Sometimes a band does need more than a few compositional strokes on paper to create evocative and enigmatic music and the cover art of artist Raymond Pettibon (he designed many covers of the SST Records, including the logo of Balck Flag) fits perfectly to the sonic vision of American drummer-percussionist Ches Smith. The few, mysterious strokes sketch a desolate, ambiguous landscape, open to interpretation. And that was the intention of Smith. His compositional approach encouraged improvisational interpretations, using space, lyricism, sound, density, noise and aggression, depending on the moment. Every musician can do whatever he wants with the compositions. The open sections of his compositions are there to tell their own stories, meant to reveal unearthed dimensions.
Smith’s working band – violist Mat Maneri and pianist Craig Taborn released its debut album «The Bell» in 2016 (ECM). Guitarist Bill Frisell saw the trio playing in 2018 and enjoyed the elusive essence of Smith’s music, accessible and challenging at the same time. Smith asked Frisell to join the trio for one performance and Frisell felt immediately like a natural part of the band. Then Covid-19 happened, and since everyone was in town and available Smith decided to record the music. The outcome offers a magical meeting of kindred souls, four individuals interacting with the music, and each other, in good faith, or as Smith describes it, with «crucial chemistry».
Each of the seven compositions has its own distinct character. The minimalist, skeletal essence of smith’s compositions demands daring and imaginative embellishments, and, obviously, leaves enough space for evocative and haunting interpretations. The album is bookended by two brief and sparse compositions «Trapped» and «Deppart» but the rest of the compositions opt for organic, slow-cooking yet labyrinthine courses, suggesting grained, mysterious images that eventually come into a poetic and cathartic focus. And, indeed, the title track was inspired by the experimental work of artist-filmmaker Frank Heath (and, please, check the video montage assembled by Hearth for this composition), whose works «expose moments of disjuncture and ultimately crack open perceived reality to reveal a more compromised construction». The aptly titled «Mixed Metaphor» stresses the patient and open dynamics of the quartet, ultimately leading to a spiraling vamp. The ballad of sorts «Morbid» offers an almost transparent, haunting elegiac atmosphere. The three-part «Clear Major» explores the potential of this quartet to weave fast-shifting layered rhythmic patterns and “I Need More” intensifies the delicate but hypnotic rhythmic tension until it explodes with a searing solo of Frisell.
Smith could not have found better partners to interpret these enigmatic and inspiring compositions, way beyond just well.
Craig Taborn (p), Mat Maneri (viola), Bill Frisell (g), Ches Smith (dr, vib)