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The Bill Smith Ensemble
The Subtle Deceit of the Quick Gloved Hand
Sackville 4008

Recorded at McClear Place Studios, Toronto on July 19th, 1981 by Phil Sheridan.


William E. (Bill) Smith (Soprano saxophone [2, 5, 6] & Sopranino saxophone [3] + Alto Clarinet [1, 4])
David Lee (Bass & Cello [2])
David Prentice (Violin)

1. Oop’s (3:14) William E. (Bill) Smith
2. People In Sorrow (Roscoe Mitchell)/Lonely Woman (Ornette Coleman) (11:18)
3. Three Simple Songs (6:15) William E. (Bill) Smith
4. Naima (6:17) John Coltrane
5. Sofort (9:20) William E. (Bill) Smith
6. Pick A Number (8:36) William E. (Bill) Smith

NAMEA slightly modified version of my original liner notes…

Since its inception in February 1979, our trio had the opportunity to perform on a regular basis, thus affording us the possibility of developing, in a natural manner, a feeling for each other’s abilities. In this period, we toured Canada several times, performed in the United States and England, and produced two recordings. Of our first recording, Pick A Number on Onari, the music fraternity has written:

“Pick A Number assimilates influences from all over the world while refusing to merely repeat the innovations of the past quarter century…. Canadian in spirit, the level of musicianship within the ensemble is world-class.” (Bill Shoemaker – Unicorn Times).
“The music of this trio has the great merit of possessing an original character, midway between jazz and contemporary chamber music.” (Jean Pascal Souque – Le Soleil).

As a great part of our music is written and arranged for specific reasons, and not based in the standard “jazz” system of a written head – improvise – written head, it seemed necessary to explain what the compositions we have recorded, represent. So, the following notes are intended to clarify, not the music, but the various philosophies that have brought about these pieces.

Oops is dedicated to the Canadian artist and musician Al Neil and David Prentice, two musicians who have truly original concepts about the legendary idea of swing. It has always seemed to me that there was a great misconception, and much confusion about the terminologies swing, time, pulse, meter and rhythm, and that these elements have been thought of, too often, as meaning some sort of fixed and equal divisions. In reality however, creative performers are very much influenced by their environment, which is of course never as boring, or as regular as, shall we say, as clockwork. Oops represents our extension of this tradition with David Lee and myself being the horizontal vamp, and David Prentice the vertical soloist.

People In Sorrow and Lonely Woman, are two classic compositions from different periods of American jazz music, and their composers, saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Ornette Coleman are each in their own way milestones in the creative process of black music. Being a jazz fan, and a record collector myself, has allowed me access to the wonderful history of jazz music, and the joy, in 1960, of discovering the world of Ornette Coleman, the first clear step into what was to be called the “new music”. As for Roscoe Mitchell, who was the most important influence in my decision to enter fully into composition and performance I can only say thank you. That period, 1973, when I was to first meet him, Anthony Braxton and Leo Smith, was to be a major period in my life, a period that was to determine the future path I had to take. The two compositions are bridged by a string duet.

Three Simple Songs is dedicated to the poet e.e. cummings, whose writings have that wonderful sound and shape, that can be readily related to the colours of improvised music. The composition is based on a poem that I often read to my children, entitled Chansons Innocentes (1) from the book Tulips and Chimneys (W.W. Norton & Co., New York City.

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and  wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and


balloonMan whistles

Naima is the beautiful composition by John Coltrane, and although as a listener I have spent much of my time with his music, his system of improvisation, belonging as it does in a specific social context, has not influenced my concept of performance. This instead is an offering to him, in the spirit world. David Prentice is the environment, David Lee the pulse, and myself the melody.

Sofort – translated into English – mean immediately, is a compositional structure set up to present us in different combinations. Three solos, two duets and a trio improvisation, are contained within the piece, and it is presented in this form in preference to a series of singular events.

Pick A Number is dedicated to Roscoe Mitchell and the music intended to be theatrical, beginning with quite small details, accumulating itself into a movable density. Much the same as children becoming familiar with each other.

Image The Sound #5 (for Roscoe Mitchell)
Slow Congolese Dream
arising from urbane America
making nervous even the thunder
                     and sing
              those sad songs
in the wondrous ways of Snurdy McGurdy


A Technical Note:
These tapes have been digitalised using an ancient TEAC A-3440 reel-to-reel 4-Channel Multitrack Tape Deck, the tape shredding as the reels trundle around at 15 revolutions per minute, flakes flaking, small neat piles of black and brown dust accumulating along the lower edge of the console, this their very last time around. The analogue sounds making their way through a German budget-priced Behringer guitar mixer into my antediluvian Mac OS X Leopard computer utilising a downloaded free audio editor and recorder aptly named Audacity. The elderly tapes are on their last legs – the music though, still a sign of those times back in Toronto. So relish this moment, pass it on to friends, for it will never occur again, these intimate sliding pitches giving clues to such a personal intonation. Imaginary sound songs dancing in our heads. Dancing our dance.

Left to right:
Bill Smith • David Lee • David Prentice – Photograph Henry Kahanek