Ches Smith | Constellation | Jazz | Chicago Reader

Ches Smith Recommended 18+ Early Warnings (Music) Soundboard Image

When: Wed., Feb. 24, 8:30 p.m. 2016

A brooding, meditative intensity infuses every note of The Bell (ECM), a stunning debut album by the incisive trio fronted by percussionist Ches Smith. One of New York’s most mercurial players, the leader has an astonishing reserve of power, a natural proclivity for rock grooves, and an abiding love of controlled chaos. He wrote the album’s loose compositions for the trio with microtonal violist Mat Maneri and pianist Craig Taborn, but the tunes are mostly improvised, with loose guidelines that function as a road map. The title track feels like an invocation as it opens with the ding of a bell, then spends nearly eight minutes building tension. Taborn’s cycling lines suggest a crouching tiger waiting to assault its prey, while Smith counters with great forcefulness and Maneri offers running commentary. The piece just evaporates in the end, and that lack of resolution sets the tone for the exquisitely dark grooves and moods that follow. Smith’s writing draws from classic minimalism in effective ways, especially when he moves to vibraphone: his interactions with Taborn on “Barely Intervallic” evoke the music of Steve Reich, but with a bittersweet melodic sensibility that belongs to him alone. There are a few pieces where his drumming provides propulsion, but more often than not he’s a colorist. I caught a performance by this trio in New York a couple of years ago that knocked me out, and the way the group now inhabits the material and has honed its interaction might make tonight even more impressive.

Peter Margasak

Price: $15, $12 in advance

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