Reviewed by Michael Chamy, Fri., Nov. 19, 2004
E.C.F.A. TrioDie Fäden (Pecan Crazy)
It's been a winding road for saxman Carl Smith, Austin's premier free jazz evangelist and courageous trailblazer of odd venues about town. Constantly serenading three faces at out-of-the-way coffee shops has worn on Smith at times, and twice he's packed his bags for cities where avant-jazz titans like Albert Ayler are more visibly consecrated. Through sheer perseverance, as well as spearheading a number of compelling local creative collaborations, Smith has found an audience. Which has resulted in Die Fäden, the first full-length release of Smith's E.C.F.A. Trio with longtime collaborators James Alexander (viola) and Jason Freidrich (drums). Unlike the metal-warping blowout documented on 2000's fierce CD-R EP, Die Fäden showcases the more cerebral, compositional side of Smith. The presence of Alexander (also of Cinders and My Education) is strong, lending an ornate feel to cuts such as "Waters Variations," where Smith plays Alexander's divergent shadow more often than venturing into the stratosphere. At other times, Smith's roots as a clarinetist manifest themselves, as he builds somber, multilayered blocks of tone color. Alexander's "3 Eggs" is a highlight, ironically giving Smith ample room to blow steam behind the viola and guest-star flautist Alex Coke. Die Fäden is not the "crossover" album punk rock fans will dig, instead settling more in the cortex of serious jazz fans. It's the small stage where E.C.F.A. comes to life, but Die Fäden is a satisfying journey through a developing facet of Smith's game.