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Fuchs / Smith / Bryerton
Minneapolis MN, 4 May 2004

Sitting inside a dark theater on the first truly beautiful spring evening in Minneapolis wasn't exactly the most enlivening prospect; but then again, it's not every day that we get the opportunity to see a multi-national trio in concert without making the 300-plus mile trip to Chicago. Billed as Three October Meetings, Wolfgang Fuchs (reeds, Germany), Damon Smith (bass, Oakland) and Jerome Bryerton (percussion, Chicago) set up shop in the small theater attached to the Acadia Cafe and proceeded to spin two sets' worth of delicately filigreed free improv for a small, but rapt audience.

Fuchs' choice of reeds was the group's most notable departure from the standard horn/bass/drums trio format; and even if the distance between his favored bass clarinet and sopranino saxophone left a lot of uninvestigated middle ground, the degree of engagement he elicited from his collaborators more than justified his extreme taste in tonality. I'd have to give Fuchs' bass clarinet work the edge, if only for the piece in the second set where he dropped into an overblown exploration of the instrument's lowest registers, making it sound more like one of Sun Ra's farthest-out Moog solos than a member of the woodwind family. His sopranino playing, on the other hand, focused a bit too sharply on the small horn's inherent chirpiness, but still managed to make some impressive statements via circular breathing.

Bryerton's set-up fell in line with what has become increasingly stock-in-trade for improv drummers: A minimal trap kit enhanced by a dumbeck, bowed cymbals and a small army of percussive gadgets. Although Bryerton relied perhaps too heavily on his bowed cymbals over the course of the evening, he did display remarkable discipline in terms of the volume normally associated with that extended percussive technique. Conversely, he used a small Tibetan gong in combination with the snare and toms to wonderful effect throughout both sets, damping its tone in proportion to the music's intensity.

Bassist Damon Smith proved to be the group's linchpin, adjusting his contributions to fit the sonic flow with confidence and expertise. It's no small feat for an unamplified bass to maintain equal footing in a mix that includes percussion of any sort, but Smith was perfectly audible for the entire show. And while his pizzicato work was solid by any definition, it was his dexterity with the bow that really stood out—particularly his ability to coax a myriad of harmonics from beyond the neck of his bass.

Together, the trio constructed its music with an incredible amount of restraint—an element that's so often lacking in freely improvising ensembles. The first set had its share of strong moments, but the group really seemed to connect for the second set's three distinct pieces—to the point where the musicians themselves were surprised by the level of communication they had achieved. But that's the beauty of creating music in the moment—sometimes it's brilliant, sometimes it falls flat on its face. This trio looked, despite its geographical challenges, like one of those singular groups that understands itself well enough to stand upright under just about any circumstances.