The easy stylistic yin and yang of drummer Ches Smith | Bleader

Friday, May 24, 2013

The easy stylistic yin and yang of drummer Ches Smith

Posted By on 05.24.13 at 02:00 PM

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Ches Smith
  • Ziga Koritnik
  • Ches Smith
In this week's paper I previewed the upcoming performances by Marc Ribot's power trio Ceramic Dog at Pritzker Pavilion and Constellation; the rhythmic engine for that wonderfully flinty band is drummer Ches Smith, a guy who epitomizes the cross-fertilization of forward-looking jazz and outre rock music. He grew up with both, and he's conversant in both. He's played under the leadership of folks like guitarist Mary Halvorson and saxophonists Tim Berne and Darius Jones, as well as providing propulsion for art-rock outfits like Secret Chiefs 3, Xiu Xiu, and Good for Cows, his own duo with former Chicago bassist Devin Hoff.

A couple of months ago he released Hammered (Clean Feed), the second and best album by his forceful, malleable quintet These Arches, which features many of his trusted colleagues—Halvorson, Berne, reedist Tony Malaby, and accordionist Andrea Parkins. It's a woolly, hard-hitting blast that displays Smith's penchant for knotty, shape-shifting compositions, where chaos and order engage in thrillingly loosey-goosey back-and-forth. In the press materials Smith says, "A lot of the tunes were meant for a rock band, but are being played by something that's not a rock band at all. They're sort of reject rock tunes, and that gave a shape to the whole record." He also describes the band as a vehicle that allows him to compose for some of his favorite improvisers, and indeed, on these tracks you can hear strong traces of the work his cohorts have done in other projects: the snaking multilinear complexity of Berne's long-form writing, the craggy unison drag heard in Parkins's work with saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and drummer Jim Black, and the fluid collapse and reassembly tropes in Halvorson's groups. Of course, these players all possess sounds that are identifiable in just about any context.

It's a dense recording, packed with information; Smith's writing is breathlessly episodic, with his tunes constantly morphing into fresh melodic schemes, rhythmic feels, and harmonies—and those transformations are heightened by relentless movement between composed and improvised passages. As a drummer, he masterfully serves as the ensemble's glue, using his clattery, muscular, nimble attack to direct sudden shifts in cohesion, tone, and tempo. Below you can check out the storming title track.

Today's playlist:

Ralph Peterson's Unity Project, Outer Reaches (Onyx)
Various artists, The Sexual Life of the Savages: Underground Post-Punk From São Paulo, Brasil (Soul Jazz)
John Lewis, The Wonderful World of Jazz (Atlantic)
Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura, Between (Erstwhile)
Baloni, Fremdenzimmer (Clean Feed)

Peter Margasak writes about jazz every Friday.

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