Ches Smith

The Bell
ECM 2747

Reductionist and intervallic, the 10 tracks on percussionist Ches Smith’s CD tiptoe between what could be defined as aleatoric notated-oriented music and the freer sounds of Jazz-improv. Floating and dreamy, tremolo quivers from pianist Craig Taborn plus string judders from violist Mat Maneri often move so close to soporific hypnotics that it’s up to Smith’s percussion add-ons to widen the passages so they advance from rural-road like near-repose to superhighway mobility.

In fact until the third track, the sardonically titled “Isn't It Over”, this near-somnolence stew isn’t thickened enough to project lively as well as languid tones. Only when multi-toned percussion beats and piano key clipping introduce a cop show-like rhythmic emphasis that gradually inflates into variations of Eastern European-like dances, does the session appear to jell. From then on track such as “I'll See You on the Dark Side of the Earth” and “Wacken” more successfully outline Smith’s commitment to sonically negotiate the contrasts between light and darkness, tension and release. Taborn, who usually works in less refined circumstances with the likes of saxophonist Tim Berne, contributes rugged lower-pitched runs to the latter tune, which are given full expression when up against the contrapuntal asides of Maneri, an experienced hand at this sort of playing, having apprenticed in it with his father the late saxophonist Joe As if he was slicing through aluminum foil with a very sharp object, Maneri’s fiddle sweeps on the same tune encourage Smith to output a percussion strategy that clarifies the theme statement. Usually as self-effacing as a social democrat in a room full of rabid Tea Party supporters, Smith steps forward on “I'll See You on the Dark Side of the Earth” with paradiddles, ruffs and collection of cymbal clangs that bulk up the tune as it defines it.

Before this CD, Smith’s reputation was established as an economical percussionist whose sympathetic accompaniment with associates as different as pianist Matt Mitchell, Berne and guitarist Marc Ribot guaranteed that the perfect beat was always on tap – sometimes literally. The Bell resounds with distinctive compositions. But more powerful compositions or an additional stronger soloist would have made this CD more memorable.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. The Bell 2. Barely Intervallic 3. Isn't It Over? 4. I'll See You On The Dark Side Of The Earth 6. I Think 7. Wacken 8. Open Air 9. It's Always Winter Somewhere 10. For Days

Personnel: Craig Taborn (piano); Mat Maneri (viola) and Ches Smith (drums, vibraphone and timpani)