Gig review – Ches Smith trio, The Vortex, 11 July 2016

The main attraction for me in going to this gig at London’s Vortex was the pianist, Craig Taborn.  Taborn is a fantastic pianist and keyboard player and you can bet that whatever he’s involved in will be interesting.  On that basis I bought The Bell, a trio album under the leadership of drummer and vibes player, Ches Smith, featuring Taborn and Mat Maneri on viola.  The album is exactly what you’d expect from the German label, ECM.  Far from hard-swinging, the sound of the album as a whole is a complex and harmonically and rhythmically dense one.  It’s not an easy listen and, to be honest, for this reason I’d not invested much time in listening to it before going to the gig.  Click here to sample the album and here for a video of the band in action.

Ches Smith - The Bell

Seeing and hearing bands live is always a different experience to listening to them through a speaker or headphones.  There’s something about the process of creating music, especially jazz, unfolding in front of you which can’t always be captured on record.  The music that Ches Smith has created and brought to life by his trio can best be appreciated live, especially in an intimate venue like the Vortex.  It was a real pleasure to see the band build complex soundscapes from a simple, rhythmic or melodic idea.  The process felt dramatic and the audience was certainly wrapped up in the drama.  Already aware of Taborn’s talents, I was impressed by Smith himself, especially when sitting behind the drum kit.  Maneri, for his part, was armed with an array of effects, including an octave pedal which his viola went through, creating thunderous, awesome-sounding bass lines which would be the envy of Metallica.

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(Photo: Nick Skates)

I’m listening to the Bell as I type this blog (so not entirely focussed on the music!).  I’m appreciating it more than I did before but it’s still not a patch on the live experience.  If you get the chance to see this band, I’d recommend it.