Live in Texas (Balance Point Acoustics, 2016) BPALTD 808 — Reviewed by Eyal Hareuveni, Free Jazz Blog


Live in Texas (Balance Point Acoustics, 2016) BPALTD 808

Musicians: Sandy Ewen / Damon Smith / Weasel Walter

Reviewed by Eyal Hareuveni, Free Jazz Blog

Sandy Ewen / Damon Smith / Weasel Walter - Live in Texas (Balance Point Acoustics, 2016) ****

Ewen has collaborated closely with double bass player and Balance Point Acoustics label founder Smith since his arrival in Houston in 201o. They recorded a duo album, Background Information (BPA, 2013), and Smith introduced her to avant-guitarist Henry Kaiser, worked together in an ad-hoc quartet with Dutch vocal artist Jaap Blonk, and played in a trio with Smith punk-jazz drummer Walter, that released its debut album, Untitled, on Walter's label (ugEXPLODE, 2012). Ewen continues to collaborate with Walter in a trio with vocalist Lydia Lunch. 

Live in Texas offers seven hyperactive and urgent improvisations of the reunited trio of Ewen, Smith and Walter, three were recorded recorded in Austin at the NMASS festival in 2014 and the other four in two venues in Houston - Cactus Records and Avant Garden - with no mention of the time of the latter recordings. This is a hard-working trio, busy searching for uncharted, alien terrains, exploring intense dynamics and then deconstructing its them with sheer brutal force, melting their sound universe into a buzzing, explosive unity and always opts for abstract, structural disruption.

Live in Texas - BPA LTD 808 — Reviewed by Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG


Live in Texas - BPA LTD 808


Reviewed by Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG

SANDY EWEN / DAMON SMITH / WEASEL WALTER - Live in Texas (BPA LTD 808; USA) Featuring Sandy Ewen on guitar & objects, Damon Smith on double bass & 7-string electric upright bass and Weasel Walter on percussion. This is the second disc from this trio which features Houston-based guitarist Sandy Ewen along with bassist Damon Smith (recently moved from Houston to Boston) and NY drum wizard Weasel Walter. Since the first disc was released Ms. Ewen has gone on to record a duo with Henry Kaiser and a quartet with Damon Smith, Jaap Blonk & Chris Cogburn. It was actually Mr. Kaiser who first sung the praises for Ms. Ewen’s guitar playing, making sure that other guitar fanatics took notice. Both Damon Smith and Weasel Walter are well-seasoned improvisers who have worked with a diverse array of musicians from across the spectrum: Damon has worked with Peter Kowald, Fred Van Hove & Frank Gratkowski while Weasel Walter gets around with Lydia Lunch to Mary Halvorson to Marc Edwards. Hence, these two gifted players give Ms. Ewen a chance to stretch out and go wherever she wants. Ms. Ewen, who is still pretty young, sounds like Derek Bailey at times, uncompromising, focused and determined to navigate the never-ending stream of rapidly changing ideas that Smith and Walter provide. There is a certain magic that strong, spirited improv provides when it works and there is quite a bit of that magic/glue going on here. My favorite part is when the spirits or ghosts start to peek their heads through the other side… so say hello to the friends spirits as they usher us into another land. - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG 

Nearly Extinct — Reviewed by Bill Meyer, The Wire (May 2016 (Issue 387))

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Nearly Extinct

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

Reviewed by Bill Meyer, The Wire (May 2016 (Issue 387))

 Three of the musicians on this record are based in the state of Texas, which hosts a viable improvising music scene despite its reputation for being a ferociously revved up engine for American cultural know-nothing-ism. The fourth, guitarist Henry Kaiser, is a visitor from San Francisco, where a decade ago he and bassist Damon Smith forged a connection. So at one level, this is
a good old-fashioned improv session that exemplifies several practices known to the genre's fans: it rekindles an old partnership, brings a ringer out to the relative sticks, showcases the talents of the locals, and documents the encounter generously (the CD runs to 77 minutes). It could easily have been called Mr Kaiser Goes To Austin TX. But the musicians have other geographical and musical destinations in mind. As the title Nearly Extinct implies and the map of past improvisational styles and ensembles (AACM, aleatory, EAI/onkyokei, etc) on the cover confirms, they are quite aware that they are navigating known territory_ They aren't freely improvising to find something new; they're doing so because that's the way to accomplish certain ends. The act of collectively deciding what they're doing from moment to moment generates quite a charge. The quartet's collective CV includes free jazz, rustic and ethereal soundtracks, new music and Malagasy folk. With all this experience to draw on, making good decisions about what to bring in and what to leave out is essential. Kaiser in particular has spent a lifetime learning to play everything he ever liked and making sure that someone knows it, but his judgment pedal is fully powered and engaged throughout the CD. When he throws in some savage funk or psychedelic freakout licks, someone else is ready to make sense of them without betraying the music's commitment to instant creation. Trombonist Steve Parker pitches right into the fray, contributing voluptuous smears and rude exhalations that contrast most satisfyingly with the slash and spikiness of the strings. Drummer Chris Cogburn is the voice of restraint, using tiny rubs and quick whirling circuits to add calorie-free energy and texture. Historical precedent is both a guide and a goad on Nearly Extinct, challenging the players to be as good as their inspirations, and it works.

Bill Meyer
The Wire (May 2016 (Issue 387))

The Happymakers — Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Msic Review

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The Happymakers

Musicians: Wolfgang Fuchs, Jacob Lindsay, Damon Smith, Serge Baghdassarians, Boris Baltschun

Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Msic Review

Who are the Happymakers? Will they make you happy? What music is this? The answer is yes. At least to the second question, provided you make yourself disposed towards the sounds that come at you in joyful torrents of improvised care. This is a five-person quintet of players who develop a special chemistry in the process of creating eleven segments of freely improvised avant music, all on the self-titled CD (Balance Point Acoustics BPA 008). Free jazz? You can call it that. It has some jazz rootedness, but then some rootedness in new music as well.

So who are these Happymakers? As of May 2003 they all were in Oakland California at least part of the time to record this album. After and before that they are from a diverse set of places, the US, Europe....and of course wherever they happen to be.

To be more specific, the Happymakers are Wolfgang Fuchs on sopranino saxophone and bass clarinet, Jacob Lindsay on Ab, Bb and bass clarinet, Damon Smith on double bass,  Serge Baghdassarians on guitar and electronics, and Boris Baltschun on electronics.

This is about the notes, but especially about how the notes are shaded with timbre-colors, how they lay out in pointillistic counterpoint, how each instrumental contribution fits in with an expressive whole. Everyone works together impressively well, listens closely and responds with creative musical strokes of their "brush" to creative a collective tone painting, or rather a series of them.

In truth this is a group with an unusual cohesiveness, a multi-being organism, a flair for creating an ever-evolving blend of differences-in-sameness. We can thank Damon Smith for getting this recording together, as Balance Point Acoustics is his baby and we tip our cap to him for the copiously absorbing fare that has come out on the label.

As for the various ins and outs of the artists and their backgrounds, I refer you to the lucid liners written by Lisle Ellis and Damon Smith. I find this one an essential for its skilled and exciting synthesis of Euro-American improv channels. Not a note is extra here. And yes, it WILL make you happy if you let it.

Burns Longer — Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards , Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog

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Burns Longer

Musicians: Fred Van Hove, Peter Jacquemyn, Damon Smith

Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards , Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog

Fred Van Hove, Peter Jacquemyn, Damon Smith, Burns Longer, 2008

From the significant holdings of releases by avant bass master Damon Smith comes this single-mindedly focused trio outing from 2008. It consists of European avant free piano icon Fred Van Hove mixing it up in excellent ways with two bass voices of note--namely Damon and Peter Jacquemyn. Burns Longer (Balance Point Acoustics BPA-2) may have an amusing, ironic title that echoes with the tone of the cigarette ads many of us were brainwashed with before they were banned, but it also captures the essence of this date.

For this outing does give us some excellent long burns, "Archiduc 1" and "Archiduc 3" respectively clocking in at 27:39 and 35:38, with number two adding another 10 minutes. But the point is that the length brings us an intensity of focus. We get some thorough fire-spitting piano (and some hip accordion) such as Fred Van Hove has built his reputation upon. Add to that the sprawling matrix of two bass adepts laying down an ever-varied carpet of rumbling, searing, widely colorful bass emanations. And you have something.

This is the sort of uncompromised free attacking that gives you a kind of Zen equilibrium as you experience it start-to-finish. Everybody is in high gear and the distance traveling willy-nilly through rugged terrain brings on a feeling of exhilaration that the best of this sort of thing will do if you let go and go where it leads.

I am reminded very pleasantly of some of the old BYG recordings done in 1969. It does not stand on formalities. It lets loose and you get with it or it will not work.

Needless to say this excels for the two-bass contributions and how they interact with Van Hove's unrelenting inventiveness.

I recommend this one to you for its nervy outness and the success it achieves. This IS what free music is about! 

Place Meant for Birds — Reviewed by Gary Brown, Classic Rock Radio

BPA 5 Desert Sweets CVR BC

Place Meant for Birds

Musicians: Biggi Vinkeloe / Mark Weaver / Damon Smith

Reviewed by Gary Brown, Classic Rock Radio

Writing while under the influence of Desert Sweets


I begin by visualizing a watering hole that could be located in any small town, or large city. A building on the corner, where the wooden floors could use a good mopping. In the middle of the business establishment was a spot where there were several pool tables. Musical notes from different instruments can be heard throughout the bar, but I was too twisted to figure out if it was a performance, or a rehearsal. The faint smell of cigarette smoke courtesy of a lady outside smoking nonchalantly near the barely opened shit house window.

One night in the Big Apple, I literally walked face first into the front doors of an old and at the time nearly forgotten Ed Sullivan Theater, because I wasn't looking where the fuck I was going. In my late teens, or early twenties. Bar hopping in NYC, decades ago, was always an eye-opening experience for me. 

For hours I sit and drink at my favorite at the time drinking establishment. I simply felt at home. As a child in 1969, I watched the Apollo Moon Landing while sitting on a bar stool, on a television set located in a South Amboy, New Jersey tavern because my Father stopped going home after Mom died. A professional musician who drank herself to death. On nights she worked, I was allowed to watch her perform one set, while eating a hot tomato pie. And here we were, my Father and myself, back at the scene of the crime. 

While Pops best friend, and he were on non speaking terms, Dad's drinking buddy aka the town drunk, while out and after having consumed possibly one alcoholic drink too many, fell backwards from his bar stool, and landed head first on the hard floor below. Looking the same as any of the other times he was publicly intoxicated, 
people at first stepped over and around him. Again, not the first time Ace was found while looking down from a stand up position. This would be his last. The man when breathing and not totally shit-faced, enjoyed quiet times at home watching the boob tube with his elderly Mother, who unfortunately had the difficult task of having to bury her one and only son.

The End. 

"OK Class, time to put down your pencils." 

And there you have it. I had totally no idea what I was writing about, before I wrote (typed) it. While the creative juices were flowing, in the background, coming out my home stereo system, was my one and only inspiration. Desert Sweets newest release; A Place Meant For Birds. An almost all instrumental true avant-garde project. The groups first in over a decade. Just under fifty-five minutes long. Seven tracks total, with two of them coming in at over the ten minute mark. Three very talented / seasoned musicians. Captured live in New Mexico a couple years ago. While I was recently thinking about how I was to go about writing about it, the idea popped in my mind about doing some 'improvisational writing'. 

Hearing 'A Place Meant For Birds' inspired me to apparently write about pubs of long time pass, and of some of my recollections regarding one, King Alcohol. Wasn't planned. Sounds triggering old thoughts and memories. Glad the opportunity arose to tell the world about about Ace. He was really into baseball, and favored pitchers. Totally blitzed while standing in the middle of a public street, he'd pitch a perfect game. Never got to experience his glory because the police would always arrive by the ninth inning. When quized later on, he would respond with how the rest of the game went. Happened more than once. People would come out of their house, and sit on the curb watching him. Didn't like it when someone would trash talk. Was skinny like Gilligan on that tv show about the stranded castaways. Wish I remembered the man's real name. May 'Ace' rest in peace.

Knowing your craft, one learns keeping doors open, can help one get craftier. Expand one's regular horizons. Exceed one's boundaries. Frank Zappa was perhaps my first exposure to anything musically out of bounds. That and the sounds I would hear when I spun my Partridge Family albums backwards. Instead of hearing them singing 'come on get happy', in my already then warped little mind it sound to ME like; "I AM SATAN AND I WILL EAT YOU!" And then I'd let go of the needle, and I'd hear them sing normally; "Come on get happy." I digress. For myself progressive rock exceeded the three minutes / three chord / repetitive beat format of pop radio that I was immersed in my youth. Also, being incarcerated in Asbury Park, New Jersey, at the ripe age of thirteen, first exposed me to black people and jazz music. The hippest guards were smoking weed when all was clear, and pumping out the jazz fusion. All while beating me in the game of chess. Lesson learned was to always keep an open mind when it comes to music. And for the most part, that I have.

"Sand shits from the corner of my lips" -- Lisa Gill (poem …track six)

All three players of Desert Sweets have interesting musical backgrounds. Worth investigating. Let me introduce; Biggi Vinkeloe (alto saxophone, flute) / Mark Weaver (tuba, didgeridoo) / Damon Smith (double bass).

Desert Sweets @ the Outpost, Albuquerque, NM 03/14/13
Photo by: Mark Weber
Uncle G Rating

Avant-garde not have the same interest with the general public as adult contemporary, standard rock music has. To give this a rating as I would anything I normally would, simply would not be fair. Thing is, some people out there upon giving this thirty seconds of their time, would dismiss what they heard, as perhaps not even being not music at all. Meaning not traditional music per-say. Sally's not coming around any mountain here. Yet it's all sound with one purpose, to make the brain react. So Sally can still come with her six white horses, and hopefully not have any hay stuck between her butt cheeks. The human mind in all its glory, is engaged. Nice when the response is favorable.

Right here and right now, I'm officially saying the new Desert Sweets release called, A Place Meant For Birds, is worth the money to acquire it. If I was doing a one to five star review with one star meaning it sucks uncooked turtle testicles, to five stars meaning it's well worth having in the personal collection, I'd then follow that up by saying something much like this; Uncle G gives Desert Sweets - A Place Meant For Birds …5 stars! 

Also getting a 5 star review … the cover art. LOVE IT! And the paper sleeve the CD comes in that has this uniquely interesting cowboy image, not surprisingly, has a nice feel to it also. No expense spared. The painting is called, Cowboy Angel II, by Delmas Howe (2009). Catches the eye fer sure. An oil on canvas, 70" by 44". 

Honorable Mention: My African Grey Parrot; Bela Brown. Her favorite track on Desert Sweets - A Place Meant For Birds is track six; The Wind Has Taken My Breath.

*Bela Brown's Helpful WebLinks*

Biggi Vinkeloe:

Mark Weaver:

Damon Smith:

Lisa Gill (poet):

Inspiration: Rio Bravo Fine Art Gallery -

To Purchase:

OH..and don't believe that shit about the Partridge Family. No Satan, and besides who isn't happier at this moment any more than David Cassidy? So come on ... get jovial. You'll be glad you did.

A Place Meant for Birds — Reviewed by Derek Taylor, Dusted Magazine

BPA 5 Desert Sweets CVR BC

A Place Meant for Birds

Musicians: Desert Sweets (Biggi Vinkeloe/Mark Weaver/Damon Smith)

Reviewed by Derek Taylor, Dusted Magazine

Houston-based bassist Damon Smith keeps a professional critic’s pace when it comes to the consumption of new improvised music by his peers and heroes. Rarely a day goes by on his Facebook feed without the posting of new acquisitions, often coupled with the kind of extreme cuisine choices that would make even the most seasoned cable TV shock gourmand balk at the prospect of ingestion (Pig snouts and rooster testicles represent recent selections). Along with these impressive appetites, Smith is fiercely protective of the musical heritage of which he is a part. Fail to do your homework or pontificate without proper context and you’re likely to justifiably earn his ire. Smith’s strong stances may be off-putting in their occasional stridency, but they are products of a genuine love of the music.

A Place Meant for Birds, released on Smith’s label Balance Point Acoustics, reveals another side of the bassist’s personality, his sense of humor.  A cover painting by Delmas Howe depicts a cherubic vaquero that bears more than passing resemblance to Smith. Operating under the collective sobriquet of Desert Sweets, Swedish altoist Biggi Vinkeloe (also on flute) and tubaist Mark Weaver (doubling on digeridoo) joined him at Albuquerque’s Outpost performance space in March of 2013 for a gig that dates almost a dozen years from an earlier recording together. The trio’s instrumentation lends itself to the realization of broad dynamics with Vinkeloe frequently inhabiting the upper regions with a lilting, aqueous reed tone while Smith and Weaver plumb the lower depths through textured drones and multiphonics. “Vision is a Long Tumble” traces just such an itinerary, the interplay unfolding in measured bursts across seven minutes and change.

“White Bed” erupts in cascades, Smith going for maximum snap from his strings as his partners loose overlapping percolating streams. Here and elsewhere the intimate recording really enhances the detail, so much so that the clicks of Vinkeloe’s key pads are easily audible alongside her feathery phrasings. “Not Salt” teams Weaver’s digeridoo with Smith’s tree-felling bass, the deep glottal sounds of the former vibrating in harmonic confluence with the swelling rub board resonances of the latter. Vinkeloe’s warm alto lines suss out the sweet spot in-between. Even when Smith’s bowing turns abrasive and frantic the overarching ensemble sound stays oddly meditative and melodic. Acrobatic, knife-edged flute, booming pizzicato bass and subterranean tuba dance together on the sectional fifteen-minute “Silt”, turning from hand-in-glove harmonics to a finale steeped in rapid-fire expulsions and explosions.

Vinkeloe’s role as mellifluous counterweight to the comparatively somber musings of Smith and Weaver extends into “Embedded in Rock” as the latter two instruments frame dark shapes and coarse textures against which the former’s alto brushes and glides, turning from sweet to sour and back again while sustaining an engaging tonal contrast. Poet Lisa Gill takes the stage with the trio for a recitation of her “The Wind Has Taken My Breath”, her abstract verbal imagery signaling abstruse bursts from the instruments. “To Spill a Few Birds” summarizes much of what has transpired prior with another collective leap into an extemporized breach and Vinkeloe blowing forceful figures on flute that carry vaguely Native American sonorities. As a means of tying the performance to its desert venue birthplace it does the job with beautiful brevity.

Derek Taylo

Nearly Extinct — Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog

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Nearly Extinct

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

Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog

Is the avant garde, as represented on the whimsical cover of today's disk, nearly extinct? In terms of coverage by the "major labels," however you might want to define that, or in the clubs and concert halls of the world, maybe so. But it thrives (without great profit to the artists one might suggest) on numerous small or artist-run labels, in out-of-the-way venues in urban centers, among a group of cognoscenti enthusiasts.

Things do tend to go in cycles in modern times. The moment something is definitively "out" among coolness measurement specialists, that is when it may be about to become sheik once again. Dumb looking plastic glasses, cigars, space age bachelor music, bacon, the list could grow and is continually being added to. No matter.

The quartet album at hand is certainly a very good example of the avant garde today. And if it is "in" or "out" matters to the artists certainly, and to me, and perhaps to a good number of others, but it is the music ultimately that does the primary speaking. And so to it.

I speak of Nearly Extinct (Balance Point Acoustics 707), a recent album by the likes of Henry Kaiser, electric guitar, Damon Smith, acoustic bass, Chris Cogburn, drums, and Steve Parker, trombone. This is electric freedom, free improvisation, for four. Henry Kaiser, celebrated as one at the top of avant electricians, takes a primary role in this music. He is very much a central part of the mix with feedback-laced, sustain-centric, sound and note oriented brilliance. Steve Parker on trombone plays some out complements that make him central as well, a varied gamut of jazz-and-beyond utterances, with nicely burnished tone control and dynamic phrasing.

Damon Smith as always can be counted upon to give us a considered, smart avant bass presence. He brings up the third line of colors and note creativity to finish off the three pitch-oriented contributors. And Chris Cogburn gives us some very musical drumming to top it all off.

There are a few compositional elements and a good deal of spontaneous freedom on this date. The latter is mostly what it is about, and all four get a presence in the proceedings that more than justifies their inclusion. In other words this is not an album of guitar solos with accompaniment; it is a fully integrated group effort, distinguished by what each player brings to the mix.

And in the process we get some free music that reminds us how Kaiser is at the forefront of the out zone, pushing the envelope continually but ever-musically. And the work of Smith, Parker and Cogburn do the same for their respective instruments. Kaiser's overall approach is edgy electric and with the others makes a music one might call free jazz psychedelia I suppose. What matters though, is that the quartet makes a statement. On the level of musical content, there is nothing extinct in the least. It is an out music fully alive and well worth the attention it should get. Attention starts with a few folks, then ideally it grows and grows. So be in the advance garde of listening! Get this and immerse yourself.

Desert Sweets, A Place Not Meant for Birds — Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Music Review

BPA 5 Desert Sweets CVR BC

Desert Sweets, A Place Not Meant for Birds

Musicians: Biggi Vinkeloe, Mark Weaver, Damon Smith

Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Music Review

Today another of the fine recent releases to be found on Damon Smith's Balance Point Acoustics label. Desert Sweets is the name of the trio and the album is entitled A Place Meant for Birds (bpa-5). It is a valuable addition to avant jazz discography because it gives us a nicely articulated threesome in Biggi Vinkeloe on alto and flute (an artist very worth hearing who has been some what under-recorded as a whole), Mark Weaver on tuba and didgeredoo (someone whose playing I do not know well but sounds totally appropriate here) and Damon Smith on bass, one of the master talents deserving wider recognition in the music today.

The approach is rollicking free-avant improv, with each member filling a key role. The recording is well staged with a perfect balance between the trio. Most importantly, it is a platform on which the three can excel at creating considerable spontaneous interest.

Biggi has a way about her. She is on the outside edge of the music yet there is also a lyrical side that shows here, nicely contrasting with Damon's advanced sound color bass adventures and Mark's tuba textures and good note choices.

There are seven segments that hold our interest. One includes a poem recitation by Lisa Gill that broadens the scope nicely.

It may be a bit of a sleeper of an album. Those who do not know the artists well may not find this album in their hands unless someone calls it out to them. I am doing that today because it is music that keeps sounding better to me the more I listen to it. The beauty of Ms. Vinkeloe's approach, the excellent improvisational bass lines and the nice color additions of Weaver's tuba show us an collective artistry that dwells in a rarified space where the lines work together yet each instrumentalist adds much of her-his own personal way.


Jus — Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog

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

Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog

Jus, Jacob Lindsay, Ava Mendoza, Damon Smith, Weasel Walter

We go back a few years to 2007. Remember then? Well, whether you do or not doesn't matter, especially, for now, because at the moment what concerns us is the album recorded that year, Jus (bpa013). It is a confluent gathering, a quartet featuring Jacob Lindsay on all manner of clarinets, Ava Mendoza on electric guitar, Damon Smith on "7-string ergo-bass" and something called a "Hoopp", and Weasel Walter on drums, percussion and bagpipes.

Now what makes this one interesting is the consistently out, pointillated, pin-point surgical entrance of sound structures in space. The sound colors are extraordinarily fertile and evocative. This is improv with a new music kind of slant, operating within the "tradition" of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, say, or MEV, in other words abstracted and cumulative, four-way just about all the time, continuous and creatively inventive.

It's not a music where you say to yourself, "Wow, Listen to that bass clarinet!" so much as you experience sonic wholes made up of the ingenious contributions of all four in out counterpoint.

Everyone is key most all the time, so it is not a music where you single out foreground from background. It is simply music that occupies pan-ground if you please.

There is most interesting bass and guitar work as a part of the whole, so I place the write up on this blog, but the reed and percussion contributions are no less interesting or important.

An hour of this, thanks to the insightful sound sculpting consistently present, does not seem at all taxing, assuming you already understand the outside lanes of getting to music. It fascinates, enthralls and refuses to abandon the rarefied realms it occupies, but instead generates ever new combinations of timbre and texture.

So the music succeeds in so doing. This is not something "easy to do" well. Do not fool yourself. Sit down with three others and try to get to this level. You doubtless will find it is not easy to be both self-ful and selfless with three others. Jus, then, is an achievement, a critical outing on the outer fringes that does what it does with a certain brilliance. It's a good example of a great result in this sphere. Put your ears on deep-listening mode and you will get much from this.

North of Blanco — Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog


North of Blanco

Musicians: Jaap Blonk, Sandy Ewen, Damon Smith, Chris Cogburn

Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog

From the rich cache of recent albums steered into musical port by eminently capable helmsman, bassist Damon Smith, I put forward yet another interesting offering for your consideration, North of Blanco (bpa 016). It is a free, extended timbred improvisational quartet that strikes musical gold with six shorter to more extended segments.

In this foursome are Jaap Blonk on vocals and electronics, Sandy Ewen on guitar and objects, Chris Cogburn on percussion and Damon on prepared double bass.

The emphasis with this outing is to realize advanced sonic sculpting, to create textures and ambiant universes that rely on the creative instincts of all four participants to create extra-musical sounds from, if you will pardon the overused phrase, "outside the box."

That means that Jaap Blonk lets loose with considered vocalizations from within the realms of human capabilities, not just "singing" as such but phonemic percussives, unpitched and pitched utterances and otherwise choosing from the full gamut of soundings available to him as human exponent.

Damon's prepared bass, whether bowed, plucked, scraped or sounded in whatever way necessary, creates an extended universe of textures and timbres that complement Jaap and his effusions.

The same can be said of the distinctive soundings of guitarist Sandy Ewen (who we covered recently with a duet album with Henry Kaiser) and percussionist Chris Cogburn.

The result is an iconoclastic mix of noise-pitch freedom that all who like the outer realms will no doubt readily respond to as I have. Beautiful sounds of deep listening and measured utterance!

Hugo Ball: Sechs Laut--und Klanggedichte, 1916 — Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards

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Hugo Ball: Sechs Laut--und Klanggedichte, 1916

Musicians: Jaap Blonk & Damon Smith

Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards

Something a little different today on this page. It is a realization of a cycle of "Six Sound Poems" by the Dada master Hugo Ball, Sechs Laut--und Klanggedichte, 1916 (bpa-4). Jaap Blonk as reciter-vocal artist and Damon Smith as double bassist freely recreate the sound poems in an avant improv mode.

It is uncompromising sound event-music that both pays homage to the iconoclastic Ball and shows us how his inspirational methods still remain prophetic to the avant movement we still recognize as central to modernism today.

Blonk enacts the texts with very inventive vocalizations that utilize all the dramatic and sonic resources of his vocal apparatus. Damon Smith makes of his contrabass an extension of his creative sound-producing imagination, using conventional and extended techniques in an avant bass kind of tour de force.

What that means is that you get a full CDs worth of adventure. This may put off those not used to the avant stylistic universe, though an open mind will get you at least half the way to where you need to be to appreciate such sounds. Those used to progressive avantness might need a few listens to get acclimated, but in the end the bass-vocal interactions will fascinate and give you much to experience.

Recommended listening for the intrepid. And some fabulously inventive bass and vocal performances!

Zero Plus + The Happymakers — Reviewed by Jason Bivins

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Zero Plus + The Happymakers

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

Reviewed by Jason Bivins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ausfegen BPA 012

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

Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Musicians: Peter Kowald & Damon Smith

Reviewed by Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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"Mirrors Broken - But no Dust - BPA 001"

Musicians: Peter Kowald, Damon Smith

Reviewed by David Keenan, The Wire, issue 215


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

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

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"Sense of Hearing - BPA 006"

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

Reviewed by François Couture, All Music


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

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

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

-Free Improvisation

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

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Mirrors - Broken, but no Dust

Musicians: Peter Kowald, Damon Smith

Reviewed by Frank Rubolino, Cadence


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

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

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

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

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

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"The Voice Imitator - BPA 007"

Musicians: Frank Gratkowski, Jerome Bryerton, Damon Smith:

Reviewed by Ken Waxman, Jazz Review

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

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

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



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

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The Sale of Tickets for Money Was abolished BPA 002


Reviewed by Jason Bivins, Cadence


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

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

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

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