Ewen/Smith/Walter

Live in Texas
>x<006/ Balance Point Acoustics BPALTD-608

By Ken Waxman

Set up like a rock Power Trio CD, this 73-minute extravaganza may feature the standard guitar, bass and drums line-up, but the seven extended improvisations offer a lot more than standard rhythmic formulae. Not that there isn’t musical strength expressed. Houston, Texas-based Sandy Ewen, who plays guitar and objects here, grew up in Oshawa, Ont., and seems able to transfer some of the perpetually noisy industrialization from that city’s auto plants’ assembly lines into powerful texture-bending crackles and flanges. Like an up-to-date assembly line however, despite necessarily emphatic crunches, knob-twisting and string snapping each of the tunes moves resolutely forward.

As attuned to the dual demands of both rock and jazz as any General Motors technician who moves between the car and truck line would be up-to-date in his field, Ewen’s associates lock into the groove as handily as a car body is bolted to a chassis. Visiting east coasters, percussionist Weasel Walter and Damon Smith, who plays standard double bass and 7-string electric upright, don’t stint when it comes to place-marking with animated cymbal slaps or drum rolls or suturing the beat as carefully as if rolling a test vehicle out of the factory. At the same time, tracks like Nmass 3 and Avant Garden 1 find the drummer downplaying rather than pounding the beat, with mechanized clicks and clatters subdued enough to showcase, not obliterate, the others’ solos. As for Smith, his string command is such that within the course of one track Nnass 1 his buzzy bass line advances with the thrust of a souped-up hot rod only to pirouette into supple twist and turns like a sports car by the end. Suspended above Walter’s variable shuffles, Smith also replicates bowed lines so light they could be at home in a chamber recital.

Just like you can’t tell how a car operates by examining its trim and paint job, despite superficial appearances, Ewen/Smith/Walter take guitar-bass-drum sounds to places you wouldn’t imagine.

-For The Whole Note March 2017