Due out February 2, 2024 via Pyroclastic Records, the album features a brilliant ensemble with James Brandon Lewis, Nate Wooley, Anna Webber, Shahzad Ismaily, Oscar Noriega, Shara Lunon, Jennifer Choi, Kyle Armbrust and Michael Nicolas.
“A go-to percussionist for experimental jazz and new-music ensembles, Ches Smith gravitates toward edgy outfits… while displaying a musical personality as detail-oriented as it is sweepingly ornate.” Steve Futterman, The New Yorker
“The nondescript term ‘drummer’ doesn’t get near the chemistry of earworm hooks, sharp-end jazz innovation and global-musical openness of New York percussionist/composer Ches Smith.” John Fordham, The Guardian
Drummer, percussionist and composer Ches Smith has built his career on journeying beyond genre, venturing onto new musical shores from which the old worlds of style and influence can barely be glimpsed. His most recent projects include the widely acclaimed 2021 album Path of Seven Colors by his ensemble We All Break, which merged Haitian Vodou music with progressive compositional and improvisational approaches, garnering Smith the top spot on The Guardian’s Best Jazz Albums of the Year list and a #7 ranking on the 2021 Arts Fuse critics’ poll; and Interpret It Well, an exploratory outing teaming guitar master Bill Frisell and Smith’s trio with pianist Craig Taborn and violist Mat Maneri, which weaved together the sound of four brilliant individual voices and placed ninth on the 2022 Arts Fuse poll.
Smith’s new album, Laugh Ash, is perhaps his most startling and remarkable to date, a breathtakingly original set of music whose touchstones are myriad but ultimately meaningless in the face of an inventive and stunningly unfamiliar expression. Due out February 2, 2024 via Pyroclastic Records, the album makes thrilling use of disorientation and juxtaposition: starkly beautiful chamber melodies coexist with synthetic rhythms, explosive bursts of improvisation with elusive song forms, austere ambience with thundering complexity. Eclectic, undoubtedly, but in a paradoxical way that is defiantly cohesive while never losing sight of the fact that none of it should be.
In addition to Smith on drums, electronics and an array of percussion, the band includes vocalist Shara Lunon, flutist Anna Webber, clarinetist Oscar Noriega, tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, trumpeter Nate Wooley, violinist Jennifer Choi, violist Kyle Armbrust, cellist Michael Nicolas, and bassist/keyboardist Shahzad Ismaily – each one a singular voice, composer and/or bandleader in their own right, straddling the realms of jazz, new music and sounds outside of genre.
Laugh Ash is laced with touchstones from throughout Smith’s widely varied output – his work with fellow jazz innovators like John Zorn, Tim Berne, Nels Cline, Mary Halvorson and Kris Davis; his avant-rock excursions with Mr. Bungle, Xiu Xiu and Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog; his experiences in contemporary classical music, from studies at Mills College with William Winant to performances with pioneering minimalist Terry Riley; and the experimentation with electronic music in his solo project Congs for Brums. But much like his use of Haitian traditions in We All Break, Smith has absorbed those inspirations so deeply that his striking compositions virtually erase any links to their reference points. Hints of cyclical minimalist composition and pulsating 808 beats, blistering extreme metal and skronky free jazz all emerge from this bracing mélange, but never in isolation, never in a way we expect, never in the least bit predictably.
Opening track “Minimalism” builds on a Steve Reich-ian Moog arpeggio with Lunon’s insistent, Krautrockmeets-80s-hip-hop vocal. The intricate cyclical patterns of “Remote Convivial” suddenly explode into a free-funk outburst resembling Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time. The stark chamber music of “Sweatered Webs (Hey Mom)” morphs into a deep pocket bass-drums hookup with Ismaily drawing on Smith’s absorption of Haitian rhythms. Sample-based insanity overtakes “The Most Fucked,” while “Exit Shivers” ends the album on atmospheric notes of doom metal and monolithic contemporary classical stridency.
As divergent as these concepts may seem on the surface, for Smith they seem to find some common ground through the idea of rhythm, cycle and repetition. “My first instrument is the drums, and that always leaves a strong footprint on how I hear music,” he explains. “As I was writing the music, it kept feeling like there was a strong pull towards that notion of rhythm-ing it out.”
The juxtapositions and collisions that arise from those instincts lead throughout the album to moments of genuine surprise and disconcertedness. The title Laugh Ash suggests the obliterating power of real, cathartic laughter, which is a very real possibility from Smith’s music, despite its powerfully serious intent. “Genuine laughter arrives unannounced,” he writes in the liner notes, “causing a fissure where time stops. If the bout of laughter is severe, you may find yourself at the point of disintegration.”
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© Bianca Clarcidor
California-born, New York-based drummer, percussionist and composer Ches Smith has been hailed by The New York Times as “one of the wiliest drummers on the experimental scene.” Smith’s singular voice and adroit perspective have led to collaborations with Marc Ribot, Tim Berne, John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, Dave Holland, David Torn, Mary Halvorson, Terry Riley, Craig Taborn, Kris Davis, Trevor Dunn, John Tchicai, Xiu Xiu, Secret Chiefs 3, Theory of Ruin, Mr. Bungle, and many others. Smith’s recent releases include Interpret It Well, featuring legendary guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist Craig Taborn and violist Mat Maneri; and Path of Seven Colors by We All Break, Smith’s project fusing boundary-stretching jazz and traditional Haitian Vodou music.
2024 Pyroclastic projects include albums from David Leon, Ches Smith, Josh Modney, Ingrid Laubrock, Patricia Brennan and Kris Davis.
Pianist-composer Kris Davis founded Pyroclastic Records in 2016. By supporting artists in the dissemination of their work, Pyroclastic empowers emerging and established artists to continue challenging conventional genrelabeling within their fields. Pyroclastic also seeks to galvanize and grow a creative community, providing opportunities, supporting diversity and expanding the audience for noncommercial art. Its albums often feature artwork by prominent visual artists—Julian Charriére, John Chamberlain, Gabriel de la Mora, Dike Blair, David Klamen and Raymond Pettibon among recent examples.
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Pyroclastic Records – PR 31 – Recorded April 2023 Release date February 2, 2024