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Colorado-based bassist Matt Smiley is an excellent example of the virtues of musical versatility. His résumé includes performing internationally at the Montreux, North Sea, and Montreal Jazz festivals; premiering John Hilliard's 2nd Piano Concerto at the Kennedy Center; presenting his own arrangements of bassist Dave Holland's seminal "Conference of the Birds"; playing with a funk band; experimenting with electronics; and providing music for silent films. Clearly Smiley is a musician with wide-open ears, and his expressive, inventive bass work is a welcome addition to all his musical ventures.
For his debut, Quartet Art, Smiley offers a beautiful work of avant-free music that's immensely pleasing and intelligent. That's not to say Smiley is averse to melody: "Stars Fill the Sky" is a gorgeous tune that showcases David Pope's poignant sax, and the group's rendition of bassist Charlie Haden's "Song for Che" (the only non-Smiley original) is a majestic piece that features a luminous two-minute solo by Smiley. But the majority of the fourteen songs weave composition and improvisation into gloriously unstructured structures that delight in pure sound as well as the depths of silence. The haunting "Naudhiz" finds the musicians playing with the edges of noise, dancing around a quiet so rich it's trembling. "Fehu" and "Ingwaz" are unique sonic geometries that shred and splutter sound, while "Hagalaz" combines a boiling stillness with urgently primal battle cries that would make saxophonist and energy music pioneer Albert Ayler proud.
Another fine tune is "Quartet Art," which exemplifies all the CD's virtues, starting with a tender melody, which Pope and trumpeter Josh Reed gradually morph into a scorching freeform explosion, playing over drummer Matthew Coyle's shimmering field of no-time time. As the blast dies down, the song plunges into a deep silence, with Pope's sax eventually emerging from the stillness in breathy spacious sounds reminiscent of a shakuhachi flute. The melody is restated briefly and then the song dissolves into silence, completing an exquisite aural journey.
Certainly avant-garde jazz that features long songs with extended solos has its merits, but the economy demonstrated on Quartet Art has a distinct beauty. Only a few of the tracks exceed five minutes, which allows this excellent group to create concise soundscapes, fourteen multifaceted gems that unfold one after another. Altogether this CD is an engaging, intricate work, an impressive debut for Smiley that indicates more good music to come.
Track Listing: Skeed; Gebo; Stars Fill the Sky; Fehu; Naudhiz; Othala; Toe Knee; Eihwaz; Foto; Ingwaz; Hagalaz; Quartet Art; Berkana; Song for Che.
Personnel: Matt Smiley: bass; David Pope: tenor saxophone; Josh D. Reed: trumpet; Ryan Fourt: guitar; Matthew Coyle: drums and percussion.