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[one final note]
Damon Short Discography
by Derek Taylor
Damon Short has been a stalwart presence on the Chicago jazz scene for decades. A percussionist possessing ears finely attuned to jazz in its many forms and permutations he also harbors abiding interests in classical and 'world' music systems. Since the early 1990s he's also curated a website designed not only to describe his own musical pursuits, but those of other musicians he admires as well. Most notable among these additional entries are engrossing essays on Walt Dickerson and Cecil Taylor.
Gigging actively in various aggregations over the years Short's thankfully found the resources and time to record. In early 2001 he started his own CDR label Depth Perception in an effort to circulate archival material to a much wider audience. The brief capsule reviews that follow are intended as a primer into his ever-growing discography and hopefully prompt reader interest in investigating the man and his various past and ongoing projects out.
Opening things up in the absence of a piano, Freeman's vibes lend an atmosphere of autonomy from strict chordal constraints while still tethering a strong melodic center. Short deftly moves from firm but flexible accompaniment to the occasional solo all the while keeping a varied rhythmic pulse in conjunction with Steele's lightly amplified strings. As the frontline Burdelik and Weiser make a good match and the saxophonist in particular manages absorbing solos on nearly all of the tracks. His spiraling Dolphy-like statement on "Ascendant," is one of the many that test melodic boundaries while remaining true to the structural integrity of Short's arrangements. Appropriately enough Steele also takes a substantial amount of space on this Jimmy Garrison penned tune paving a path that Short adds further rhythmic cobbles to during a set-ending solo.
Interestingly enough the arrangements are where the set falls somewhat shy of an unmitigated success. Too often the tracks slip into the predictability and safety of heads-solos successions. Curiously it's on the two originals "Cycle Times Two," formulated by fellow musician Tom Cosh, and Short's own "Boo-Jee" where the band seems to take the most chances and to greatest effect. In sum and as the cardinal entry in Short's discography the albums hold up comparatively well against their future brethren and both discs hint invitingly at the further freedoms he would later explore. Sadly the quintet's longevity was short-lived as Short and Freeman soon skipped town effectively ending the band.
Scea's versatile flute also advances the guiding theme on "Refractions" slicing through a verdant hedge of crosshatched lines cultivated by his partners. His throaty bass clarinet on the ostinato-forwarded "Shards" is similarly adept at cutting to the melodic chase while Smoker's rambunctious slurs favor a more effusive bent. Kohut vamps diligently, playing the role of anchor, but also incorporating creative stops that offset several segments toward the piece's close where the action seems to stagnate a shade.
The obvious opus of the date is the concluding title suite. A multi-sectional work broken into a series of harmonic and melodic variants on a twelve-tone row, the piece showcases Short's affection for classical forms in tandem with jazz-based improvisation. Shultz and Newell join the ranks bolstering the group to sextet size, while Yanda sits out and the band benefit's from the expanded instrument palette. Kohut's agile pizzicato structures are an early draw that eventually defers to unison horn riffing and volatile breaks from Short. Over the suite's industrious duration the band assembles and disbands a myriad of component groupings including a particularly engrossing duet interlude for Smoker and Short. The sextet resumes at full muster for the finale tying up the tangle of loose ends unraveled by the various improvisations into a satisfying theme denouement.
Generously portioned the compositions leave plenty of room for solo and communal ingenuity. Highlights to my ears include the gradual smoky groove of "Anesthesiology" advanced by the lurching throb of Kohut's bass and the leader's effervescent cymbal accents, and the subtle complexities of the group's rundown of the Ducal warhorse "Mood Indigo." Short stays the course throughout, delivering fill in the blank flourishes and steady pulse fortifications whenever the music seems on the verge of drifting. His fine-spun stick work is a marvel of sensuous strength. If there's a downside to the disc it manifests in the overall length of the set, which clocks in at well over an hour. Several of the pieces could have been trimmed of some fat, but as they stand the tracks are well stocked with bountiful and creative interplay.
Schizophrenic variations of the disc's title track paint agnate, but ultimately divergent portraits, the first centering on Shultz and Burdelik (on soprano) and the second featuring Beer with a broad range of embellishments from McLean. Short delivers streamlined statements on each one that uncannily balance propulsion with restraint. His exposition on "Butterfly Decoy" is similarly coded, but delivered with what sounds like hands or heavy mallets. McLean's fretwork is a curious blend of plectrum-sounded lines and strange tone-shifted pops and sputters, but in either guise his creations always seem to fit snugly into the framework of the interplay.
"Fly in the Ointment" builds off an underlying rhythmic tension conveyed through Short's quiet, but bustling traps, but loses some steam over its long duration. Burdelik's frothy alto workout during the track's first half exudes a healthy virility, but McLean's string twisting follow-up, awash in luminous echo proves less decisive. Coming full circle with "Anthem" the sextet treads emotive straits akin to those on the disc's opener starting slowly, but gaining force. Burdelik doesn't seem to want it to end and burns through a solo on tenor that notches a new peak for him in terms of creative ebullience.
The title track (composed by Scea) is completely different in sentiment cycling through airy, almost balladic patterns floated by Scea's flute and Shultz's rounded smears that inoculate the ears for the impending somber abstraction of "Figure 37." (Scea) Scea's scabrous tenor serrates the final minutes of the piece worrying a frayed vertical phrase to the point of near implosion. Shultz seems similarly agitated snorting and scuffling in the lowest registers of his brass. The kinks are fully ironed out on the spacious "Song Not Heard," a piece that experiments with Eastern modalities and offers a chance to hear Scea's bass clarinet trade in a contemplative colloquy with Shultz's muted brass. Short's rolling patterns work in concert with Kupersmith's resonating bow to further elevate the meditative mood. Scea's switch to alternately lyrical and screaming flute delivers the final clincher.
Out of necessity the music resides more in the impressionist side of the spectrum with familiar melodic and rhythmic guideposts revealing themselves only on occasion and the duo instead favoring freely associative interaction. Scea makes frequent use of vocal effects in his sound production, whispering, sputtering and shouting into his reeds and flute sometimes with a ferocity that borders on the frightening. Short gladly takes on the frequent role of colorist, inking and outlining with sticks, mallets, bows and hands. The pieces that wed tenor saxophone and drum kit, like "Impending Downpour" (Scea) and the title track, are among the most accessible of the program and their inclusion keeps matters from moving irrevocably into the realm of the abstruse. The title track, a post-Coltrane blowout that has Scea screaming into the altissimo range and Short beating out a muscular commentary below him is just the poultice needed for ears irritated by the uncompromising challenge of the duo's more quixotic wanderings.
Also included are two vibraphone solos by Short, "Arachnophilia" and "Wahzo 3," each one a micro-study in the instrument's tonal properties and possibilities and a clear indication of the drummer's affection for Walt Dickerson. Shultz makes a guest appearance on two cuts "MLC" and "Drop That Name" extending the timbral parameters without out compromising the careful balance between the principal actors in the drama. Stacked against Short's previous outings this disc is an altogether different animal. Demanding in its abstractionist tendencies and abandonment of the usual underpinning architectures of his earlier work it suggests that his musical mind is staunchly averse to catering to expectation. As a milestone in a continuing career this project also points to intriguing new directions for future excursions.
Acme Monastery (Depth Perception)
Tracks: Volume One: Hackensack (7:45) / Bye-Ya (5:47) / Straight No Chaser (7:53) / Cycle Times Two (9:16) / Ascendant (11:39). Volume Two: Brilliant Corners (11:50) / Monk's Mood (10:09) / Worry Later (7:27) / Boo-Jee (10:42).
Personnel: Chuck Burdelik (alto saxophone) / Billy Weiser (trumpet & flugelhorn) / Mike Freeman (vibes) / Mark Steele (bass) / Damon Short (drums).
Recorded: August 11, 1981, Chicago, IL.
All of the Above (Southport)
Tracks: Then As Now (6:11) / Melting Crystals (11:13) / Refraction (10:06) / Shards (14:15) / All of the Above (suite) (30:01).
Personnel: Paul Smoker (trumpet) / Paul Scea (tenor saxophone, flute, bass clarinet) / Larry Kohut (bass) / Jim Yanda (guitar) / Damon Short (percussion) / Ryan Shultz (bass trumpet) / Jeff Newell (alto & soprano saxophones).
Recorded: June 30 & July 1, 1990, Evanston, IL.
Third Prize (Depth Perception)
Tracks: 917 (10:04) / Anesthesiology (11:05) / The Brink (6:42) / Gen(eric) Lullaby (6:56) / Old School (7:49) / Mood Indigo (6:17) / Sketch for Southend (15:17) / Somewhere (6:00).
Personnel: Ryan Shultz (bass trumpet) / Mark Tuttle (tenor, alto & soprano saxophones) / Jeff Beer (trumpet) / Larry Kohut (bass) / Damon Short (drums).
Recorded: February 2-3, 1992, Morton Grove, IL.
Airplay (Depth Perception)
Tracks: Breakup (12:59) / Airplay (Up) (9:20) / Butterfly Decoy (8:54) / Fly in the Ointment (12:51) / Airplay (After Hours) (9:08) / Anthem (12:31).
Personnel: Chuck Burdelik (tenor, alto & soprano saxophones, flute) / Ryan Shultz (bass trumpet) / John McLean (guitar) / Larry Kohut (bass) / Jeff Beer (trumpet) / Damon Short (drums).
Recorded: October 11, 1993, January 10, 1994 and February 9, 1994, Morton Grove, IL.
Removable Media (Southport)
Tracks: Toll Free (7:06) / Removable Media (7:26) / Figure 37 (11:49) / Back From Lunch (8:48) / Raze Al (4:32) / Song Not Heard (11:39) / Swallowing the Sun (4:32) / Bullets (9:11).
Personnel: Paul Scea (reeds) / Damon Short (drums) / Ryan Shultz (bass trumpet) / Noel Kupersmith (bass).
Recorded: March 6, 1997, Evanston, IL.
Balance of Power (Southport)
Tracks: Zero Generation Language (7:32) / Arachnophilia (3:42) / 2WD1 (4:27) / Breath of Antarctica (5:47) / MLC (3:07)* / Impending Downpour (5:30) / Collapsible Coordinates (3:41) / Home Improvement (4:22) / Homage (2:00) / Village Politics (4:12) / Balance of Power (3:48) / Wahzo 3 (2:27) / Drop That Name (4:37)* / Beaches (4:20).
Personnel: Paul Scea (flutes, bass clarinet, soprano & tenor saxophones, piano strings, voice) / Damon Short (vibes, drums, cymbals, percussion, piano, voice) / Ryan Shultz (bass trumpet*).
Recorded: March 7, 1997, Evanston, IL.
Damon's Web Site: http://www.damonshort.com