Michael Smith


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American-born pianist/composer Michael Smith is a name likely to be obscure even among avant jazz fans. He skirted the territory during the '70s, playing with Steve Lacy, among others, and recording an album, Austin Stream, for FMP before settling in Eastern Europe and composing dance and film scores, among many other activities. Like most pianists in the genre, his sound owes a great deal to Cecil Taylor, but there are also traces of Paul Bley as well as allusions to contemporary classical composers. This session, for the appropriately obscure Polish Muxa label, has some trappings of a typical free jazz date from the mid-'70s, albeit one that comes more out of Taylor's Unit Structures than Coltrane or the AACM. Smith's piano is attention-getting, however, with unusually richly voiced chords, and bassist/cellist Kent Carter's playing is outstanding throughout. Smith developed a musical theory he called Geomusic that, though unexplained in the notes, is apparently the idea behind the haunting second track where the bowed strings hover underneath sustained horn plaints and moody piano chords. Similarly, the pensive "Impressions on Chinese Prints" succeeds in avoiding "orientalist" traps while evoking a calm, Eastern frame of mind replete with shakuhachi-inspired flute and trilling piano arpeggios. Smith's pieces work best the further they drift from traditional jazz forms, as heard in the lackluster "A Ballad for K," but when everything gels, the listener is treated to a unique and unusual musician.