June 6, 2023

Driff Records CD 22032/Balance Point Acoustics BPA 3CD 02

A realized experiment in round-robin improvising, Duals matches three improvisers from three cities in sequential duets that exposes diverse styles of free music. Disc 1 matches slides and slurs from Chicago trombonist Jeb Bishop with the patterning and intricate string patterns of St. Louis bassist Damon Smith. Switching partners Smith intersects with the oblique piano designs of Boston’s Pandelis Karayorgis on Disc 2, while Disc 3 joins Bishop and Karayorgis.

Bishop-Smith’s nine meetings are arguably the most expressive and exploratory of the three approximately hour-long sets. Overall they involve Bishop expelling tongue flutters, intermittent smears, gutsy growls and half-valve purrs among other techniques, as Smith challenges or responds with equivalent timbres extensions encompassing string hammering, arco scratches and col legno patterning. Although abutting atonality, the veteran improvisers are in such control of the sounds and synergy that lyrical and linear motifs are bult into the results. Most obtuse and exploratory of the tracks are “Photo Op” and “Uni Device”. On the former Smith’s distinctive strident scrapes interrupt the studied flow of Bishop’s portamento advances that become more mellow and graceful as the string pressure deepens the pitches. An instance of plunger diffusion the latter tune finds the trombonist introducing pinched brass bites and sputters to disrupt the percussive power emanating from Smith’s string rubbing. Other brass tropes include vocalized sputters and drones and gradual theme inflation from Bishop and tough arco stops, supple strums and resonating string pinches from Smith. These duets are completed with “School Device”. Emphasizing the melodic and mutated parts of the program, string pops mixed with vibrating metal objects as well as flatulent triplets and backflow breaths confirm the two’s exploratory framework at the same time as melded flutter tonguing and unvarying string strums harmonize.

Meanwhile the dozen Smith-Karayorgis tracks list more towards (free) Jazz than anything on the other sessions. Perhaps because of the heritage of piano-double bass sessions, it often appears as if Karayorgis is shaking out moderated, though contorted, keyboard patterns with Smith answering these positioned note cascades with sympathetic string thumps or arco slices. Whether the tempo is andante, allegro or presto, the combination of shaped stops and a regularized beat bring out story-telling inferences from the pianist. Among the instances of this are tracks such as “Lifgatowy” and “Entanglement”, where Karayorgis’ affinity for Monk-like construction is emphasized. On the first a multi-fingered theme statement is torqued by the addition of double bass string drones, which turn to below-the-bridge slaps as the pianist opens up the piece for responsive, multi-toned elaborations while Smith’s walking emphasizes the beat and the tune’s horizontal flow. “Entanglement” shows that obtuse elaborations can be expressed with a pedal point piano continuum as effectively as higher-pitched notes. Karayorgis is also able to create deliberate forward motion at the same time as he burlesques the flow with sneaky asides. Smith’s response consists of a combination of clenched arco squeals and complementary linear sweeps. Although elsewhere Smith-Karayorgis may relax into harmonies that encompass high-pitched tinkles or slinky expositions from the pianist and groove cementing plucks from the bassist, mutual experimentation is best emphasized on “Undertow”. A squirming line, cooperation is paramount as the bassist’s string pummeling and repeated double stops underline keyboard strategies. Galloping from note cascades to a vibrating ostinato and climaxing with seemingly endless swishes and squalls here too unexpected creativity is showcased as much as freebop conventionality.

Unsurprisingly perhaps the 12 racks on Disc 3 featuring Bishop and Karayorgis at different times emphasize elements of Bishop-Smith’s near atonality and Smith-Karayorgis’ more measured takes. At least by the time the first two tracks are completed the two have shown off their exploratory side with long submerged puffs and repeated plunger notes from Bishop and key clicks and hunt-and-peck eccentricities from the pianist on one hand and mellow affiliated brass slurs and sympathetic keyboard chording on the other. Variations of this continue throughout the disc with upwards slides, brass blats and speedy spittle tones from the trombonist and piano key strumming as prominent as affiliated tandem elaborations. “Summer” and “Ice” are the most traditional tracks. The latter is a mellow ballad which almost sounds like a songbook comp, while the first allows more room for expression. With textures from both instruments moving in a straight line. Bishop’s graceful stutters and expressive burry slides meet moderated keyboard comping and vibrations until both lines climax as a tandem expression. Although there are pressurized and bouncy inferences elsewhere, the most unconventional creations are “Ledger” and “Ledge”. Both explode from the top with unison brass blasts and keyboard clanks. The former elaborates the exposition with spittle-encrusted presto bites and slurs while rolling key variations almost up to player-piano speed torque the program until the ending. Karayorgis extends his playing to near-boogie proportions on “Ledge” with the tones becoming more tensile and freer as the expositions move up the scale. For his part Bishop projects triplets forward with tailgate gusto, ending with short brassy honks.

. Pivots among swing, intensity, calm and emotionalism are expressed in these duets and the same applies to the other Duals. Taken one disc at a time or all at once, they’re prime examples of proficient one-on-one interpretations and improvisations.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. Caltrop 2. Parsnip 3. Protocol 4. Photo Op 5. Blecher 6. Uni Device 7. Wageningen 8. Pestalozzi 9. School Device CD2: 1. Pennant 2. Ravine 3. Whistles 4. Lifgatowy 5. Procession 6. Entanglement 7. Extruded 8. Undertow 9. Mr. Cook 10. Weft 11. Something Stirring Underfoot 12. Hommage CD3: 1. Scry 2. Slack Tide 3. Roil JB 4. Ledger 5. Never Ending 6. Redarrow 7. Razorlip 8. Summer 9. Ledge 10. Three 11. Ice 12. Roil PK

Personnel: DISC 1 : Jeb Bishop (trombone) and Damon Smith (bass) DISC 2: Pandelis Karayorgis (piano) and Smith DISC 3: Bishop and Karayorgis