Album review: Ches Smith, ‘The Bell’


Jazz and improvised music long ago crossed over into Third Stream, the term coined by Gunther Schuller to describe fusions of jazz and classical but now applicable to every manner of all-inclusive hybrids. So the new CD by drummer and percussionist Ches Smith — with pianist Craig Taborn and violist (and former longtime Bostonian) Mat Maneri — is as likely to remind you of Morton Feldman and Messiaen as of Monk. Smith’s abstractions favor transparent textures, serene spaciousness, and the repetitive patterns of minimalism, but they also get loud. In fact, a favored procedure in this set is the piece-length crescendo, like the nearly 11-minute “I’ll See You on the Dark Side of the Earth.” Written material — spare, haunting melodies, tonal shifts — provides guideposts for extensive, focused free improvisation. In the quieter moments, savor Maneri’s speech-like phrasing, Smith’s tinkling glockenspiel and quietly whining bow-sawed cymbal edge, or Taborn’s 12-tonish ruminations. Or brace yourself for the collectively improvised tense narrative of “I Think.” Minimal doesn’t mean no drama; In fact, sometimes it can be very dramatic indeed.
Jon Garelick


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