Ches Smith

Interpret It Well

A firebrand drummer with Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, Mary Halvorson’s trio/quintet/octet, Ben Goldberg’s quintet and the experimental band Xiu Xiu, drummer-vibraphonist Ches Smith is joined once again by his like-minded colleagues Craig Taborn on piano and Mat Maneri on viola (they teamed up on Smith’s 2016 ECM debut, The Bell). It’s the addition of special guest guitarist Bill Frisell, with all of his effects pedals and loopers in tow, that pushes things into a far more caustic zone than the ethereal and fairly delicate The Bell.

There are moments here — the minimalist opener “Trapped,” the dark soundscape “Morbid” or the brief closer “Deppart,” each with the leader contributing sparse patterns on vibes — where the ensemble takes a gentler approach, exploring space and lyricism with zen-like restraint. It’s when Smith sits behind the kit and unleashes, as he does on “Mixed Metaphor,” “Interpret It Well” and “I Need More,” that things get decidedly more intense.

The intrepid improvisers find plenty of room within the repeating motifs to explore freely, often with reckless abandon. For Frisell, that means lots of reverb-soaked arpeggios, sped-up and backwards looping and the kind of distortion-laced fusillades we haven’t heard from him in quite a while (particularly on “Clear Major,” “I Need More” and the marathon title track). Those who have been pining for the guitarist’s more ferocious edge, a nasty quality that harkens back to his Naked City days, will savor the skronk factor here.