Paul Smoker

Halloween '96

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This would be a great album were it not for the flat artificial sound (CIMP's dedication to audiophilia strikes again). That said, it's still damn good music in a free jazz vein. Paul Smoker is one of the great individualists on his instrument. His lithe technique and propensity for tonal manipulation sets him apart. Vinny Golia is the master of umpteen different instruments -- any one of which he's liable to pull out at any time -- so it's unusual to hear him stick to a single horn for the duration of an album. But that's what he does here. He picks bari sax, and it's a wise choice; the big horn's deep, dark sound nicely complements Smoker's higher and lighter trumpet. As on most CIMP albums, the bassist gets the short end of the stick, which is too bad, because Ken Filiano is one of the instrument's contemporary masters. It's to the entire group's credit that Filiano is made to be heard, for the most part. His strength -- combined with an overall dedication by all to set a good balance -- ensures that the bass doesn't disappear in the dreary mix. Drummer Phil Haynes should be given particular credit for driving the proceedings while keeping the volume well in hand. Haynes is an unusually imaginative and dynamically cognizant drummer. The stereo separation is rather too pronounced, undoubtedly as a result of the players being pushed too close together in a small playing space. It sounds as if you're listening to the music whilst sitting in the middle of the stage, rather than out front (there's a reason most concert halls arrange their seating at a reasonable distance from the musicians). Nevertheless, the wonderfully energetic and intelligent playing makes up for the middling recording quality.

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