ROGER SMITH

EXTENDED PLAYS

EMANEM 4032

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ROGER SMITH guitar
NEIL METCALFE flute (on 6 only)
 

1 - SUMMER AFTERNOON SEQUENCE 1 - 10:39
2 - SUMMER AFTERNOON SEQUENCE 2 - 3:45
3 - SUMMER AFTERNOON SEQUENCE 3 - 3:46
4 - SUMMER AFTERNOON SEQUENCE 4A - 1:28
5 - SUMMER AFTERNOON SEQUENCE 4B - 1:47
6 - TWO IN THE AFTERNOON - 15:11
7 - EARLY SUMMER MORNING 1 - 13:46
8 - EARLY SUMMER MORNING 2 - 15:23
9 - WINTER'S TAIL - 12:05

Digital London home recordings by IAN VICKERS (1-6) and ROGER SMITH (7-9)
1-6: 1997 JULY 30
7-8: 1993 JULY
9: 1993 DECEMBER or 1994 JANUARY
Total time 78:19

All previously unissued

 

Excerpts from sleeve notes:

The previous Roger Smith solo CD - the highly acclaimed UNEXPECTED TURNS (Emanem 4014) - was somewhat unrepresentative in that it largely featured short pieces. This one makes up for that by being made up of mainly extended performances. If the results are less spectacular, then they are surely more profound.

The opening SUMMER AFTERNOON SEQUENCE was recorded in Ian Vickers' kitchen. A superb ten-minute example of pure guitar playing, was immediately followed by several short pieces that also involve some of Smith's other techniques. After this, the guitarist was joined by flautist Neil Metcalfe for the exceptional duet included here as TWO IN THE AFTERNOON. As well as featuring aspects of guitar playing not heard on the rest of the CD, this performance moves a step beyond the earlier playing on their duo CD S & M (Incus 24).

Smith normally likes to play guitar in his flat in the early hours of the morning. For some time now, Ian Vickers has periodically been lending Smith his portable DAT recorder, so that some of these solitary creations can be captured. The remainder of this CD is taken from such moments, as was the whole of UNEXPECTED TURNS. (That previous CD ended with a classic example of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle - Vickers phoning up to find out how the recording was going!)

The two EARLY SUMMER MORNING pieces were all that were recorded that particular season. If anything can be described as archetypal Roger Smith performances, it is perhaps this pair. The final WINTER'S TAIL, with its unexpected ending, comes from the season that also produced the latter part of UNEXPECTED TURNS.

When reviewing the early CD, some commentators suggested that Smith's playing shows the influences of Derek Bailey and Hans Reichel. Smith did study with Bailey in the early 1970s, but he soon became one of the improvising guitarists to sound the least like the older musician.

On the other hand, Smith has heard virtually none of Reichel's playing. They both arrived on the scene in the early 1970s with their respective styles fairly well formed. If their playing does have something in common, it is probably due to their being influenced by much blues-based material. There are, however, major differences. For instance, Smith plays an unaltered Spanish guitar and does not use any Cagean preparations. He also rarely uses amplification - there is none on this CD (and just one track on the previous CD).

Another difference is that Smith's music has been very sparsely documented. This CD and UNEXPECTED TURNS are steps to rectify that outrageous omission. Smith is perhaps best known for the nearly twenty years he spent as a member of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. Three CDs - LOW PROFILE (Emanem 4031), HOT & COLD HEROES (Emanem 4008) and A NEW DISTANCE (ACTA 8) - document that association. Hopefully, such seminal recordings as the 1975 THREE PULLOVERS (with Steve Beresford and Nigel Coombes) and the 1980 solo album SPANISH GUITAR will also make their way to CD.

Meanwhile, EXTENDED PLAYS adds another vital and enjoyable chapter to the understated story of this most important guitarist.

MARTIN DAVIDSON (1999)

 

Excerpts from reviews:

"Roger Smith is the archetypal unknown musician. He has been active on the scene for ages, his name is mostly associated with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, a London-based free formation of variable geometry with which he was involved for 20 years. And yet, even in the small circles of avant-garde music, he is widely unknown and his playing has been rarely documented on record : three times with the SME, once in trio (with Steve Beresford and Nigel Coombes) and three times as a solo musician, including this recording.

EXTENDED PLAYS presents a complementary side to UNEXPECTED TURNS, Smith's previous solo CD (also on Emanem). Where UNEXPECTED TURNS centred on short and punchy improvisations, EXTENDED PLAYS showcases a more introspective and visceral Smith. Five of the nine improvisations presented here go above the 10 minutes mark. One of them is a duet with Neil Metcalfe on flute (all others are guitar solos).

These recordings were made in Smith's kitchen or at Ian Vickers' home. This warm "at home" feeling is breathable throughout the album. Smith was left alone with his acoustic guitar and a digital tape recorder, without any means of amplification. A man, six strings and a device to record it all. The results are captivating. This music is full of subtle, nuanced emotions : the guitarist reveals to be a very generous man and I would have wanted more. The occasional background noises (cars, birds, breathing), unavoidable in this kind of set-up, take nothing out of the listener's pleasure.

Roger Smith is the guitarist of the human soul. His technique, rich and imaginative, steps very rarely in front of the expression of a more profound musicality. Strongly recommended."

FRANCOIS COUTURE - THE DELIRE ACTUEL MONTHLY REPORT 1999

"EXTENDED PLAYS is Emanem's second release of solo playing by the under-recorded improviser Roger Smith, who's been part of the London free scene since the early 70s. Smith plays a Spanish acoustic, nylon-string guitar, and has crafted a technique quite different from that of his onetime guitar teacher, Derek Bailey! His improvisations are rhythmically fluid (for the most part) and he likes to keep up long stretches of rapid-fire tempos. Also, admirably, Smith followed Bailey's daunting example of developing an arsenal of strange sounds without sticking devices into the fretboard (formidable, when you think about it). Early Summer Morning 1 has a relaxed, uh ... well, early summer morning feeling to it, a sort of casual survey of free-improv techniques, many of them quite pretty, others with real bite (he loves to play insanely fast, repeating note runs very quietly to the point of near-inaudibility -- reminiscent of his work with the latter-day, low volume incarnations of John Stevens' Spontaneous Music Ensemble [cf. their LOW PROFILE CD on the selfsame label]). The Spanish/plasticky timbre acts as a kind of balm, making all the abrupt changes of tempo and rhythm easier to digest, I would think, for the novice listener. Only at a few points is this discarded for a weirder, prepared-thud sound, which is like nuts in the ice cream. This is highly concentrated guitar playing that should be heard by just about everyone."

TONY MOSTROM - EPULSE 2000

"Roger Smith's very lush, close-miked solo improvisations are full of echoes of earlier musics, particularly Flamenco and Blues. His playing is unpredictable while seeming to unfold logically, as if he were following a private train of thought which just happened to be recorded, and he can sound impassioned and meditative at the same time. What fascinated me is that where Derek Bailey's music is the result of eliminating pretty well all traces of the past, Roger Smith invokes the past without contrivance or embarrassment and without irony. And yet it's clear that he is post-Bailey. There is an unforced quality to his music, intimate and unassuming."

RICHARD LEIGH - RESONANCE 2000

"Any English improvising acoustic guitarist will inevitably be lumbered with the Bailey comparison, but even though Smith actually studied with Bailey early in his career, his playing bears only a slight Derek influence. EXTENDED PLAYS follows on from UNEXPECTED TURNS nicely, though the pieces here are fewer and longer, allowing Smith a succession of extended opportunities to display his capabilities. The disc falls into two distinct halves: six tracks from July '97 - five Summer Afternoon Sequences and a nice duo with Metcalfe entitled Two in the Afternoon - which reveal a beautifully sardonic and at times quizzically literate feel to Smith's playing, expressed through spatters of microtonal clinks, flamenco-like embellishments, and vivid finger-plucking, all mixed up with a hearty dose of de-centred English improv clutter 'n' scutter into intelligently crafted yet impishly scampering constructions; and three quite different improvisations - two Early Summer Mornings from July '93, and A Winter's Tail from December '93/January '94 - which are all articulated with touchingly melodic voice, and which in an almost Fahey-like painstakingly architectural style build themselves into very lovely and seemingly uncharacteristic reflective mood pieces. All quite wonderful, and I can only express the wish that Smith'd play live a bit more frequently."

NICK CAIN - OPPROBRIUM 2001

"Roger Smith is a remarkable guitarist, one whose soft dynamics mask an often rough intensity.  He is unique in that his style of totally abstract improvisation sounds largely free of Derek Bailey's influence, although Smith was at one time a student of his.  Smith has a more percussive approach, and one that combines assorted elements, such as flamenco melodicism.  There is a romanticism to Smith's sound that may give the impression, on casual listening, of lightweight forays.  There is nothing lightweight about anything Smith does, though and the close observer cannot help but be impressed with his originality and creativity.  His rich, acoustic sound makes the music accessible on several levels, a sign of its depth and beauty."

STEVEN LOEWY - CADENCE 2000

"Roger Smith is an improvisatory solo guitarist in a British tradition that extends back to Derek Bailey and Fred Frith; however, Smith's approach has none of the forbidding harshness of Bailey's and little of the timbral experimentalism of Frith's. He plays a classical guitar with no amplification and no physical modifications, so his music is very quiet. It's a quietude that draws the listener in by virtue of both the melodic complexity and the attractiveness of Smith's improvisations; though the muted, percussive tone that he often employs can be distracting at times, the melodic patterns themselves (which are often built on tritones) are almost always both intricate and lovely. This program consists primarily of long-form pieces, most named after the time of day in which they were recorded. Two in the Afternoon features Smith in a duet with flutist Neil Metcalfe, whose breathy jazz tone complements Smith's sound nicely; on Early Summer Morning 1, you can hear a bird singing outside while Smith plays. It's one of the more endearing moments on a thoroughly lovely recording."

RICK ANDERSON - ALL-MUSIC GUIDE 2000

"Smith is like a glass of herbal tea. I don't find him obsessively quiet, but he never rattles the windows either, and his basic style - a kind of dislocated flamenco - hardly evokes words like 'brutal' and 'perverse' which have been used to describe him in the past. Where John Russell, maybe his closest comparison, is ferociously unreasonable, Smith proposes an alternative gentility. He likes the sweetness of nylon strings and wooden bodies, and he sees no need to demonise that, even when improvising long stretches of music which are as uncompromised and abstruse in their way as the fiercest music of Bailey and Chadbourne. A very fine disc."

RICHARD COOK - THE WIRE 1999

"Roger Smith plays a Spanish guitar, upon which he improvises freely, somewhat in the manner of Derek Bailey, who was for a time his teacher. Yet EXTENDED PLAYS illustrates that Smith is no imitator, but a freely improvising guitarist with very much his own style. Like Bailey, Smith avoids grooves of any kind, but he is not disdainful of a bit of motivic repetition when it serves his purpose (see the quasi-chording and strumming of Summer Afternoon Sequence 4B). As in the best free improvisation, this is highly personal music. It is gentle and quiet, full of luminous melodic and textural beauty and complex rhythmic variation.

It is said that Bach's music for solo violin and solo cello is so closely attuned to the range of possibilities of those instruments that one can practically smell the resin when hearing them. With Roger Smith it is somewhat the same: strumming, plucking, or gently fingering an extended and understated melody, he quietly explores untapped potentialities for his instrument.

But he is no mere academic. With his own rules and his own vocabulary, he creates music. Sometimes (Summer Afternoon Sequence 4A) he hints at pentatonic progressions. Sunday Afternoon Sequence 1 is a good introduction to the range of his palette, as it undulates softly through an expanse of percussive and melodic territory. Summer Afternoon Sequence 2 and Summer Afternoon Sequence 3 both begin, after the fashion of certain types of Asian music, with just a few notes breaking into the silence, and then larger clusters form, and gradually the intensity builds. (2 ends with waterfall crashes that are about as worked up as Smith gets.) Early Summer Morning 1 and Early Summer Morning Two are more extended examples of this, although there is no simple linear progression: these extended pieces are journeys of many facets. The purity of Smith's sound rings even clearer on Winter's Tail, which ends with a bang - or a series of them. Little ones, but bangs nonetheless.

Flautist Neil Metcalfe joins Smith for the duet Two in the Afternoon, giving the listener to see how carefully - yet with utter originality - Smith accompanies the flute, playing percussively, or contrapuntally, or punctuating, or myriad other effects. In all, a great album of free improvisation. Highly recommended."

ROBERT SPENCER - ALL ABOUT JAZZ 1999

"Guitarist Roger Smith is well known for his long association with the late John Stevens' now legendary, Spontaneous Music Ensemble of which he spent nearly 20 years. Smith is recognised for his ingenuity as a free-improvisational guitarist. Here, on EXTENDED PLAYS we are treated to 9 pieces from this truly amazing, starkly original and somewhat under appreciated guitarist. Throughout, Smith utilises an unamplified acoustic guitar.

Smith is a master improviser and possesses a unique, singular voice. A one-time student of the elder Derek Bailey, Smith incorporates a somewhat different approach. Roger Smith infuses melody into his improvisations although briefly stated, yet as an improvising guitarist, Smith displays enormous technique and seems well versed in various genres. Smith's performances throughout these pieces encompass a wide spectrum of ideas and applications. At times, Smith demonstrates the adept proficiencies of a seasoned flamenco guitarist yet Smith's charter is to deconstruct traditional implementations through his seemingly boundless creative vision. Themes and motifs are fabricated around fragments then expanded upon. Smith also dazzles via amazing speed, complete with "hammer-ons" and rhythmic wit as his ulterior motive lies within the improvisations or compositions as a whole. Smith does not sacrifice musical statements or expressionism in lieu of his noticeably gifted technical abilities. Flautist Neil Metcalfe joins Smith on an interesting piece titled, "Two In The Afternoon".

Complete with the usual candid and informative notes by Martin Davidson, Extended Plays provides us with an enlightening glimpse or perspective of this brilliant and somewhat under recognised guitarist-improviser. * * * *

GLENN ASTARITA - ALL ABOUT JAZZ - 1999

"Roger Smith is an improvisatory solo guitarist in a British tradition that extends back to Derek Bailey and Fred Frith; however, Smith's approach has none of the forbidding harshness of Bailey's and little of the timbral experimentalism of Frith's. He plays a classical guitar with no amplification and no physical modifications, so his music is very quiet. It's a quietude that draws the listener in by virtue of both the melodic complexity and the attractiveness of Smith's improvisations; though the muted, percussive tone that he often employs can be distracting at times, the melodic patterns themselves (which are often built on tritones) are almost always both intricate and lovely. This program consists primarily of long-form pieces, most named after the time of day in which they were recorded. Two in the Afternoon features Smith in a duet with flutist Neil Metcalfe, whose breathy jazz tone complements Smith's sound nicely; on Early Summer Morning 1, you can hear a bird singing outside while Smith plays. It's one of the more endearing moments on a thoroughly lovely recording."

RICK ANDERSON - ALL-MUSIC GUIDE 1999

 

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