The Ches Smith Trio: Craig Taborn, piano; Mat Maneri, viola; Ches Smith, percussion. hallwalls.org.
Ches Smith The Bell (ECM)
Music of The Bell seems about the interplay of the subtlest of overtones, not unlike the layered harmonic convergences of multiple bells when played on a steeple. That’s a way of imaging and accessing this chamber jazz, which sometimes elides listener engagement with minimalist vamps and fragmented indirection. Underlying, more promisingly, is a sense of internal three-way dialogue.
The title piece opens, casting a suspenseful aura. Vivid scenarios unfold — Mat Maneri’s musky viola often serpentine and mysterioso — and arrestingly on “I’ll See You on the Dark Side of the Earth.” A songful purposefulness arises in the latter part of “I Think.” That vigorously fraternal sparring leads to “Whacken Open Air” with a funky, push-pull tension that fully employs some of pianist Craig Taborn’s powers of dynamic attack and improvisational resource. “It’s Always Winter (Sometimes)” seems to tell an under-heated but sympathetic winter’s tale, with each player allowed enough to play to presume a character’s presence. In all, Taborn’s performance skills feel underused, but this is spatial art music. (Kevin Lynch)
The Ches Smith ECM Trio performed on Feb. 23 at Bay View United Methodist Church, 2772 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Milwaukee.
This review was originally published in slightly modified form in The Shepherd Express.