Despite appearing on at least fifty recordings since 2001, Ches Smith
remains the more under-recognized, yet highly in-demand, member of this
newly formed trio. The drummer/percussionist and vibraphonist for Tim Berne's Snakeoil, Smith has played with John Zorn on Voices in the Wilderness (Tzadik, 2003), as well as Wadada Leo Smith, and guitarists Fred Frith and Marc Ribot. The Bell is his fifth outing as a leader, three being solo efforts and one with his recent group, These Arches, which included Mary Halvorson, Tony Malaby and accordionist/organist Andrea Parkins.
Here, Smith teams with pianist Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri on viola.
Taborn and Maneri had previously worked together more than ten years ago
on Taborn's Junk Magic (Thirsty Ear, 2004).
track is a meditative piece for eight of its nine and one-half minutes.
At that point Smith introduces some tension as the drums begin to
thunder against Maneri's haunting drone and repetitive phrasing from
Taborn. "Barely Intervallic" and "Isn't It Over?" are more avant-garde
and experimental in nature giving improvisational masters like Taborn
and Maneri plenty of freedom to create innovations that sound both spare
and lavish within Smith's minimal structures. It isn't until the second
half of "I'll See You On The Dark Side Of The Earth" that Smith injects
more heated intensity with a rock beat over a discordant swirl of
sounds from Taborn and Maneri.
The second half of the program
remains in the chamber music approach with Maneri adding flashes of his
uniquely exotic playing especially evident on "I Think." Taborn's
playing ranges from snippets of melodicism to rapid-fire cascades of
notes and Smith's drumming sounds impressively musical. The leader uses
the vibraphone sparingly but its presence—especially in the midst of
freer group improvisations—adds a delicate balance to the sometimes more
For Smith, The Bell was not meant
to be the stepping off point for a new group but rather a one-time
impromptu session. However, after he, Maneri and Taborn played live in
New York, Smith realized he an opportunity to create something more
lasting with this exceptional group. His written compositions are
intentionally kept minimal so as to let the improvisations take center
stage. The trio responds to this approach with an appealingly patient
mix of empty spaces, complex phrasing and textures that play in the
moment and with an organic feeling. Smith/Taborn/Maneri will perform on
the opening night of the New York City ECM Jazzfest on January 15, 2016.
Track Listing: The Bell; Barely Intervallic; Isn't It Over?;
I'll See You On The Dark Side Of The Earth; I Think; Wacken; Open Air;
It's Always Winter Somewhere; For Days.