Some genres of music require, or at least center on, certain instruments being played in certain ways. String quartets, rock bands, traditional jazz lineups, and so on are examples. What makes free improvisation an unusually refreshing stylistic choice is that it can be performed with literally any combination of instrumentation and styles. Case in point, Gusts Against Particles is a set of duets between guitarist Joe Morris and bassist Damon Smith that is both a compelling listen but also serves to buck the traditional music-making process.
Morris and Smith jump into each of these five lengthy pieces with little preplanned structure or melody. Instead, they feed back and forth against each other and let the music evolve with a stark lack of repetition. Morris’s playing features his typical spikiness and angularity, mostly picking clean notes on an acoustic. Smith trades off between plucking and bow work, the latter being both forceful and mournful at times. They fill the air with notes played at a brisk pace, carrying an overall sound that normally would require more than just two musicians. But they also both employ extended techniques in and about these efforts, with tapping, squeaking, rattling, and scratching.
Like the best free improvisation, Gusts Against Particles is nothing short of exhilarating. It lends itself to active listening, with one never quite sure where it is going to go. Its high points, of which there are many, is when Morris and Smith both appear to be independently soloing, but in a fashion that somehow works together and is complementary.
This is not the first meeting between Morris and Smith, but it does represent their first recording as a duo and leaves you wanting more. Gusts Against Particles will be released on May 15 by the new Open Systems Records imprint.