Live Volume I .....
yet accessible jazz duo of free improvisations with piano, saxophones,
flutes, clarinets, drum set, steel pans, vocals, and percussion.
Heavy in My Chest
Poppin the Quiff with Crab
Standing on Fish
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...
Smolens - piano, voice, double-second steel pans,
Sheldon Brown - soprano and tenor saxophones,
bass clarinet, drum set
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).
CRITICS' CHOICE REVIEW OF
THE MICHAEL SMOLENS/SHELDON BROWN DUO
"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
Derk Richardson "Critics' Choice" from East
compositions copyright ©2003-2004 Michael Smolens and Sheldon
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.