Cover: four linocuts, “Joëlle”, “Aurora”, “Martin”, “Damon”
by Aurora Josephson each 9 x 12
Graphic design Alan Anzalone
Tray photos: Aurora Josephson
Liner notes: Mark Dresser
Recorded by Scott R. Looney 10/18/04 at the live
Berkeley Art Center (9-12)
and 10/19/04 at 1510 studios (1-8)
Mixed & Mastered by Scott R. Looney 8/31/05
at 1510 studios, Oakland, CA
Thanks to John Lee at www.bayimproviser.com &
Ulrich Everding at the Goethe-Insitut San Francisco
"The extraordinary French master musician, contrabassist,
composer, improviser, singer, Joëlle Léandre is one
of primary champions of contemporary and improvised music
in the world. A solo virtuoso performer of such grace, power,
and bold presence that over the past thirty years notable
composers such as John Cage, Giacinto Scelsi,
Betsy Jolas, among others have composed pieces for her.
However, her main activity has been in improvised music
where she has distinguished herself as an innovative lyric,
dynamic, powerhouse soloist and ensemble
member. In the past two decades she has recorded
and performed great improvised music often in solo but
also in collaboration of colleagues such as Irene Schweizer,
Derek Bailey, Anthony Braxton, George, Lewis, Fred Frith,
Urs Leimgruber, Carlos Zingaro, Jon Rose,
Sebi Tramontana and many others.Damon Smith, is a force;
one of the most dedicated, committed and able young
American improvisers of his generation. As a bass player he
can hang with the best as was demonstrated in his duo CD
with the great late, Peter Kowald as well as this recording.
Smith has a scholarly knowledge of the innovations of
improvised music over the last forty years and it is paying off.
He is a developing into a master in his own right.
Damon’s self produced recordings and frequent concerts
in the Bay Area have had a major impact on the
improvised music scene on the west coast. In this CD
the two bass playing improvisers meet the gifted
German drummer/percussionist, Martin Blume who has
played and recorded with most of the major figures on the
European improvisers circuit. Also the talented
singer/improviser, Aurora Josephson, who has absorbed
the vocal innovations of contemporary music literature,
world music traditions, and is creating a very musical presence
of her own. This CD is remarkable for it’s at times
gorgeous lyricism, power, and quick cut chattering exchanges.
At times meditative, drone dominated, at other times
a kaleidascope of independent counterpoint. Enjoy."
"Vocalist Josephson and bassist Smith have been contributors
to a strong free musicscene in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Smith’s Balance Point Acoustics label has been issuing
recordings that document their intriguing collaborations.
For this set, the two are joined by German drummer
Martin Blume (who collaborated with these musicians on
2003’s Zero Plus) and French bassist Joelle Leandre.
Although this is an ad-hoc group, they obviously speak the same
language, the results making this an excellent recording of
conversational free Jazz. The instrumentation of voice,
two low string instruments and percussion assures that
this grouping will have a unique sound. It achieves its ultimate
expression on the final studio track, “Praxis” where both basses
are sliding buoyantly over and around each other as Josephson
acrobatically leaps atop the lines and Blume provides a chattering
accompaniment. Although the majority of these tracks feature
full group improvisation, several tracks feature brief duets and
trios from the group. The deep sound of the strings of
Leandre and Smith put Josephson’s vocals in stark relief on
“Siberia Of The Mind.” Josephson and Blume duet on
“Napoleon’s Favorite Wine” with each focusing on small gestures
that become larger and end in a grand gesture. It’s one of the
best free improvs I’ve ever heard that lasts under two minutes.
More importantly, it doesn’t feel like a fragment but a
complete statement. The live tracks are longer and have
a more leisurely pace. But only the 20 minute final track
seems a bit overlong. And while it has a few brief dead spots,
after a bit of meandering the four find common ground and
the music takes off again. Besides, this track has some
of the most compelling music of the set, most notably when
Leandre and Smith play an arco drone in accompaniment to
Josephson’s stratospheric flight. Cruxes is yet another
example of the fertile music that’s been brewing in the
Bay Area for a number of years now."
Robert Iannapollo, Cadence
"This latest offering on Damon Smith's
Balance Point Acoustics imprint, like its immediate
predecessor Sperrgut, features the Bay Area bassist
in the company of German percussionist Martin Blume.
They're joined by Aurora Josephson on vocals her linocuts
also grace the album's back tray and booklet and French
bassist (and occasional manic vocalist herself) Joëlle Léandre,
who was paying a return visit to Oakland's Mills College when
this was recorded in October 2004. Léandre's background in
contemporary classical music, which included notable friendships
with Giacinto Scelsi and John Cage, will be familiar to readers of
these pages, and, in conjunction with Josephson's occasional
well-rounded soprano, it adds a touch of conservatory gravitas
to Cruxes, notably on the drone that opens the closing
"Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi!", one of four tracks recorded live at
the Berkeley Art Centre. Three of the eight studio takes
recorded the day before are duets the Smith / Léandre
bass battle on "Siberia of the Mind" is particularly exciting
and Blume sits out the trio, "Scriabin the Derailer", which
begins with Smith and Léandre slashing out into space with
their bows. A fitting metaphor for the two bass jousts that
characterise the album as a whole. It's a subtle, supple set
of pieces, but despite the fact she has a pretty voice I'm not
entirely convinced by what Josephson is doing when things
really get swinging on "Tanglefoot Flypaper". She sounds
more at ease on the live cuts, which also feature some
splendid arco interplay between the bassists and don't fall
for that dumb old line that Léandre's the "classical" player
and Smith the "jazzman", because it doesn't work like that
as ever tastefully accompanied by Blume's meticulous pointillism.
Dan Warburton, Paristransatlantic Magazin
"I admire both Jöelle Léandre and Damon Smith for their ability
to adapt convincingly to whatever situation presents itself.
This new disc is a particularly strong case in point. All members
of the group prove malleable without necessitating any sacrifice or
creating negative tension. Of course, there are the most readily
apparent meldings, such as the finest moments of
“Un Souer de Charite”; Léandre and Josephson become
a single instrument as the latter switches from shrillings
and raspings to a beautiful full-voice that blooms rather
than simply swelling. Léandre reactsprecipitates?
with arco tremolo in thirds or seconds, all elements
meshing in a kind of static “third space”.
As wonderful as such occurrences are, it’s even more
spectacular to hear how the two basses joust, react
and merge; there’s some extraordinarily intense listening
going on, every moment realizing one combinatorial
possibility only to leave myriad others satellite, yet the results
are almost always satisfying. The other “pitched”
musicians indulge Smith’s penchant for tonal passages
with alacrity, Josephson swinging the gamut from Mintonesque
gurgles and screeches to full-throated Patty Waters-inflected blues.
Far removed from it’s “French” counterpart from the live material,
“Imaginary paintings/Imaginary Frames”becomes a song
without words as Josephson slides, swoops and glides over it,
Smith, Léandre and Blume providing a rock-solid and immensely
sensitive landscape through which she travels.
As with many improv discs, it is sometimes difficult to tell precisely
who’s responsible for any given sound, Martin Blume being
partially responsible for the confusion. He is superb,
and this project, as well as his other work for the label,
make me eager to hear as much from him as I can.
He strikes with force, rattles and shimmers with wisdom
and clarity, changing timbre if not style from piece to piece.
“The Elusive Basilisk” finds him at his most transparent,
and are those whips he’s woofing around?
The studio half of the disc bristles with as much energy
as do the live portions. The recording is first-rate.
Another fine disc from what is becoming one of
my favorite improv labels."
Marc Medwin, Bagatellen
"Despite appearances and personnel this isn’t an Old World-New World
double bass face-off between a practiced French master and
an American tyro, seconded by a representative of each continent.
Rather CRUXES is a document of Bochum, Germany-based percussionist
Martin Blume’s visit to the Bay Area, where he improvised live and
in-studio with one veteran of the European scene French bassist Joëlle Léandre
plus bassist Damon Smith and Aurora Josephson’s voice.
Smith, whose work here is complementary rather than
antagonistic to Léandre’s, has already improvised with some
of the top EuroImprovisers, including German reedist
Wolfgang Fuchs and British bass saxophonist Tony Bevan.
Josephson has recorded in the company of Smith, Blume
and British violinist Philipp Wachsmann. Blume’s
collaborators have ranged from saxophonist Luc Houtkamp
of the Netherlands to Belgium pianist Fred Van Hove;
while Léandre cohorts stretch from the late
American saxophonist Steve Lacy and Portuguese fiddler
Carlos Zingaro to partners appropriate for this meeting
improvising vocalists Lauren Newton and Maggie Nichols.
Josephson doesn’t yet have the commanding vocal
personality of those other two, and to be honest there is
a certain sameness to her harmonic asides expressed on
the disc’s 12 selections. Wordless, but not rhythmic scat,
her warbling, near-lyric soprano tone insinuates itself into
the crevices of these pieces. But while that takes place, her gullet
responses ululate from bel canto smoothness to episodes
of puppy dog-like panting, crone cackling and frightened child whimpers.
Not adverse to occasionally vocalizing herself, Léandre’s
one extended foray into spitting and whispering Bedlam-like vocal
interaction on “Siberia of the Mind” fits organically into this bass
duet with Smith, as one bows sonorously and the other attacks
the strings spiccato.With Josephson’s peeping and squeaking soprano
in-and-out of aural focus, the improvisational mode on most
selections follows the pattern of the two bassists inventively
improvising upfront, and the drummer commenting on,
extending and accompanying the dual string actions.
Bringing a wealth of rhythmic imagination to the session,
Blume swathes his drum tops with subtle taps and fingertip
brush strokes, dabbing not striking them.
He uses gentling cymbal resonation, rotating scratches
and slapped tops to not upset the equilibrium when the
vocalist introduces a mini-excursion into chimp cries
and grunts. Conversely, on
“Tableaux Imaginaires/Cadres Imaginaires”, a trio outing
with Smith and Léandre, hardened smacks, rattled cymbals,
blunt paradiddles and resonating stick rebounds is his snapping
rejoinder to slashing tremolo stops and speedy bow pressure.
As the bass duo works moderato, in broken chords that
plug any spaces, the overall interaction produces wave forms
that resemble vibrated flute lines. Flinging timbres at one another
that bring in most string nodes and pressure from the space near
the tuning pegs down to just above the spike, Smith and Léandre
knit a polyphonic tone blanket that takes in layering spiccato
cross references, sul ponticello and sul tasto movements and
straightforward double stopping. The most spectacular version
of the layered interaction occurs on the final more-than
-19½-minute “Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi!” but the patterns
are set throughout. Pops, whorls and spirals from
Blume’s percussion, constant and repetitive shuffle
bowing and double stopping from the basses as well
as echoing squeaks from Josephson complete the
sound picture. No contest, the crux of CRUXES is a
meeting of minds, and a confirmation that
improv thrives in Europe, in the United States and
among veterans and near-veterans."
Ken Waxman, JazzWord
"Here's music the realization of truly collective endeavor.
Each of the participants is acutely aware of the needs and
demands of the moment, and the music they fashion is
accordingly free of overt precedents at the same time as it
works the seam of free improvisation in trenchant fashion.
The nature of the forces deployed Aurora Josephson's voice,
two basses and drumsperhaps pejoratively focuses the
attention on the first of these, but Josephson is astute enough
to know that non-verbal communication in this area best
serves the needs of the music. On “Praxis” for example,
she brings her knowledge of technique to bear in a way
suggesting she abides by Bill Evans's dictum with regards to
learning technique and then forgetting about it. This piece also
serves notice that both Joelle Leandre (bass) and Damon Smith (bass) are
acutely aware of the tonal and timbral variety the double bass has to offer.
”Siberia Of The Mind” is a similar case in point and also one
of the infrequent occasions when the music gets frenetic. Taken as a duo by
Leandre and Smith, at less than three minutes in duration
it serves as a microcosm of what the quartet's music is all about.
It amounts also to an element of it being displaced and
thrown into stark relief, with both players combining
to give the music an impetus and at the same
time a less reflective air.
Duration here happily serves far from obvious ends, however.
“Un Soeur De Charite” is one of four live tracks and the duo
of Josephson and Leandre fashion an other-worldly lyricism.
That's in marked contrast with the following
“Tableaux Imaginaires / Cadres Imaginaire” where the
trio of Leandre, Smith and Martin Blume (drums)
achieve a level of interplay that's only remarkable.
The cohesiveness of the whole is helped in no small part
by Blume's instinctive knowledge of percussive color,
and there are times when the smallest sound comes as the
If there is a shortcoming here, it lies in the fact that so much
of the music is put out by groupings smaller than the full
quartet. Whilst there is no discontinuity between the full
group's efforts and those of the smaller groupings, it's kind
of frustrating. That said, the free improvisation genre's
seemingly infinite capacity for self- renewal is emphatically stated,
as is the creative validity of music fashioned so profoundly 'in the moment."
Nic Jones, allaboutjazz