♫♪  Smoke Dawson - “The Minotaur”

“Oh, ole Smoke? He was out on the porch earlier, but I think you just missed him.”

I think of Henry Flynt as the pioneer of the extended technique fiddle shredding minimalist mantra, but it seems like a fellow wandering soul by the name of Smoke Dawson got up in that business just as early on. Press play on “The Minotaur” and bear witness to Smoke’s bow as it skittered back in 1971, captured on record after stints in a trio called MacGrundy’s Old-Timey Wool Thumpers with The Holy Modal Rounders’ Peter Stampfel, sometime between years spent somewhere out there on the rails across the US. He ekes out a loping melody on the low strings as he flits through a stream of jittering runs in the upper register, combining the sum of his four quivering catguts into a progression of lightning chordal voices that churn across the minutes with remarkable discipline. The track plays out like a countrified rendition of Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres,” with fiddle figures cascading and lapsing into repeated cadences on the way to an indeterminable coda that you feel could and should have arrived a few minutes later (or never). If he sought transcendence, he found it. If he didn’t seek it, he found it.

“You burned through that one, Smokey.”

Tompkins Square revived Dawson’s private press LP Fiddle for a fresh edition. You can order it now, and check out Tompkins Square honcho Josh Rosenthal’s comprehensive research notes on the unbelievable trajectory of Dawson’s musical practice. Quoth Smoke himself, still kicking at almost 80 years old, “I was cuckoo, couldn’t get along in the world. The music always saved me. It got me friends, it got me shelter.”

• Tompkins Square: http://www.tompkinssquare.com

Chocolate Grinder

CHOCOLATE GRINDER is our audio/visual section, with an emphasis on the lesser heard and lesser known. We aim to dig deep, but we’ll post any song or video we find interesting, big or small.

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