..... Live Volume I .....



Audio Samples

Wide-ranging, yet accessible jazz duo of free improvisations with piano, saxophones, flutes, clarinets, drum set, steel pans, vocals, and percussion.

Hommage a Gismonti
Limbo Eruption
Pan Sweet
Heavy in My Chest
Endorphin Holiday
Sno Peas
Poppin’ the Quiff with Crab n’ Jack
Standing on Fish

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After their 1997 debut of all free improvisations, "Train to Tourmaline," the duo took their empathic approach to realtime composition on the road for a series of six concerts, that featured a stage full of different instruments...

Michael Smolens - piano, voice, double-second steel pans, log drum
Sheldon Brown - soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, drum set


When Sheldon was in my "Kriya Sextet" (now an Octet) from 1981 to 1991, we would always do a ballad or waltz to change the pace in the first set, and a free improvisation in the second. My producer at the time said to me after a Yoshi's performance, "You know, your duos with Sheldon don't get the loudest applause, just the longest. Think about it." ("Yoshi's Jazz House is the West Coast's premiere jazz concert venue.)

What's funny is that because of the number of instruments we used --18 in all--it actually took longer to set-up than one of my bigger groups! The whole stage was just filled with instruments, and all of the mics used to record the concerts as well. (All of these mics and stands create some very intriguing 'scaffolding' which appear in the CD photos).The only structure we used was to determine the order and combination of instruments (or voice) and to throw in a couple of 'tunes' for contrast from all of the free improvisations. The fact that Sheldon Brown, known primarily for his great sax and bass clarinet playing, is also a very good drummer gave us tremendous flexibility as a duo.

The truth is that our "free improvisations" often sound more like tunes than one might expect. I think my exposure to and study with Art Lande was a huge influence, in addition to Sheldon and I both being experienced jazz composers who embrace many musical influences, some from different cultures. Basically, use structure to help tell stories for the listener. For us, free improvisation is literally "free" to be whatever the moment calls for, no matter how inside or outside, familiar or unpredicable. (My exposure to and study with Art Lande was a huge influence.) One fan described us as "a couple who just kept thinking the same thoughts, nearly at the same time."

And the 'vibe' of the audience was very important to us, more than would be the case if we just playing all jazz tunes. In fact, at every concert I would create a spoken word piece based on an audience suggestion; there are examples of this in Volume II and III. (An outrageous improv about a priest with a prosthetic arm almost made into the last volume, while a twisted hommage to Cindy Crawford can be heard on Volume II).


"Rooted in the modern jazz of the late '60s, their music boasts the eclecticism and expansiveness of the spacious ECM sound of the '70s, but their classical as well as West African, Irish, and North Indian influences put their freely improvised duets in original realms beyond any identifiable genres."

—Derk Richardson "Critics' Choice" from East Bay Express


All compositions copyright ©2003-2004 Michael Smolens and Sheldon Brown,
except "Hommage a Gismonti" (by Michael Smolens)
and "Sno Peas" (by Phil Markowitz, Solar Hawk Music, arranged by M. Smolens).
©2003-2004 Second Sight Music.