For a while, bassist Damon Smith's preferred free improvising unit was the trio, as his previous releases on Balance Point Acoustics testify. But despite its triple bill, Sense of Hearing consists mostly of duets with singer Carol Genetti -- cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm joins in only for the last four pieces, representing half an hour of music. The duets have been recorded in the studio; the trio tracks are taken from a live performance at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. Genetti plays her voice like an instrument, drawing on the legacy of Phil Minton and Maggie Nicols to develop her own identity. Several of her idiosyncrasies evoke bird songs (ululating, in particular), but she also uses a lot of croaking and half-enunciated nonsense sentences (similar in that to Morgan Guberman's vocal art), along with jazzier-sounding scat lines. Her tone is raspier than Aurora Josephson, another Bay Area singer often performing with Damon Smith (see their quintet CD, Zero Plus), and if she's not the most striking improv vocalist in America, she delivers a touching performance. The eight duets presented on this disc range in duration between two and seven minutes. They showcase a musical language that is still growing or undergoing a certain mutation: the vocabulary isn't fixed, there is tension in the delivery, like an incertitude in how to interpret given signifiers. That provides an attention-grabbing level of unrest, especially in "The Hard and the Soft I" and "Experimental Sentences," the latter exploring softer, more fragile sounds. The trio pieces, performed the day after the studio session, are more assured, transmuting the previous tension into confident energy. "Self-Perpetuating Duplicity," with its train whistles, stands out as a potent free improv statement.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture