There's something very endearing about the reverence in which Eugene Chadbourne holds the free jazz greats a generation (or half generation) his senior. His recordings with Charles Tyler or Frank Lowe, for example, or appearances with Oliver Lake or Cooper-Moore, show him — well, on his best behavior would be a ridiculous thing to say, but certainly putting on his best game face. And this 2011 session with percussionist Warren Smith is no different.
The nine tracks on Odd Time (the title comes from a book on rhythm Smith gave Chadbourne in 1977, although this studio recording is their first time playing as a duo) include instrumentals, improvisations, and some of Chadbourne's songs, generally from his little red book of political tunes. Of the latter category "Checkers of Blood" is one of his finer lyrics, using the game as an arms race metaphor.
The instrumental cuts perhaps outshine the songs. The interplay between Chadbourne and Smith is as solid as any either player has had. Smith is a subtle and enormously inventive player, fully capable of country shuffle when Chadbourne's songs call for that, but elsewhere makes some choices as odd as they are perfect, at one point spending a remarkably long time with his attention focused on a tympani and executed so exactly that it doesn't stand out, it just works. Chadbourne, meanwhile, is likely to put so much energy into a single banjo or guitar string that the vibration seems to lift the home stereo speakers.
Those qualities are only exemplified by a strange and dynamic job at recording and mixing the record. The lower pitches of the banjo and drums are sometimes so resonant that it seems as if microphones were placed inside them. As a result, the music sounds at once up-front and impenetrable, creating a strange soundfield which doesn't eclipse the energy of the meeting. It's a suitably unusual recording for an unusually suitable duo.
Comments and Feedback: