..... Live Volume III .....



Audio Samples


Wide-ranging, yet accessible jazz duo of free improvisations with piano, saxophones, flutes, clarinets, drum set, steel pans, vocals, and percussion.

Feral Parrot
The Dervish at the Door
Return of the Squeak
Jumpin’ Into the Whisper
Hostile Drums/Singing Snails
Astringent Assumption
The Master is Under the Gate
A Serpent’s Tale


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After their 1997 debut of all free improvisations, "Train to Tourmaline," the duo took their empathic approach to realtime composition on the road for a series of six concerts, that featured a stage full of different instruments...


Michael Smolens - piano, voice, spoken word / narration, alto flute, plastic 'whirlee', double-second steel pans, vibes, West-Africa balafon and djun-djuns, ceramic dumbec, bongos, Native American drum, cymbals

Sheldon Brown - Bb clarinet, Turkish G clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, flute, drum set


Originally, we were planning on just two volumes of live duo pieces. But there arose a set of rather quirky yet very distinctive improvisations that didn't really belong in volumes 1 or 2, which are much more clearly rooted in a jazz aesthetic. Even at our quirkiest, there is still a lyrical underpinning. From this collection of seemingly orphaned works I discovered a programmatic logic that resulted in four suites. The first two pieces form a suite of different kinds of clarinets with different kinds of percussion. Suite 2 (tracks 3 and 4) consists of standard Bb clarinet with piano recalling the style of the early 20th-century Viennese composers (Schoenberg, Berg, Webern) complete with abstract expressionist spoken word. Tracks 5, 6, 7 comprise Suite 3, which focuses on improvised narration, 'sans' groove. Suite 4, tracks 8 and 9, are more purely ambient, focusing on flutes and percussion, including steel pans. The suites were created by deleting any dead space between the pieces to give the impression that it was a continuous story line.

When Sheldon was in my "Kriya Sextet" (now an Octet) from 1981 to 1991, we would always do a ballad or waltz to change the pace in the first set, and a free improvisation in the second. My producer at the time said to me after a Yoshi's performance, "You know, your duos with Sheldon don't get the loudest applause, just the longest. Think about it." ("Yoshi's Jazz House is the West Coast's premiere jazz concert venue.)

What's funny is that because of the number of instruments we used --18 in all--it actually took longer to set-up than one of my bigger groups! The whole stage was just filled with instruments, and all of the mics used to record the concerts as well. (All of these mics and stands create some very intriguing 'scaffolling' which appear in the CD photos).The only structure we used was to determine the order and combination of instruments (or voice) and to throw in a couple of 'tunes' for contrast from all of the free improvisations. The fact that Sheldon Brown, known primarily for his great sax and bass clarinet playing, is also a very good drummer gave us tremendous flexibility as a duo.

The truth is that our "free improvisations" often sound more like tunes than one might expect. I think my exposure to and study with Art Lande was a huge influence, in addition to Sheldon and I both being experienced jazz composers who embrace many musical influences, some from different cultures. Basically, use structure to help tell stories for the listener. For us, free improvisation is literally "free" to be whatever the moment calls for, no matter how inside or outside, familiar or unpredicable. (My exposure to and study with Art Lande was a huge influence.) One fan described us as "a couple who just kept thinking the same thoughts, nearly at the same time."

And the 'vibe' of the audience was very important to us, more than would be the case if we just playing all jazz tunes. In fact, at every concert I would create a spoken word piece based on an audience suggestion; there are examples of this in Volume II and III. (An outrageous improv about a priest with a prosthetic arm almost made into the last volume, while a twisted hommage to Cindy Crawford can be heard on Volume II).


"Rooted in the modern jazz of the late '60s, their music boasts the eclecticism and expansiveness of the spacious ECM sound of the '70s, but their classical as well as West African, Irish, and North Indian influences put their freely improvised duets in original realms beyond any identifiable genres."
—Derk Richardson "Critics' Choice" from East Bay Express


All compositions copyright ©2002-2004 Michael Smolens and Sheldon Brown.
©2002-2004 Second Sight Music.