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Cory Smythe: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes


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Cory Smythe: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
The startling molten sounds which open pianist Cory Smythe's Smoke Gets In Your Eyes signal that this will be no ordinary journey. On the first four cuts he draws on a stellar 11-strong squad which matches leading cutting edge figures such as saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, trumpeter Peter Evans and cellist Tomeka Reid, with colleagues from the International Contemporary Ensemble, hailed as America's foremost new-music group by The New Yorker, such as violinist Josh Modney and sadly deceased saxophonist Ryan Muncy, as well as others who share his desire to discard the tyranny of conventional tonality, such as trombonist Zekkereya El-magharbel and drummer Jesse Cox.

Smythe initially composed these ensemble works for a commission by the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, and developed them with that outfit's improvisational predilections in mind. In doing so he also alludes to Norway's oil-rich economy which finds its echo in the viscous, combustible qualities he is drawn to, and is further reflected in the packaging with its images redolent of climate breakdown. At times it seems that Smythe's orchestration creates new instruments, as in that astonishing opening where he unifies violin, voice and other colors into a dark oozing percolation. In other moments, such are the exploratory instincts of the cast that the actual sources involved are all but unidentifiable.

Each of the ensemble tracks comprises the purposeful collision of short sounds from carefully curated permutations, with the entire unit rarely simultaneously present. Improvisatory spaces appear amid the lurching, fluttering, shimmering textures, with Laubrock's squeezed out snorts and honks and Modney's violin creaks and whispers apparent in "Liquiform 1," Evans' slobbers and susurrations surrounded by eliding sighs in "Combustion 1," and Reid's careening cello flurries in "Liquiform 2."

On "Combustion 2"with its disconcerting, out of focus feel, it is as if the group morphs into the jazz band from a David Lynch movie, one where nothing is as it appears. Vocalist Sofia Jernberg, the only holdover from the original performance, intones fragments of the lyrics of the Jerome Kern / Otto Harbach standard, while the orchestra slides in and out of the tune, alongside a litany of squeaks, crackles and noise, as if conversing in an alien language. As Smythe suggests in the liners, the tune's lush melodic whorls provide an aural equivalent to the billowing ringlets of smoke evoked by the words. The piece ends with a coda of furtive sawn bass from Stephan Crump, adding the requisite sense of eerie menace befitting Lynch's oeuvre.

If on the ensemble numbers Smythe wields the orchestra as a single entity, on the six solo piano selections which follow he expands the keyboard into an orchestral polyphony. Each of the pieces, titled simply "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" without any numbering or other differentiation, make extensive use of preparations, subtle electronics and other manipulations to enable a world of microtones and unfamiliar timbres. But no matter how much supplemented, modulated or disguised, Smythe still somehow retains the essential signature of the piano.

With wishful thinking it might just be possible, in the first pass at the material, to discern the contours of the titular tune, albeit rendered glacially slowly, fragmented into slightly vinegary dissonances, separated by silences. But any resemblance is well and truly disposed of in subsequent passes as Smythe re-examines some of the same sonic possibilities, determinedly distilling a lexicon of spectral oscillations, ricocheting resonances which recede only to return renewed and scuttling taps like some small creature seeking its freedom, as well as the occasional glistening excursion along the keys proper, into bewitching otherworldly soundscapes.

Perhaps such experimentation will not be for everyone, but for those on the hunt for substance, Smythe has once again created something bracingly innovative, which like his previous albums Circulate Susanna (Pyroclastic, 2018) and Accelerate Every Voice (Pyroclastic, 2020), co-opts the tradition of American song as the basis for adventures which stretch musical as well political parameters.

Track Listing

Liquiform 1; Combustion 1; Liquiform 2; Combustion 2; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.


Cory Smythe: piano; Sofia Jernberg: voice / vocals; Joshua Modney: violin; Tomeka Reid: cello; Peter Evans: trumpet; Zekkereya El-magharbel: trombone; Ingrid Laubrock: saxophone; David Leon: saxophone; Jessie Cox: drums; Stephan Crump: bass.

Album information

Title: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Pyroclastic Records

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