Last year Smith made his debut as a bandleader on Finally Out of My Hands (Skirl), recruitng guitarist Halvorson, saxophonist Tony Malaby, and accordionist Andrea Parkins for a project called These Arches. The rapidly shifting arrangements and contrasting components in his knotty compositions force the players to be quick on their feet—he might pit one combination of instruments against another, or bombard a written passage with chaotic, noisy improvisation. Like the best improvisers Smith thrives on challenges, using quick thinking and technical fluency to find solutions. In an interview in Modern Drummer last year Smith said he loves playing backline drums—an instrument provided by the venue—rather than his own kit. "It presents challenges that have to be overcome quickly. I always carry a roll of duct tape and some tools. If a promoter warns me that I may not like the kit, that's when I think it'll be fun—my personality will come through anyway."
On this visit Smith will play in his solo guise, Congs for Brums, which has just released its second album, Psycho Predictions (on 88 Records, the label run by bassist Shahzad Ismaily, his bandmate in Ribot's Ceramic Dogs). Smith juggles drums, electronics, and vibraphone in this project, creating the through-composed music without overdubs and in one continuous take. Bits of Smith's numerous interests—heavy metal, free jazz, contemporary classical (he's recently been playing with composer Terry Riley), and noise, among others—pop up in the rapidly evolving performance, and he sometimes seems to have way too many limbs for a human.
Below you can hear the opening piece from Pyscho Predictions, followed by a less than stellar video clip of Smith performing solo in Romania in 2010. On Wednesday Smith's solo performance will follow a solo set by superb tenor saxophonist Travis Laplante. Then Smith and Laplante will improvise with bassist Joshua Abrams and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm.
Ches Smith's Congs for Brums, "Death Chart"