Henry Kaiser / Damon Smith – Relations

(Balance Point Acoustics)

Damon Smith’s insistence for Henry Kaiser to bring a fondly remembered Monteleone 7-string guitar to the recording sessions that originated Relations is understandable. In Kaiser’s hands, the instrument becomes a precious crafted mechanism emitting scintillating harmonics, even if he operated it with a chainsaw. If you add the anonymous 1934 double bass manipulated by Smith, whose voice is equally rich in upper partials with ancient wood scents, the album’s value is confirmed through a combination of ear-balming, affectingly resonant acoustic timbres. Naturally, instant conceptions and designs expressed by the players are also pretty distinguished, a canorous feel of legitimacy predominating notwithstanding the difficulties. This might (partially) convince those who still ostracize the fine art of conscious improvisation from their world of consonant-at-all-cost resolutions and stale progressions. Remember: a beautiful tone goes very far when the player is sensible enough.

So, let’s pick a few notable moments. “Skimming Into The Milk” is perhaps the clearest example of the vividly descriptive character that permeates the duo’s interaction. Both the raspy and the crystalline in the timbral palette contribute to a picture of relatively animated reflectiveness, as in a conversation between a middle-aged monk and a kid just thrown out of a basketball game, ending with the two singing a celestially detuned invocation. “Annoyance Is The Joke That Drives The Music” scrambles the circuits of understatement by mixing irregular strumming, convulsive picking and intense rub-and-hit with the usual expertise, ultimately conjuring up the idea of a somewhat disjointed fracas before reaching calmer waters. “Recognition Of The Other” (something which is sorely missing in today’s behavioral patterns, alas) starts with composure and profundity, then sees a vertical fall into dissonant Derek Bailey territory, to return in peace at the end. The guitarist hosted by this writer’s soul almost shed a tear after hearing totally tolerable clusters and involuntary radiant chords born from two men who invariably choose the right things to say. Often starting from silence.