Sunday, September 7, 2008

Warren Smith - Natural Cultural Forces (Engine, 2007) ****

Here is another nice album which almost went unnoticed to me, and one that went probably below many potentially interested people's radar screen. Percussionist Warren Smith assembled a band of like-minded spirits for some fully improvised music built around concepts and visions that Smith shared with his fellow musicians, visions ranging from Duke Ellington to animals free in their natural element, geographic locations and the like. The musicians try to evoke these natural and cultural forces musically, in a full band, duo or solo settings. Apart from Smith on a variety of percussion, Tom Abbs plays bass, Andrew Lamb sax and Mark Taylor French horn. Throughout the disc the music evolves too, from the full band in the long first track, over a sax/drums duet on the second, a french horn/percussion duet on the third, a bass/percussion duet on the fourth, with the last two tracks being just solo percussion. The first track is an impressive band improvisation, which is excellent apart from the silly sounds at the beginning, with the sax and the french horn circling slowly around each other, while Smith supports brilliantly, highly energetic and full of little ideas, and Abbs' subtle bass acting as the fourth side of the pyramid. On the sax duet, Lamb works long in the highest tones of the instrument, coming down to earth again halfway the track, as the flight of the flamingo would suggest. My favorite piece is "Taurus At Pasture", on which the solemn tones of the french horn are in shrill contrast to the joyfulness of Smith's vibes. On "Epicenter", both percussion and bass remain in the absolute low ends of their instruments, with sparse sounds and lots of openness and silences, creating a rare sense of musical gravity and heaviness, again in contrast to the limited instrumentation. Apart from the already minimalist approach of Smith's music itself, listening to the whole album in one go, increases this feeling of reduction of music to its basic core essence : the last-but-one track brings a percussion and timpani ode to Duke Ellington, in a very sober and creative way and the last track is even more reductive, bringing just percussion sounds, devoid of rhythm almost, like raindrops falling down on leaves, an image which came to mind before I knew what the title "El Yunque" meant, which says a lot about the power of Smith's evocations. Music as creative as it is clever and deep.

Listen to Pyramid.

© stef

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Stef!

I've been wondering if you'd post my reviews if I'd send them to you?

If you'd like them, that is :)

stef said...

Can you send me an e-mail about this? (see under my profile)

thanks
stef

Anonymous said...

Sent!