play beautifully, and while the interaction can feel a little desiccated, there's pleasure in their insect-like chatter and hyper-aware responses. In his liner notes, Joe Morris puts it perfectly when he claims Ausfegen is "made by a group of focused musicians who function in a small community creating music using a vocabulary of rarefied materials to express themselves in a contemporary way." Further to this, by defamiliarizing their instruments--in this case, playing the guitar with a shop broom, in reference to Beuys's Ausfegen performance, where he swept Berlin's Karl-Marx-Platz--the players quietly bring art history and politics to bear on a music that offers an emancipatory potential, if not a liberated actuality." Jon Dale

"Jus" — Reviewed by Massimo Ricci, Bagatellen

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"Jus"

Musicians: Jacob Lindsay / Ava Mendoza / Damon Smith / Weasel Walter

Reviewed by Massimo Ricci, Bagatellen


A rather uncomfortable, half-pungent-half-refined improvisational proposition from a quartet of receptive-minded musicians whose inclinations and - at least to some extent - reputations should supposedly encourage full use of runaway blasts, critically reprehensible user-unfriendliness and hectic free-for-all. Curiously enough, the music ends up in sounding pretty much controlled for the large part of the program instead, countless perturbations notwithstanding. Apropos of this, a loud volume playback is suggested; the perennially non-complying scrutinizer decreed that the six tracks work satisfactorily in the lower regions of auricular sufferance as well.

Lindsay performs on various kinds of clarinet (Ab, Bb, bass and contrabass), negotiating the possibilities of a fair trade between absent restrictions and unrehearsed discipline, which causes his instruments to go furtively unnoticed in certain sections, only to suddenly emerge as the lead voice of sorts in the involuntary architecture, gorgeously misshapen secretions and a brawny timbral individuality in constant evidence. Mendoza - not at all times at the forefront in the mix, which is a plus in comparison with the proverbial egotist attitude of many guitarists - represents a hardly definable, yet still attention-grabbing factor, her mistreatment of the instrument applied with a leg on each side of Frithian tampering (please don’t hit me, Weasel) and spectroscopic imagery of electric humming, string resonance made hostage by the tendency to quietness that the players remarkably exhibit, and regularly too.

Smith, featured on 7-string Ergo bass and Lloopp software, appears as a silent prime mover behind the whole concept, gritty physicality and probing studiousness underlying an ever-conscious approach to the art of stealthy rendezvous in the obscure quarters of instrumental interaction. If there’s some measure of regular bass somewhere in there, I struggled to notice; inflexible abrasiveness and obdurately anti-tonal jarring premeditation, yes - all the way through. From time to time Walter sounds unusually detached but - more frequently - his drumming is as effective as pure caffeine, alternating sharp fragmentations of the rhythmic flow and asymmetrical nervousness to abrupt impetuous enlargements of the dynamic organs (that’s right, this description is spam-influenced) while maintaining an inimitable escapologist personality as far as the exact collocation of a fashionable percussive method is concerned.

Replete with unspeakable shrewdness, this album necessitates of lots of conscientious tries before starting to commit to memory even a single joint of its complicated articulation.

~ Massimo Ricci

"Thoughtbeetle" — Reviewed by Bill Shoemaker, Point of Departure

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"Thoughtbeetle"

Musicians: Bertram Turetzky/Damon Smith

Reviewed by Bill Shoemaker, Point of Departure


By the time Damon Smith was born in 1972, Bertram Turetsky had permanently expanded the role of the double bass in new music through watershed recordings like The Contemporary Contrabass (Nonesuch; ’70). By the time Smith, inspired by Peter Kowald’s Duos: Europa (FMP), left punk and art rock in ’94 to focus on the double bass and improvised music, Turetsky was frequently improvising with Vinny Golia and others. Smith’s rise in the past 15 years has been impressive, both as an improviser and organizer; the scope and the impact of his Balance Point Acoustics imprint increases with each release. There's grit to the music of Smith and his cohorts that is very much of its time and place (the latter being the Bay Area, though BPA releases have included musicians from throughout the US, Europe and Israel). Though his persuasive technique is, to some degree, attributable to occasional studies with Turetsky (who, during his distinguished tenure at UCSD taught Mark Dresser and others), that grit is central to Smith’s slant on what is now commonly called extended techniques; it goes a long way in parsing Smith's sensibility from Turetsky's, who first tested the capacities of the instrument outside a tradition-based genre or practice, and understanding the quality of the music on Thoughtbeetle. Granted, Turetsky's experiments are now central to the lexicon of the improvising bassist; but, their original context is now afield from current applications like Smith's. In this regard, Turetsky's energy in playing to and playing against Smith is endorsement enough. But, these seven improvisations – five of which were recorded in studio, while two are from a concert – convey a larger, heartening message about the long-term prospects for improvised music. –Bill Shoemaker

"Jus & Ausfegen" — Reviewed by Ken Waxman

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"Jus & Ausfegen"

Musicians: Hartsaw/Aspelin/Smith/Bryerton & Lindsay/Mendoza/Smith/Walter

Reviewed by Ken Waxman


Like most other generalities, the differences between so-called European and so-called American free music are more purported then real. Especially in the 21st Century when jet planes, the Internet and other advances have shrunk inter-continental chasms, the gulf between the two proposed by musicians like Derek Bailey – who often had an axe as well as his guitar to grind – seem fanciful. Take these two notable quartet sessions for instance, united by the presence of Bay area bassist Damon Smith. Although Chicago-based Paul Hartsaw, who often works with keyboardist Jim Baker in his home town, brings jazz’s most characteristic instruments – his tenor and soprano saxophones – to the date, his subtle reed bites and blows wouldn’t be confused with the style of Windy City heroes like Johnny Griffin. Chicago-based drummer, Jerome Bryerton says he’s equally influenced by American and European drummers and has played with stylists as difference as Berlin-based multi-reedist Wolfgang Fuchs and Chicago trombonist Jeb Bishop. Furthermore the subtitle of Ausfegen, Dedicated to Joseph Beuys, refers to the work of the late [1921-1986] German Conceptual artist; with one track in particular a direct musical homage. Conversely, while the instrumentation – clarinets, guitar, bass and lloopp and percussion – on Jus may appear more overtly European, the sonic results are as all-American as the microtonal electro-acoustic experiments that have taken place in Northern California since in the early 1960s. Not only that, but Smith, (with guitarist Henry Kaiser) guitarist Ava Mendoza, (with band leader Moe! Staiano) and hyperactive drummer Weasel Walter (with just about everyone) have also been known to play high-velocity rock music as well as more delicate sonic expressions. Additionally, the Ab, Bb, bass and contrabass clarinet improvisations of Lindsay – a long-time Smith-associate – are fully in the tradition of other West Coast reed polymaths such as John Carter, Jimmy Giuffre and Vinny Golia. More overtly, tapestries of microtonal and adumbrating silences are woven into many of the tracks on Jus. “Quadrophobia” for instance, which unrolls at a pace slower than largo, revels in atonal peeping and chromatic probes from the clarinetist, tick-tock drum pacing and shattering wood-block smacks and blurry electronic looped passages. Eventually as the rasgueado guitar work and intermittent string plucks subside, the tune’s ultimate variant contrasts pure air currents with strident clarinet pops and wind-tunnel puffs that could arise from Walter’s bagpipe-chanter or Smith’s col legno bass strokes. Overcoming a variety of unconnected timbral movements and reed tongue stops, “Winter Lights” is similarly sonically diffuse. As the growling undertow from the contrabass clarinet remains almost static, a sequence of pitch-sliding string movements takes centrestage. Adagio in tempo, Mendoza’s finger-styled picks and multi effects link up with Smith’s seminal string shaking and Walter’s rolls, pops and drags until the interface fades into intermittent silences. Almost as low-key, the defining track on the other CD would seem to be “Broom with Red Bristles”. Celebrating Beuys’ own ausfegen when used a broom to sweep Berlin’s Karl Marx Platz, Aspelin strokes his guitar strings with a shop broom and Smith slides two bows on top of prone prepared double basses. Some movements are barely audible, other seems to warble with chromatic string exposition; and all are contrasted with circular breathing from Hartsaw and pitter-patter snare work and reverberating cymbals from Bryerton. Earlier on, unattached cymbals seem to be vibrating by themselves as the strings scratch abrasively – from beneath their respective bridges – and the reedist outputs strained split tones Even more expansive is the last track, “Pamphlet Printed on Plastic Bag” – which may be another art reference. No echoes of paper or plastic are audible. Instead you hear metallic clatter and bell-ringing from the percussionist; hearty slaps and rustling string motions from the bassist; guitar filigree; plus multiphonic timbres from the saxophonist, that make it appear as if he’s playing both his horns at once. Following an antiphonal middle section – which redirects the tempo – the four mesh for a contrapuntal finale of slurred and chiming fingering from Aspelin; sul tasto bowing from Smith; bell-popping and kit quivering from Bryerton; and tongue slaps and spetrofluctuation from Hartsaw. Europeanized or North-Americanized free music, the breath of inspiration on these discs may confound identification. Perhaps both should just be labeled as good music and let go at that. --Ken Waxman Track Listing: Dedicated: 1. Vitrine 2. Sand 3. Copper 4. Garbage 5. Stone 6. Paper 7. Broom with Red Bristles 8. Pamphlet Printed on Plastic Bag Personnel: Dedicated: Paul Hartsaw (tenor and soprano saxophones); Kristian Aspelin (guitar and broom); Damon Smith (bass) and Jerome Bryerton (percussion) Track Listing: Jus: 1. American Current 2. Translucency 3. Quadrophobia 4. Blown Out 5. Discrete Flower Symmetry 6. Winter Light Personnel: Jus: Jacob Lindsay (Ab, Bb, bass and contrabass clarinets); Ava Mendoza (guitar); Damon Smith (7-string ergo-bass and lloopp) and Weasel Walter (drums, percussion and bagpipe chanter) July 19, 2009