“The album began,” Smythe says, “with an imaginary premise: Fats Waller working at IRCAM in the early 80s.” This idea permeates the album’s opening triptych, an energetic parade of fluorescent electronic sonorities and prancing pianistic bravado. Influenced by both Olivier Messiaen and Marcus Popp, the stunning opener “Blockchain” gives way to “Lulu lu st”, an alien pop gem that features percussive-piano-sample drum machinery and robot vocals. The set culminates in “Handfall of Keys”, an improvised corruption of Fats Waller’s stride piano with electronically magnified bursts of keyboard action and fingernails on ivory. The combination of microtonal harmonies and asymmetric beats in “Lucy-A” and “Lucy-B” (homages to two of Alvin Lucier’s seminal works, “I am sitting in a room” and “Music for piano with slow sweep pure wave oscillators” respectively) recall the work of Smythe’s collaborator on these tracks, saxophonist/composer Steve Lehman. “Scansion and Accent” features an off-kilter cascading duet for piano and detuned piano samples reminiscent of Jonathan Harvey’s Tombeau de Messiaen (a piece Smythe can be seen performing here). The ominous closer “Blues in (Laurie) A” seeks to situate Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” vocoder within the wood and metal reverberations of the piano itself, evoking a dystopian sci-fi soundscape with talking-piano narration.
Throughout, A U T O TROPHS is a document of formidable pianistic virtuosity, timbrel and tonal invention. “I hope this is,” says Smythe, “recognizably the work of someone trying to imagine a forward-looking, virtuosic, improvised and augmented piano music — music that in some alternate reality might be popular, danceable, fun, funny, that avails itself of a colorful range of pianistic, electronic, and compositional devices and hopefully welds them together into something compelling and new.”
Pianist Cory Smythe has worked actively with pioneering artists in new, improvisatory, and classical music, including trumpeter/composer Nate Wooley, violinist Hilary Hahn, and composers from Anthony Braxton to Zosha Di Castri. Alongside Ms. Hahn, Smythe was the recipient of a Grammy award for the double- disc In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores. He is the pianist in Tyshawn Sorey’s Alloy Trio, whose weeklong residency at the Village Vanguard was listed in a 2015 roundup of "Best U.S. Culture" in The Guardian.
Smythe has been featured at the Newport Jazz, Wien Modern, Nordic Music Days, and Darmstadt festivals, as well as at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart, where he was recently invited to premiere new work created in collaboration with trumpeter Peter Evans and pianist Craig Taborn. He has performed across the United States, Europe, and Asia, garnering praise for "the ferocity and finesse of his technique” (Washington Post).
Smythe’s first record Pluripotent was praised by pianist Jason Moran, who called it “hands down one of the best solo recordings I’ve ever heard”. Smythe has been a featured guest and/or soloist with Milwaukee's Present Music, the Boston-based Firebird and Radius ensembles, Chicago Symphony Orchestra's MusicNOW, and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players.
Recording: Ryan Streber, Oktaven Audio, NY
Mixing: Michael Caterisano and Cory Smythe, Creekside Sound, NY (tracks 1, 3, 4, 5, 7) Tyler Gilmore and Cory Smythe (tracks 2, 6)
Mastering: Jake Belser, Primary Sound Studios, Bloomington IN
artwork by Brooke Herr
©Not Art Records 2017