Emanem / 4032
Roger Smith / guitar, Neil Matcalfe / flute, one track only
Roger Smith is a lovely player; luxuriant, mellow and lush, with his full harmonies drifting between jazz and classicism. Would it surprise anyone, then, to learn that he’s a core member of the second generation of British free improvisors, a collaborator with some of the allegedly harshest players around and an ex-student of Derek Bailey’s?
Well, it might, or then again it might not. The free improv scene has long been associated with unremitting brutalism of sound, extremes of dynamic, utter refusal of anything which might be labelled “conservative” or “reactionary”, a relentless vanguardism in which only the most anti-traditional survive. That picture is almost wholly incorrect, and to prove it people like Roger Smith are all over the place.
Not that Smith is derivative; he’s drawing on traditions, which is different. Apart from the odd gesture, there’s not so much jazz here as flamenco and classical music, the traditions most closely associated with the nylon-string he plays. He uses extended techniques but centres them, fittingly, on a very conventional technique of free strokes and rest strokes. One almost imagines him playing with the guitar on his left knee.
This is no chilly concert-hall recital, however. Perhaps it helps to know that Smith likes to play in the small hours of the morning, although these pieces were mostly recorded in the afternoon, but there’s something very mellow about this music which suits a late-night listen. However percussive his approach — and there are the inevitable Baileyisms here, of course, with strings popping, buzzing and slapping against the fingerboard — it always feels refined, controlled, thoughtful. Oh, and the track with Neil Metcalfe is very nice too (though the sound is a little strange). Metcalfe is a pretty straight, Dolphyesque flautist with some unexpected twists and turns in his playing; a near-perfect companion for Smith, then, and their fifteen-minute duet is well worth the hearing.
A virtuoso with a lively and very generous imagination, Roger Smith has created here a third solo CD which is a pleasure to sit back and listen to. Guitarists will be impressed (we’re always impressed by this kind of thing) but virtually anyone who likes the sound of the classical guitar will get a kick out of these pieces. Richard Cochrane