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CF270
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Hammered
Ches Smith and These Arches
Personnel:
Andrea Parkins (acc), Ches Smith (d), Mary Halvorson (g), Tim Berne (as), Tony Malaby (ts),

Though drummer Ches Smith has a penchant for christening his compositions with playfully oblique names, the name he chose for the title track of the second album by his band These Arches couldnt be more straightforward. Hammered is relentless, pounding, fueled by a driving, recursive pulse that goads tense, urgent playing fromSmiths quintet of master improvisers.

The piece is a vivid illustration of the precarious balance that Smith strikes between the worlds of avant-garde jazz and experimental rock. Hes in demand as the drummer for such forward-thinking jazz artists as Tim Berne, Darius Jones, Mary Halvorson and Trevor Dunn; and at the same time hes provided the backbone for adventurous rock acts like Xiu Xiu and Secret Chiefs 3, not to mention uncategorizable hybrids between the two like Marc Ribots Ceramic Dog and Smiths own Good For Cows.

The merging of sonic worlds on Hammered is no accident; several of the pieces began life as songs penned for rock bands that evolved into more open frameworks for These Arches expansive improvisation. A lot of these tunes were meant for a rock band but are being played by something thats not a rock band at all, Smithsays. Theyre sort of rock reject tunes, and that gave a shape to the whole record.

These Arches may not be a rock band, but its membership has no problem providing the power and ferocity of one. Since the release of the bands debut, Finally Out of My Hands, its ranks have been swelled by the addition of alto saxophonist/composer Tim Berne. He joins tenor powerhouse Tony Malaby, guitarist Mary Halvorson, and accordionist/electronic musician Andrea Parkins.

These Arches is basically about me writing for a set of my favorite improvisers,Smith explains. The tunes I ended up coming up with for Hammered were more hard-hitting and straightforward than the earlier ones, but theyre also more expanded and developed. The pieces make inspired use of these musicians ability to navigate fluidly between composition and improvisation while evoking the force and direct communication of heavy rock tunes.

Bernes addition to this remarkable line-up was initially an accident, the result of a scheduling conflict. With Malaby unable to make a tour with the band, Berne stepped in; when Malabys calendar suddenly reopened, Smith decided to try arranging some of his music for both saxophonists. It turned out great, he says. When we all played together it was like, This is what Ive been hearing. Having another voice to work with, and especially Tims way of improvising, adds a whole different dimension to the band.

That new dimension is immediately evident on the albums opener, Frisner. When the tune breaks down in the middle, Berne and Malaby both push their horns to their screeching limits while Smith and Halvorson provide pointillistic interjections and Parkins shrouds them all in skittering electronic textures. The title refers to master Haitian Vodou drummer Frisner Augustin, a teacher of Smiths who passed away unexpectedly in February 2012. His influence can be felt in the pieces buoyant, intricate rhythms.

Another percussion hero is honored via Wilson Phillip, which pays homage to the late drummer Phillip Wilson via a tongue-in-cheek reference to a somewhat less revered 80s pop band. The undersung Wilson was a veteran of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band who played with the likes of Lester Bowie, Anthony Braxton, and Julius Hemphill. Smiths inspiration for the piece came from a beat played by Wilson on one of Hemphills records.

The spiraling Dead Battery was initially intended for Ceramic Dog, while the chaotic, ever-shifting Learned From Jamie Stewart was penned for Xiu Xiu, whose lead singer is name-checked in the title (which is also an inside joke between Smith and Bay Area clarinetist/composer Ben Goldberg). These Arches next project will be a collaboration with Stewart on a set of Nina Simone compositions.

Limitations provides a minimalist intermission to the album, while Animal Collection takes the repetitive structure of Hammered in a decidedly different, far more relaxed and grooving direction. And This Might Be a Fade-Out actually contains several fades before the ultimate one, ending the album on a note of perpetual resurgence.



 

 
     
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