Smith’s early development as a composer was influenced by studies at Oakland’s Mills College with Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Curran, Fred Frith and William Winant: “I got good ideas from all of them. I wasn’t there primarily to learn composition, percussion performance was officially my course, but I was continually encouraged and challenged to bring in material and work on it.” Ches Smith’s CV resembles that of few other musicians. He played in grunge, punk and metal bands before exploring jazz and free improvisation, although he counts Thelonious Monk amongst his earliest influences. He has worked with musicians from rock band Mr Bungle to composer Terry Riley, from Marc Ribot’s band Ceramic Dog to Wadada Leo Smith. He gives solo performances with his electronically-oriented project Congs For Brums (“micro and polytonal and on the harsh side”), leads his own group These Arches with Tim Berne, Mary Halvorson, Tony Malaby and Andrea Parkins, and plays in guitarist Halvorson’s diverse projects. He’s a member of Tim Berne’s Snakeoil with three albums so far on ECM, and also appears, alongside Mat Maneri, on singer-songwriter Robin Williamson’s album Trusting In The Rising Light. “I’ve always been attracted to the examples in each genre that defy it”, Smith told Jazz Times. “I just try to play what I hear.” The Bell is his first ECM leader disc. “It’s the most dramatic album I’ve ever made”, says Ches of the the way in which it builds in intensity. “[Producer] Manfred Eicher has a unique sense for sequencing. I think of the album also as a collaboration with him: this project wasn’t yet a band when I first proposed it to ECM, and his advice and decisiveness in the studio were very helpful.”
Violist Mat Maneri has been recording for ECM for 20 years, starting with Three Men Walking in 1995, with his father, the late saxophonist/clarinettist and microtonal music innovator Joe Maneri, and guitarist Joe Morris. Mat’s discography for the label includes a solo album, Trinity, and most recently Transylvanian Concert with pianist Lucian Ban. Latterly he has been playing viola duets with Tanya Kalmanovitch and working in the ensembles of pianist Kris Davis. Mat’s primary teacher was Juilliard String Quartet founder Robert Koff, and his improvisations are informed and grounded by his knowledge of contemporary and classical composition, as well as the jazz tradition.
Craig Taborn’s ECM recordings include a solo piano album, Avenging Angel, and a trio disc, Chants, with Thomas Morgan and Gerald Cleaver. He made his ECM debut as a member of Roscoe Mitchell’s Note Factory on Nine To Get Ready in 1997 appearing also on later discs with Mitchell including Composition/Improvisation 1, 2 & 3 and Far Side (further recordings with Roscoe are in preparation). He has also recorded for ECM with Evan Parker, Michael Formanek, Chris Potter and David Torn. Discs elsewhere include Junk Magic, a 2004 album with Mat Maneri’s participation. Outside of a few ad hoc gigs and a David Torn concert where Ches subbed for Tom Rainey, Taborn and Smith hadn’t played together much before the formation of the present trio, but the value of the collaboration is evident in every moment of The Bell, as Taborn works rigorously with the musical material and its implications.