Recording of the Week: Ches Smith, The Bell

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The Bell

Ches Smith, percussion

Craig Taborn, piano

Mat Maneri, viola

The first sound is a bell, to which the piano responds subtly. The immediate feeling is ritualistic, an event that will take place outside of the normal flow of time, whether from one point to the next during the day, or from beginning to resolution in music.

What follows is a series of improvisations that are either free or draped around structures that are as minimal as a single phrase. Smith is known for his powerful drumming, but here he uses the kit impressionistically, and also plays some tuned percussion. He does lay down some flowing rhythms, but this record isn’t about tunes and songs, it’s about working with space via musical responses.

This is high-level group group playing, with Smith, Taborn, and Maneri working together and together work with silence. Everyone has interesting things to say, and everything is musically succinct and dense with information. The music is not necessarily pretty but it is beautiful, because it’s so full of ideas and makes such solid, though fleeting, structures out of thin air. Comparable in quality and effect to the great Paul Bley/Jimmy Giuffre/Steve Swallow records on Owl, this music is less outgoing but still completely engrossing. From those first chiming sounds flows a steady sequence of imagination. Superb in every way.

Catch this group at the Rubin Museum of Art, March 25


I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.