SML : Small Medium Large

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SML Small Medium Large review

SML took shape not so much as a band but rather as an experiment. Comprising a group of veteran musicians from Los Angeles, three-fifths of whom have connections to the Chicago-based International Anthem label through various other collaborations—bassist Anna Butterss and saxophonist Joshua Johnson both having played in guitarist Jeff Parker‘s quartet, synthesist Jeremiah Chiu through a series of ambient records with Marta Sofia Honer—SML came to life through four nights of improvisational performances at L.A. performance venue ETA. And much like the bulk of their label’s roster, the mystical grooves they summon together can be very loosely identified as jazz—very loosely.

Small Medium Large, the quintet’s debut release, is more about groove than form, about rhythm more than any particular discipline. Recorded live in studio by Bryce Gonzales, the group’s performances were then edited and reconfigured into new pieces, similar to techniques employed by Miles Davis in his fusion era or krautrock pioneers Can, as well as a method put to use by contemporaries such as Makaya McCraven. The hypnotic grooves that the five-piece ensemble carve out cut deep enough that they feel as if they could keep going indefinitely—hypnotically extending into infinity. But they’re presented as concise and immediate slices of digestible funk, transforming large to small through their chosen medium.

The group’s funk is anything but one-size-fits-all, morphing into different shapes, some concrete and some more mesmerizingly abstract. The title “Herbie For Commercials” might suggest “Watermelon Man” for canned seltzers, but the actual product is considerably weirder, floating within its fizzy silo with no particular need for a climactic shift. There’s a weightless ambience to the pulsing Afrobeat of “History of Communication,” while “Chasing Brain” has an abrasive post-punk dissonance to its Kuti collisions. And the dazzling swirl of clanging tones on “Search Bar Hi-Hat” evokes Konono No.1’s mbira bangers through a Remain In Light-like maximalism.

As self-contained compositions, each track on Small Medium Large swells with a palpable physical energy and sense of depth that makes them simply a lot of fun to listen to. But it’s the unpredictability of these pieces—the improvisational sensibility inherent to the group’s core—that propels them from interesting to often incredible, each symphony of moving parts like early highlight “Industry” like an act of building ornate sculptures without drafts or sketches. In moments like these, the depths of SML’s vision feel limitless.

Label: International Anthem

Year: 2024

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SML Small Medium Large review

SML : Small Medium Large

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