This is a collective date but, as I was listening to the mid afternoon sound checks, I was reminded of other Paul Smoker (Muncie, IN, 1941) dates. I’ve often thought of Paul’s creative efforts as large music. I was sitting two rooms away, working on other projects, and still the warm-ups distracted me: the suggestion of a bigger group, Paul’s orchestration and substance, welcomed by Lou Grassi’s [Summit, NJ, 1947] rich roll-around drumming. Other first impressions were that Ken Filiano (Patchogue, NY, 1952) sounded more demonstrably present and, although this is their first recording together, how well matched Paul and Bob Magnuson (Jersey City, NJ, 1956) are as a blowing pair.
The group arrived in the early afternoon after playing a gig in Rochester (N.Y.), a very successful gig according to Paul. The premise of this date was to display some of Bob’s, Paul’s and Ken’s writing and to utilize the technical strengths of four artists who excel in just that: the traditional techniques of musicianship. They also happen to be uncompromising and inventive improvisers. It’s more than reading and blowing a few perfunctory, cliché choruses - there’s substance in these lines, as your ears will attest.
The group began hitting by early evening, opening with Bob’s Coast West, extending both the geography and the tradition. The first take, while technically passable and sporting a very nice bass solo, seemed a bit tentative in the horn attack. On take 2 (issued here) Ken nailed it again and the whole group played up to spirit.
Next up was Paul’s Up in Evan’s Room and is a typical bravura Smoker concept and execution. Evan is Paul’s adolescent son and a budding percussionist, so the solos appropriately open with a drum feature. Before the take, Bob asked, “Is Evan’s room a mess? So I can get an imagery.” Paul responded with, “Yeah, it is. It’s pretty much of a mess.” An impassioned mess it would seem.
Bob’s I Have None affects a tinge of Ellington along with a bit of Swahili between Lou and Paul. A fifty year leap perhaps, but only an artistic nanosecond.
Ken’s Soluble (for Albert Ayler) followed after a break and moves the ambiance into the more reflectively abstract. I’ve been listening to Ken, live and recorded, for about 20 years and I think his work on this session and the one preceding it (CIMP 218) reflects a more demonstrative and assertive player. He’s always had the chops; now he is the greater sculptor. “Soluble” is one of those evolving epics that one gets caught up in to the point of not noticing the morphing of new sections until they are well established. Bob Magnuson has a particularly nice oblique tenor solo. This is indeed large music.
Paul’s ballad, Beverly, was next and commences with a solo introduction which surely Bunny Berigan would appreciate, along with Hoagy Carmichael and Coleman Hawkins. And if that’s a touch of Johnny Hodges you think you hear in Bob’s alto solo, you just might be right.
Gwendolyn the Cat brings things back uptempo before recoiling into simultaneous multi-tempos that had my listening in and out of focus, a bit confusing but also with a deft organic flow in its labyrinth.
A break followed “Gwendolyn” and, for the last set of the evening, Bob’s riffy Hold On, Hold On was the lead-off. Again, Paul is a marvel of invention, lifting off the fine rhythm platform provided by Lou and Ken. This eventually segues into what is almost a simultaneous duet with Lou and Ken. As with so much of the music on this night, the separation of the four parts into the integrated whole is a fascinating strategy.
At the end of “Hold On,” Ken said he was finished for the night, having been in the crossfire of Bob (to his front), Lou (to his right), and Paul (to his left). However, Paul insisted that he have a go at Arcing, saying, “I wrote it, but it’s Ken’s piece.” Ken protested that he couldn’t hear anymore, but Paul said Ken didn’t have to hear anybody as he was the piece. Paul cajoled with a sadistic smile, and was obviously quite intent on running it down. Ken agreed to give it a shot and kicked off the final burn in a manner that was the antithesis of perfunctory. On “Arcing”’s conclusion, Paul said, “When you get to the point you think there ain’t anything left, you find all sorts of treasures.”
The first night ended before 11 p.m., with 10 complete takes, 8 of them up to CIMP’s standards. Believe what you hear.
The next morning’s listening confirmed that not only was the night’s work worthy but, because of its quality and quantity, we were well into a second CD and still there was prepared material to expose. By 10:30 a.m., we were back recording. They opened with Barefoot and Bassist, a group improv with a very real structure. After 40 odd years, this sub-genre can be as definable as the styles preceding it and still deliver the magic and surprise.
Monk Key Business followed, a high energy piece (Bob’s instruction was to get this boiling after the theme) that is notable to me not so much for the triangulate energy between Bob, Lou, and Paul, but for the contrasting bass patterns/structure that Ken juxtaposes on it all and which opens up the whole.
The final piece of this session was Ken’s Tangram, a piece that combines the ambiance of the third stream and the third world on its meander through Filianoland.
And then it was done: committed for the and by the committed.
Robert D. Rusch – 3/7/00