First a word about truth in advertising: while the album is credited as above, and Brian Eno is credited with co-authoring tracks eight, eleven and twelve, in the insert we read "Special thanks to Brian Eno (for samples and technical support)". Does this indicate that instead of being an actual collaborator, Eno merely lent the ensemble some tape? It could of course be a question of the nuances of the English language, since the New Composers (Valery Lakoff, Igor Vorotnikov and Igr. Ver) are from Russia, and Eno apparently met them during his sojourn in St. Petersburg last year.
Either way, on the whole _Smart_ is a very pleasant album, though the group far too often tends to fritter away its obvious talent and imagination on somewhat giddy little tunes, when it is demonstrably capable of creating fine and haunting soundscapes. Many of the tracks are reminiscent of Harold Budd - a few, naked piano chords or a simple but bewitching melody hovering in a spacious, haunting atmosphere. The first four or five tracks answer this description, while a few others are throwaways, like the tongue-in-cheek roller-rink Fifties nostalgia of "Fokstrot" (sic) or the plodding dance tracks "324-A" and "Adept". The brevity of the majority of the pieces gives the impression of sketches or miniatures, experiments in form. One would love to hear successful tracks such as "Strakita" and "Ekzotek" explored at length.
As for the "Eno" tracks: "Long SQ" is indeed the lengthiest piece (9:39) and has all the earmarks of a long-lost Eno and Budd collaboration, except for the insistent little synthesizer bleeps scattered on top; again, an example of not being able to leave well enough alone. Still, the New Composers allow themselves time to develop a rich landscape of sound where the artificial and the natural bond seamlessly and this is surely the most successful track on the entire CD. "Short SQ" is a brief, pleasant return to the terrain explored in the lengthier version, with the piano now prevalent in the foreground, while "La-La-La" is an appropriate denouement, much more articulate than its title would lead one to believe and showcasing the group's more successful conceits.
All in all, a bit of a let-down, for one had hoped for a more satisfying record of Eno's encounter with his Russian epigones. Fans of the New Composers' previous release will not be disappointed, though it is a moot point whether Brian Eno fans will deem this CD a necessary addition to their collection.
(review by Stephen Fruitman)