Damon Smith / Alex Cunningham / Lisa Cameron

May 13, 2021

Dawn Throws Its First Knife

Balance Point Acoustics BPALTD11011

By Ken Waxman

Worthy successor to the Revolutionary Ensemble (RE) of the 1970s when violinist Leroy Jenkins, bassist Sirone and drummer Jerome Cooper proved that profound improvisations could be created with unusual instrumentation is this trio. Yet bassist Damon Smith, violinist Alex Cunningham and Lisa Cameron using drums and feedback bring their own cunning and confidence to the task. Recorded in the violinist’s St. Louis hometown, Dawn Throws Its First Knife also confirms that major cities have no monopoly on intense free music.

None is a conventional player. Cameron, who favors cymbal rattles, a broken martial style beat and metallic rim shots, frequently advances feedback to create connective sound loops. Smith moves from arco string-stretching shrills to pizzicato thumps that preserve the tracks’ bottom(s). Meanwhile Cunningham’s skittering string squeaks and concentric wood scratches tug sequences to the brink of atonality only to draw back and join the others for near-melodic motifs.

That just-in-time delivery is demonstrated most clearly on “The Endless Instant”. Most of the track is taken up by presto and allegro buzzes and sweeps from both string players with Smith’s highest pitches expressed as often as Cunningham’s, while Cameron’s drum clunks advance irregular pulses. Then unexpectedly the trio harmonizes on the track’s – and CD’s – final 30 seconds for a near-lyrical exit. Earlier cuts project atonality, as when the drummer’s unvarying thumps vibrate as if she’s striking coffeepot metal at the same time as sul tasto stretches and sways from Smith and Cunningham resonate in different pitches. The unusual feature which introduces “Unforeseen Ciphers of the World” goes a step further as feedback drones reflect off what seems to be the drums’ undersides and are succeeded by a reed-like whistle that’s revealed to be violin string-bow pressure. As the nail-on-blackboard-like fiddle strokes strain back-and-forth, Smith’s buzzing contribution expands with dissonance as col legno bounces temper below-the-bridge scrapes from Cunningham.

A reimagining of the RE’s pioneering sound blend, Dawn Throws Its First Knife easily stand on its own as a 21st century extension and refinement of those sonic principles.

Track Listing: 1. Transparent Gesturing 2. Ashes Stiff with Cold 3. Forest of Glass 4. Unforeseen Ciphers of the World 5. The Endless Instant

Personnel: Alex Cunningham (violin); Damon Smith (bass) and Lisa Cameron (drums and feedback)