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Ches Smith: The Bell

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Perhaps the principal difference between the jazz audience and followers of popular music is that the latter crave the reassurance of the familiar and the former are junkies for the new. Even for the most esoteric jazz listeners, The Bell will meet the need for fresh stimuli.

For starters, there are not many drummer-led trios with piano and viola. More to the point, Ches Smith, Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri are all hardcore free-thinkers. Smith, in his ECM debut as a leader, presents eight compositional frames like stark grids, then sends three creative eccentrics out to wander around in them. Relationships between notation and improvisation are complex and provisional. Some roles appear to be assigned, like Taborn’s endless drone on the title track. Any role might evaporate in an instant.

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