Eye of the Storm
Milo Fine, Cadence, August 1993, page 87
Atmospheric Debris or “Saturated Sound-check”/ Constellations, 98 Degrees Fahrenheit/ Conversation of Orchids / Fire in the Old Growth / Traveling Nimbo-cumulous / Viola Coaster Rainbows / Flash Flood In Downtown Decatur / Tone Rays / Oceanic Sleep / Free Radical / Our Changing Weather’ / Eye of the Storm. 11/91, 12/91, 4/12/92, 6/7/92
The title of this CD and the riveting music therein suggests that Smith, after a period of readjustment and re-evaluation, is in the thick of recapturing the imaginative take-no-prisoners flair that, on the basis of public documentation, marked her pre-’89 efforts. Most of her work here revolves around a specific vocabulary and a limited number of strategies – grinding glissandi, which often involve note clusters and/or tone-overtone combinations, sawing sounds, crying plaintive notes and lines embellished with 1/4 and 1/2 tone inflections, and regular use of two-note riffs from which she extrapolates freely. (There’s nary a “normally-toned” passage to be found though she comes close a couple of times.) In tandem with the deep sense of emotional commitment and nuance which permeates these pieces, it is clear that Smith is not only searching, but finding as well. Her vocal obbligato, for instance, which was in the past distracting if not downright irritating, is here less demonstrative and much more integrated into her muse as an effective accessory; sometimes only a slight shadow or coloration. And though vocals are credited only on specific tracks, they actually appear nearly throughout the disk, and in a particularly striking context on the audio verite opener where Smith and Preston Beck converse on technical matters behind the violist’s far-reaching-warm-up.
As for “Our Changing Weather” with long-time partner Williams, their interaction, coming on the heels of an extended viola interlude, yields much less discursive results than that of Travellers (6/91, p.67), but is less surprising than their work of years past, as the guitarist once again all but abandons flights of fancy for grounded metric rhythms and easily definable harmonic progressions. But that doesn’t stop Smith from taking flight, and thus demonstrating clearly that repose in the eye of the storm can inspire and catalyze the creative spirit.