Damon Smith, Leaving

Bassist Damon Smith is apparently leaving the Bay Area for Texas.

It’s on the Internet, so it must be true.

The July performance by the Oakland Active Orchestra will include a Smith composition and is being billed on Facebook as your chance to wish him bon voyage.

Smith has been instrumental (oooh, pun alert) in the local music scene not just for playing, but for presenting some music series in the late ’90s. Weekly concerts at one particular, very comfortable, fringe theater gave me a great introduction to creative music.

He’s continued to champion a particular brand of free improvisation rich in extended technique and careful listening, much of it released on his own Balance Point Acoustics label.

I can’t pretend to remember exactly how someone played their music 10 years ago (or even 10 weeks ago), but I do recall this.  At some point, I went more than a year without seeing Smith perform — no reason, just luck of the draw. And then I saw him do a solo set at the Luggage Store Gallery.  I remember being struck by the changes in his playing — I don’t want to use the word “improvement,” but he was presenting a broader palette of sounds, ideas, and techniques. It seemed like a richer mix. Was that Smith’s evolution as a musician, or me forgetting his music after so many months?

Improv bass wasn’t always Smith’s path. He was, apparently, a teenage punk-rocker and a very serious BMX bike trick performer. Check him out on Noisy People, an excellent documentary where Tim Perkis profiles eight Bay Area improv musicians. Smith even tries out his old bike moves.

The music took over when he heard Peter Kowald, the famed German bass improviser, sadly now deceased. Smith abandoned the bass guitar he’d been playing and took up the double bass. And in 2000, he got a chance to record with Kowald, his idol, on what would be the first Balance Point Acoustics CD, Mirrors — Broken but No Dust.

Which I’m going to have to give a listen to, now.

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