10 Ches SmithLaugh Ash
Ches Smith
Pyroclastic Records PR 31 (pyroclasticrecords.com)

Proof positive that New York’s Ches Smith is more than an exceptional percussionist who plays with, among others, Marc Ribot and John Zorn, is this great sprawling CD highlighting his skills as composer and electronic programmer. 

Seconded by subsets of nine musicians, Smith’s tunes sew together a patchwork quilt of all of his interests encompassing voodoo; jazz and rock drumming; notated music harmonies from three string players; inventive use of studio samples and synthesis; improvisational passages from trumpeter Nate Wooley, clarinetist Oscar Noriega, flutist Anna Webber and saxophonist James Brandon Lewis; and singular or multi-tracked vocals from Shara Lunon that range from bel canto embellishments to sprechgesang.  

Constructed with faultless logic, disparate impulses are sutured without fissure so that on a track like Sweatered Webs (Hey Mom) string scratches are overlaid with reed flutters while Smith’s vibraphone reverberations harmonize with lyrical vocal recitation. Climax is reached when altissimo saxophone screams and triple tonguing is contrasted with a thick, processed bass and drum groove.

Clarinet riffs are prominent throughout. Noriega’s jaunty flutters add to the airiness of drum paradiddle and wordless scatting on Minimalism with the same clarity that his harsh clarion smears join trumpet triplets, programmed overdubbed vocals, unison strings and intense drum beats on Disco Inferred to inflate the resulting sound to almost orchestral capacities. 

Without neglecting percussion comprehension and connections, Smith provides another instance of how drummers’ rhythmic architecture also often make them sensitive and inventive composers. 

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Author: Ken Waxman
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