Alvin Fielder & Damon Smith

Song for Chico
Balance Point Acoustics BPA-6

Just as a desk and a swivel chair together don’t necessarily make an office then the coupling of a double bass and drums doesn’t automatically become a rhythm section. This negation of presumptions is never more obvious then when listening to five improvisations that make up Song for Chico. For while bassist Damon Smith and drummer Alvin Fielder have spent much time in conventional rhythm sections, working with a wide range of musicians that include guitarist Henry Kaiser and Sandy Ewen and saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Kidd Jordan, this disc contains all that’s necessary for a clearly defined performance. A short story doesn’t have to be at novel lengths to be meaningful after all.

With the sophistication that marks Free Music more than many other genres, the CD is also a mind-meeting between two generations of improvisers. Fielder, known for his AACM affiliations is now 81; Smith who moves between Free Jazz, Out-Rock and other sounds is 44. A track like “Improvisation 2” delineates the duo’s strategy: mixing any number of diffuse techniques to their utmost, combining and separating timbres in such a way that the need for so-called melodic instrument is superfluous. Here Smith’s high-pitched spiccato thrusts easily make common cause with Fielder’s substantive paradiddles which themselves soon deepen to kettle-drum-like echoes. The bassist’s splayed narrative of rugged bow slides against the strings pause at the mid-point for a display of press rolls and small bell-shaking from the drummer, divorced from any exoticism. Later as Smith turns to a standard walking bass line, it’s soon doubled by common Bebop-like chings from Fielder. By the finale the high-pitched, near-the-scroll swipes and smacked ruffs concentrate into ambulatory chromatic motion.

Along with the tapestry of cymbal splashes, snare jumps, and rim pops on one side plus band-saw-like string slices and shuffle bowing expressed from the other, these musical equivalents of prose experimentation never go far enough into abstraction to negate the players’ basis story-telling qualities. Solo showcases are also on tap with Smith’s staccato double and triple plucking reaching elevated heights on “Variation on Untitled 1” even as he maintains a percussive bottom. Meanwhile Fielder devotes part of “Improvisation 3” to contrast a collection of reverberating tones from little instruments that sound almost malleable, with equivalent resounding bass drum whaps that urbanely link up with a low-pitched double bass line for a notable processional ending

Bent notes are present but secondary on the title track, giving way to expected chromatic pulses from Smith and Bop-drum echoes from Fielder to honor drummer Chico Hamilton (1921-2013). No avant-gardist, but a pioneer in both cool and modal jazz, Hamilton was also interested in new concepts and would have appreciated the craftsmanship that went into creating this CD. So can you.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listiing: 1. Improvisation 1 2. Improvisation 2 3. Variation on Untitled 1 4. Song For Chico (For Chico Hamilton) 5. Improvisation 3

Personnel: Damon Smith (bass) and Alvin Fielder (drums)