Free Jazz review by Monique Avakian

CF 270Ches Smith and These Arches – Hammered (CF 270)
Two saxes: one alto and one tenor, and on the recording — one in each ear.  Ches Smith just made my brain the keystone of his group, These Arches! This album, then, perhaps, is as neurologically enriching as it is musically enticing.

The move from quartet to quintet is solidifying for this band. Tim Berne on alto joins Tony Malaby on tenor, and the two carry us into various parallel and perpendicular worlds with dexterity and ease. Fresh and lean, these guys are panthers on the prowl. “Dead Battery,” in particular highlights their inventive contextualization.

Actually, These Arches as a group have several interesting contextualizing habits, many derived, of course, from the members’ high-level jazz improv expertise. Additionally, these five players prove to be confident in their well-chosen moments of rocking out. Last, but not least, These Arches seem especially facile with adventurous choices made in regard to the infusion of multi-cultural folk styles. For example (again on “Dead Battery”), Mary Halvorson (guitar and bass lines) quotes from The Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me,” (itself a re-worked French tune). Almost immediately, she injects a subtle Middle Eastern flavor into the lick. The band responds with layering that texturizes the hell out of the familiar riff, which is quite satisfying. The title track, “Hammered,” is also a good reflection of the band’s strength at melding various rock, folk/ethnic and jazz styles into something not only greater than the sum of parts, but something parting into a summary of something greater.

Andrea Parkins on accordion and electronics takes an interesting position in the band, providing a level of intense, yet restrained, subtlety. And Mr. Smith, on drums and percussion, takes care not to dominate, driving with an egalitarian ease and a lot of sound play.

Beware, though. This band also takes the stance of a big tease, brazenly daring you to come back for more. For example, round about 5:40 on “This Might Fade Out,” Ches Smith lays into a phat, funky rock groove that evaporates almost instantaneously within 20 seconds. Ooooh! Why’d you do that to me? How did I end up in this worm hole? Oh, well, it doesn’t matter because already I am somewhere else, feeling like a campy TV detective driving a 70’s-era Camaro, screeching to sudden stops, spinning into smoky half circles, soaring through the air off rising bridge plates….and, well, yeah!

So, you gotta get “Hammered.” If for no other reason than to wave the CD case in front of your best friend’s face and make that irresistible joke.

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