/ 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
outparticularly 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 restraintan 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
piecesto 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 momentsometimes 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.