Ches Smith, Tyshawn Sorey & Roy Haynes

Martin Longley By

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Ches Smith & These Arches
The Stone
August 30, 2011

John Zorn's Stone was pretty much sold out for this single set by drummer Ches Smith's five-piece band. That's 74 folks crammed into a thankfully air-conditioned zone. The reason that the normally silenced A/C was allowed to thrum is that These Arches mostly rock out, reaching volume levels that can mask such humming. Even so, the interior was still sweltering, post-Hurricane Irene. The reason that the gig sold out was down to the band being something of an avant supergroup. Any single member would have enticed the punters, but a guesting Nels Cline probably tipped matters over the edge. These assembled artists are frequently sighted around NYC, but this particular formation amounted to an unusual meeting of participants.

The band is an outlet for Smith's compositions, with all players fixedly glued to their sheet music. This was disconcerting, as the end product, although highly detailed, frequently shifting and massively disciplined, still possessed the character of a post-Velvet Underground riffing session, released from high-arty bondage. There was a strong odor of grime, a tough sense of gutter survival. It was rock performed by readers, jazz performed by punks. This is not surprising, given that Smith happily inhabits these two camps, amongst many more. An audience member might witness his more rocking style as a member of Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog, or Smith's more abstract freedoms by the side of Tim Berne, but These Arches acts as a forum for a true composite style, where the drummer can move from coiled rhythms to untethered splashing in the space of a single composition.

Observing the players, they might have seemed completely immersed in sight-reading, but the music flooding forth was totally bereft of any inhibition. These Arches appear malleable. Smith was joined by his regular colleagues, guitarist Mary Halvorson and accordionist Andrea Parkins, but the line-up was completed by the aforementioned Cline on guitar, as well as alto saxophonist Berne. This last pair exists somewhere in the hinterland between guests and occasional conspirators.

Structurally, Berne and Smith were on the outside, both literally, in terms of their semicircle placement, and musically, in terms of being allowed a certain amount of autonomy. Halvorson, Cline and Parkins seemed to operate as a section, immured in a bog of effects pedals like you'd never seen before, producing an attractive result of needing to watch them carefully, to deduce who might be responsible for which scuzzed layer of collective phrasing. Parkins operated an action-accordion, hefting its bellows, making it as weighty as a Hammond organ. Halvorson and Cline struck up an immediately close rapport, often chasing each other's pointillist runs. At other times, Halvorson opted for lower tones, almost staking out bass-line territory. No one was overloud, even if their textures were of the sort that would normally be governed by extreme amplification.

Berne was the chief melodist, corralled into a less decorated mode than usual, hugging each theme with an emphatic diligence. Smith demonstrated his amazing capacity for powerful subtlety, hitting hard, then dampening cymbals on the run, flashing around his skins with rattling glances, rim-shots clattering as part of the beats. Often, he implied entire patterns with the barest of blows. Another notable stretch was when the guitarists played a flying lattice in tandem, sympathetically intertwining at high speed.

Smith managed to make his pieces sound loose, even though it was apparent that these were very premeditated structures. Contrast was paramount, all five musicians riffing full tilt, but the emphasis then slamming into an interlude of spacious freedom before cutting back to the same accumulating rock-drive. At the finish, the audience was baying for an encore, but there really wasn't time. These Arches had to move out to make way for the joint's 10:00 pm set. Nevertheless, its performance was so substantial that such a circumstance didn't seem at all frustrating; we had just experienced music in its most uncut form, and we were sated.

Tyshawn Sorey
The Stone
August 31, 2011

Ending The Stone's two-week run of Pi Recordings curatorship, the appearance of Tyshawn Sorey was timed to coincide with the release of his Oblique-1 album. Not that the gig was remotely similar in its nature. The disc finds Sorey rooted to his drum stool, playing mostly dense, propulsive jazz, with his latest quintet. This set offered the chance to catch Sorey in a solo state, going beyond the drum kit in a deeply exploratory vein. This New Jersey native was studying in Connecticut, but has recently settled back in the NYC area, and already his local gig-count is sharply rising.


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