Hartsaw/Smith/Bryerton - Precipitation of a Decision (Balance Point Acoustics, 2022)
“Precipitation of a Decision” is a double album that combines a trio performance from Hartsaw, Bryerton, and Smith on sax, bass, and drums (Disc 1) with a duo performance of Hartsaw and Smith (Disc 2). Incredible music herein, the trio performance is fantastic, patient improvisation. At this point the Smith/Bryerton mechanics are well oiled, and they conjure dynamic, knotty abutments of rhythm that support the dips and arcs of Hartsaw’s playing. The second disc is a set of intricate, low key pieces to which Smith adds touches of electronics and field recordings to the textural acoustic sounds. - NM
DS: And then there was just this idea, there's a nice studio in St. Louis where a lot of the recent work that I'm doing is being recorded by a great recording engineer named Ryan Wasoba. It's called Birdcloud, and it's in Collinsville, Illinois, which is right over the Mississippi. So we were able to do that there. And then, I don't know, six or eight months later, we did the Hartsaw Trio. And the first album that I did with Hartsaw and Bryerton also had the guitar player Kristian Aspelin on it, and it was dedicated to Joseph Beuys. And it actually had done well. And it was the first album that I felt comfortable, not just putting the money into it, but I felt that it was the first album with peers that I felt like I could really do as a CD because you want to act like there's no commercial considerations, but when you make a decision like that, there has to be some sort of … anyway the idea was that we were able to do that anyway. So then we were able to do this album. Hartsaw & Bryerton came to St. Louis , and then there was an outdoor series at that time. We did a little concert, that's where the photos are from, the outdoor concert. And it was really nice to be able to do this and Hartsaw. And I had a track from the duo album that had only lived as a digital recording, so the second disk is a duo disc of Paul Hartsaw from 2007. I think it's 2007. These titles are really important to me. It's an interesting layer to go into the way I get my titles, which I really am into, is Hartsaw and I made this duo, and then it just got shelved for no reason in particular. And then it had been a while, I forget when we revisited it to actually master it and put it out on the Internet, but it was quite a bit later. It was either between 2013 and 2016, somewhere around that period when we brought it out. So it was eight years later or more or less somewhere around there. So what I tried to do is I tried to think about something that I was really into at that time period that I was t less engaged with. Like, there's things that you asked me, I would say, yeah, I love this, but I'm not actively reading about it, pursuing it.
And Sigmar Polke, the German artist, was somebody who, just in the period of that recording, I was buying every Sigmar Polke catalog I could find. There's a lot of Polke around in the museums I was going to in Germany and America and I was seeing his work a lot. So I decided to pull titles from Polke. And then for the trio, I decided to get titles from another German artist that we're all into, which is Anselm Kiefer who published his notebooks recently. So these are all things that are in Anselm Kiefer’s notebooks. They're a little bit less poetic and a little bit more just talking about the processes of his work, and it's a little more banal in some ways, but also interesting. And then the final touch is the cover art by Eliot Daughtry. And Eliot is an artist in the Bay Area that was around a lot when I was playing at a place called 21 Grand, which is a real foundational place. And then Eliot and his partner were often around after shows, and we got to know each other just hanging out after shows and talking. And then Eliott was posting all these beautiful drawings on the Internet on Facebook and Instagram, and I just kept liking them. And Elliott had been working on these line drawings for a good several years. And then at a certain point, the colors started to come into them, they got really kind of even more exciting. And at a certain point, Eliot said, I'd love to do a cover for one of your albums. And I thought, that'd be great. And then the interesting thing about it is in some ways, when I picked the two drawings, I thought, oh, the one with the two circles will go with the trio, and then the two circles will go with the duo, and the three circles go with the trio. My designer, Alan Anzalone, who was there from the second CD, I don't really correct his work except for if there's a typo or something, right? So I just sent him the visual material and he picks and puts it together, and he picked the one with the two circles for the cover. Of course, there are three sets of lines, and it's abstract art, so these numbers don't have to add up. I just thought it was interesting that Alan did not decide to do anything in circles. And Paul kind of mentioned it too. But I thought I trusted Alan's design, and I think it's a really strong front cover, the two circles as well. So it's great. And that's one of the great things about again, going back to my concept of free improvisation, where I work with people, my concept of free improvisation has mostly to do with that. I don't want to work with someone that I feel I need to tell what to do. And so it’s kind of that way with Alan as well. I never know what color it's going to be in the very rarest of circumstances. I can't remember ever talking about a color with him yet, there might be something where I might have talked about a background or something like that. and so it's always exciting, even to this day, to send off all the elements to Alan and see what comes back. I send him these elements, and he comes back with a fantastic design that I never could have imagined. So it's been great. And in a certain way, the label is almost half his, and the visual identity of the label is all his, really. I mean, I picked the artwork or whatever, but this identity is really important, and it's fantastic to work with him.
Stein/Smith/Shead - Volumes & Surfaces (Balance Point Acoustics, 2022)
Recorded mid-pandemic in Chicago, combining live sets from Hungry Brain and Elastic Arts, Stein, Smith, and Shead make a strong case for the little-discussed bass clarinet trio. - LRE
DS: This was recorded in August. On the 29th, we did a studio session in the daytime at Elastic Arts, and then we went and played a concert at the Hungry Brain and Bill Harris made a beautiful recording and then he ended up mixing, mastering the thing. Him and Adam are tight. And again, the sound is just beautiful, vivid. And it was really great to hear the quality of those recordings and playing with these two. They had a great duo and have been working in a duo for a while. I did a duo concert with Andrew Scott Young, and then they were playing right afterwards, and I talked to them that night. Jason and I have intersected together over the years. He had been to concerts that I played with Fuchs, and we did a quartet in I think 2008 OR 2009 or something in Philadelphia in a quartet with Jack Wright. Jason is somebody whose music I've kept up with, and I actually buy his albums. There was just this funny time when you could buy all these downloads from EMusic. Do you remember emusic? And you pay $5 a month and you could get all these downloads. And I was getting all the albums that Jason was doing for Clean Feed, which were really great. And then I did a concert with Jason and Josh Berman and Sandy that was really good. And then after that, there was some talk about, hey, we should play with Adam. And then Adam pulled together this trio, which was really great. These recordings came out really well. One of the things that Richard Serra talks about is the volume of his sculptures and the way that the kind of the forged rounds express the volume. You can feel the way to them by looking at them. When you look at Cézanne’s still lifes of fruit, like apples or peaches, whatever. He's able to express the volume in the paint. And then that idea of the volume and the way that the bass clarinet expresses the air column of it more than other instruments, like, you feel the space inside that horn more than you do other instruments. And the other cool thing about Jason, I really respect someone who just picks a specific instrument and does not vary from it. It's almost like Sandy never picking up the guitar and playing a note on it, just being really dedicated to it being flat.
Now, this idea of Jason just playing the bass clarinet, I love that idea, and then I like the sense volume he gets from that horn, so that I was able to get titles from the Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida. At the Kemper Museum in St. Louis, there's a sculpture, a Chillida sculpture, that's probably my favorite artwork in St. Louis. And I have this kind of photographic memory, especially for art, and I can remember these things, but I can't ever hold the shape of that sculpture in my mind because it's a little too wily with the way it moves. And every time I've gone to look at it, I've got to reset what I think the shape of the sculpture is every time. And I've got a fantastic book of writings by Chillida, and he's mainly talking about the relationships between space and volume and time. And one of the great quotes that he has is that space is the twin brother of time. And then obviously, playing with Adam is really great. I love his playing. And Adam, this is an interesting thing about Adam is Adam and the violin player Gabby Fluke Mogul are the two people who were able to blow me away through a phone speaker. And they both posted videos of them playing in Instagram Stories, And I was just probably eating or drinking or coffee or something and just looking at Instagram Stories in Gabby's tone. Gabby was the first person to really grab me through a phone speaker, and their violin tone just cut right through everything. And it was just like, wow, this is powerful. And I've not been able to play with Gabby. We kind of tried when I was on the East Coast here, but I really want to. And then the next thing, Adam was posting these things that he was playing on Instagram Stories, just like him in the drum practice room playing some rhythmic things, and it was like, Whoa, this is really good. And then I messaged him. So it's been great to work with him because I think he's a very original drummer and he's fairly well educated. And one of the other thing I like about him is he's definitely someone who's working on how to engage with time in improvised music as well, because I think that's always a quandary. I think it's something we haven't solved yet, and it's something to work on always. And so we're finding our way to interface. We don't want to be too tightly connected, but I feel like we have a good time-feel together, and it's a very special situation and relationship.
NM: I'm looking forward to seeing the tour. I'll definitely come out to the Spot. I haven't been up there for a while, so I'm looking forward to it. I'm ready to get outside and not be inside anymore. I'm looking forward to concerts this summer all around. Just seeing who's playing where.
Ra Kalam Bob Moses/Damon Smith Duo - Purecircle (Balance Point Acoustics, 2022)
DS: So this obviously is huge, to play with Ra Kalam Bob Moses is fantastic. The last time I saw Alvin Fielder was when we did our trio with Joe McPhee, and then I just moved to Boston. I'd been in Boston a few weeks at that point, actually, Quincy, Massachusetts, which is basically Boston, but not quite. And I knew Moses lived there, and of course, I knew Moses' work, and I made contact with him so that Alvin could meet him and I brought Alvin over. So the first time I met him was in 2016, Alvin and I went over to his place and got to go hang out in his drum room and talk to him. Mainly those two just went into deep drum talk, and it was heavy, and I was just sort of the fly on the wall there. And Moses had a bass in his studio, so we played together a touch that day. And it was amazing because obviously talking about Adam working on how to bring time into improvised music in his way, and he's got an original take on it. I think, of course, Moses is like that. His whole life has been spent dealing with rhythm and time and how it can be free and how it can relate back because he still will play some things that are a lot more jazzy with different people when it makes sense. And he has one of the greatest time-feels in the world. This whole idea of Alvin's, of being adventurous with swing, obviously, is so intertwined in my playing, and I feel like that sort of prepared me a bit to make this album, to be able to get in with somebody with so many original rhythms and time ideas and then see how my material is going to sit with that way of playing. It's our fourth album that we've done. I actually overdubbed on an album of him and Mike Nock playing synthesizers in the 60s. That album is around. I forget the title, but he put that one out. And then obviously, Astral Plane Crash. And then the trio with Burton Green, which was fantastic, and I was living in there. We played together a fair amount. I would play sessions at his house, and then we would go play concerts.
And after the duo with Bryerton I really started to focus more on bass & drum duos, I had made a duo with William Hooker, and then I made the duo with Alvin. And there's these great duos with William and Hamid and a fair amount of other bass and percussion duos. It's not something that's unheard of, but it's got a specific challenge that I'm really into, and I'm a little bit more into it at the moment. I think it's a great thing to look at. There's just a lot to be done with that instrumentation with just bass and drums, because we kind of know what saxophone and drums will do, right? There's a way to make it new and interesting, but that's been very well explored. Not to say people shouldn't do it. It's always great to go into those situations. Something like a piano trio that's been well explored and see if you can do something innovative. But, yeah, I think the duo of bass and drums is so interesting and so unexplored that it's a really great thing to do. This music is the last thing that was recorded at Native Sound Studio, his home studio in Quincy, Massachusetts, and it's all in the order that we recorded it, and it's all the music that we did. And then these things that are called Purecircles, Moses has these things called beds that he makes that are for people to play over, and they might have overtones and stuff. And I took three of these beds to a local studio here, which was cool because he's got a bunch of them. And so he said I just felt like the album didn't have enough gongs and symbols. So maybe could you pick some of my beds that have that? So he let me pick the beds, which is really cool.
And then I went and recorded these minute long pieces over the beds. And then I came up with this title. The original title of the album was Let Your Fingers Sing The Pain, but then I wanted to find a single title for the pieces with the beds. And when I found Purecircle, I thought that was a good title. When I told Moses, he said, oh, man, it’s too bad that we can't use that as the title for the album, so I said, you know what? I was thinking the same thing. And so I agreed with him. The last piece was with the prepared bass and mallets, and he said something to me in the session that he wished I would work with the mallets for the whole piece, and it takes guts to sit there and play mallets with ra Kalam. It's a bit ridiculous on my end, but I gave it my best and I went for it. But you have one of the greatest drummers alive. I would say a master percussionist. The titles all come from Kandinsky's book of woodcuts and poems called Sounds like Who Led You In Deeper? That was the title I was able to use for that, which is pretty good. And that's another thing about, like, because I talked earlier about my version of spirituality, about art trying to sort of hover above our humanity a bit and not wallow in it. So I definitely have a version of it. But Moses is more engaged in spirituality than I am. And I thought Kandinsky was this nice middle ground. And I found this book right before I went on this trip, and so it was something that was really a great way to get the titles. And I even stole liner notes from the book, which is: dip your fingers in the boiling water, scald your fingers, let your fingers sing the pain.
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