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coverpic flag US - Texas - Full Moon 55 - 04/08/01

Pull the String Records

Saxophonist Carl Smith is being torn apart by some crazy forces. One involves the deification of the music of gent/giant, John Coltrane, whose lungs poked less like needles and more like tree trunks through that ever-resilient fabric of the space-time continuum, blowing open great gobs of mind-fry for the world to lap at and imbibe, but perhaps not fully grasp. Such a big bang though has expanded beyond mere mortals' gravity capacity to rein it all in, and we are left not only with fat stars falling through the floor slats, but way over-blown cat-fests, all reclusive screech and loft mumble-blather, energy just for energy's sake, a constant humming like office-building block ghost lights, burning all night, but the flicker so maddening, the eyes always working against it, unbelieving, yet looking for what must be a way out, but through sheer power only, as if lungs can really bust out ordinary doors to a place you really need to be.

That other force might now be named "negative energy" in all the papers, as if it became safe with that label, but in such personal matters as music, the alchemical word for this is carnification, as Carl attempts to take such brute forces and shove them through the reedpiece (or keyhole of said door) into melodic, visceral flesh once more. The Rosetta tablet for such an unlocking could be on his tongue, and the gauntlet might just be near his fingers, but in this "jazz", it is never so readily there at the tips (please, don't stare for too long at the pic of Bird playing so effortlessly, for it induces madness).

This is Carl's first release, and yet I find it is not quite enough for me; I can never be satisfied with it alone. For a guy to be playing out and around as often as he does in the Austin area, under monikers such as Cinders, e.c.f.a., Walter Thompson Orchestra, as well as under a regular duo, it is maddening to have the whole thing come out to three pieces far under the half-hour mark. The biggest body here is the spontaneous collaboration of a large ensemble with elevated and respected bassist of the European community, Peter Kowald. In the beginning, all the players are really just feeling each other out, but once all the exploratory calls are cast, there is quite the lift-off, with bowing of bass and viola that is at once heavy and body-floating, with the saxes clacking and spiraling like dueling blackbird brothers.

The bookend pieces focus more on a trio setting of Smith, James Alexander on viola, and Matt Armistead at the drums. All three are fully aware of each other, as there is little toe stepping on their respective frequencies, and the movement from fiery freedom back into a flowering form is not only rare in the Texas area, but also a somewhat blurry line due to the musicianship involved. Yet there is this knowledge in the back of my mind that really gets to me, in that there is so much more in Carl's head that is not laid down here in these five minute offerings, so many more compositions and moments that have escaped, still unpinnable. There is such an empathy of interplay between Smith and the viola swoons and slashes of James Alexander that are just sitting somewhere, be they in a dusty tape form, or still, as Dizzy Gillespie once reasoned, out in the air, ready to be plucked, but not yet audible to you and me. It is this inaudibility that is perhaps the real force here, that which drives me out at night to look past the crescent night stars into the low ceiling of the club, hoping to hear that new force, to have it both throttle and bless the ears.

I know it is that sort of desire to make the imagined, real and the real, transcendent that also drives Carl out nearly every night to chase such a 'Trane.

I know it is that sort of desire to make the imagined, real and the real, transcendent that also drives Carl out nearly every night to chase such a 'Trane.

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