Sensory Overload: Descendre

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From the June 21, 2012 edition

You don’t see punk and metal fans bobbing their heads to jazz fusion every day, but so it went Saturday at Ace of Cups when EYE used their album release party as an opportunity to showcase keyboardist Adam Smith’s other project, Descendre.

(That’s Adam Smith from Deadsea and a wide swath of experimental music projects, a.k.a. Smitty, not to be confused with the Adam Smith from Columbus Discount Recording or the Adam Smith who played guitar in Burglar. Columbus music has accrued a wealth of Adam Smiths.)

The band name is French for “descend,” which opens the door for some joke about jazz fusion being a step down from the rampaging, victorious heavy metal Smitty performs with Deadsea. That’s how my aesthetic palate initially reacts, but my presuppositions are off base for a couple of reasons.

One, Smitty is involved in so many bands that it’s downright criminal to box him in as a metal dude. Two, all music deserves to be experienced before you break out the snark. And yeah, I didn’t love Descendre like I would have loved an hour of wanton shredding, but I found myself immersed and stimulated anyway. The players were so tremendously talented.

Smitty, the bandleader, spent most of the set behind his massive keyboard rack. His lineup included local jazz guitar kingpin Stan Smith, drummer-about-town Justin Campbell and bassist-keyboardist Jim Tussing, all of who showed flashes of brilliance throughout the night. Campbell’s drumming was especially ebullient; everyone in the building seemed to delight in his unbelievable percussive flurries — most of all him, judging by his contagious grin.

The music skipped across moods. They began with eerie, cinematic jazz that reminded me of when Radiohead lets Jonny Greenwood indulge, then jumped to bustling, distorted post-bebop best described as “combustible jazz.” Quiet, contemplative moments abounded, but things got so rowdy at one point that Smitty was justifiably headbanging while pounding his keys.

I was glad to see him break out his guitar near the end of the set because dude can wail, but really this was more of a reminder of what else he’s capable of and why he should keep following his muse down so many different avenues. More musicians should be so resistant to easy definition.