LOL COXHILL soprano saxophone
SIMON EMMERSON electronics (1 - 6)
VERYAN WESTON piano (7 - 16)
1 - FIRST ENCOUNTER PART ONE - 5:44
2 - FIRST ENCOUNTER PART TWO - 8:45
3 - FIRST ENCOUNTER PART THREE - 2:15
4 - SIDE ONE PART ONE - 14:57
5 - SIDE ONE PART TWO - 4:11
6 - ADDITIONAL ENDING - 3:15
7 - SIDE TWO PART FOUR - 1:10
8 - SIDE TWO PART TWO - 5:22
9 - VERY SHORT PIANO SOLO - 0:09
10 - SIDE TWO PART FIVE - 1:45
11 - EMBRACEABLE WHO? - 2:58
12 - EMBRACEABLE YOU - 5:51
13 - SIDE TWO PART THREE - 3:41
14 - MORE SUBSTANTIAL PIANO SOLO - 2:46
15 - SIDE TWO PART ONE - 7:41
16 - I CAN'T GET STARTED - 2:12
4, 5, 15, 8, 13, 7 & 10 originally issued in 1979 as Random Radar Records
1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, 14 & 16 previously unissued
The Digswell House concert by Lol Coxhill and Simon Emmerson is one of the earliest examples of a saxophonist being processed by electronics controlled by another musician - something that is quite common today. The Oxford concert with Veryan Weston represents one of the earliest recordings by this duo which still performs today - a brief recording made the previous year was issued on Ogun.
Both duet recordings are significant as well as excellent, and worthy of reissuing even though the source material is imperfect. Fortunately, it was possible to work from tapes which yielded a considerable amount of extra material. The Digswell tape consisted of six extracts from the concert, only two of which were included on the original LP, so there is now twice as much music available as before.
The Oxford tapes were more problematical. To start with, the original recording was made on inferior equipment, resulting in a sound that is lacking but listenable. The original LP side appears to have been made up from five excerpts, some of which lead directly into sections of music that were not issued at the time. It was therefore decided to keep the sequences that apparently happened, rather than recreate the LP side. The five sections of the LP side have been made into separate tracks, so that it is possible to programme them back into the LP side if so desired. It is not possible to ascertain the order of performance after all these years, but the order on this CD is probably closer to reality than the LP was.
MARTIN DAVIDSON (2001)
"You'll have to forgive me here if I toot Lol Coxhill's horn, because he certainly toots it just fine on his own. Saxophonist Coxhill is an extremely versatile player who has played in settings ranging from punk rock to abstract free improvisation. His sense of melody and time are particularly distinctive, drawing more heavily from the jazz tradition than many of his fellow British free improvisers. This recording marks an unusual pairing of duet partners: Simon Emmerson, an electronic artist whose palette largely consists of Coxhill's playing thrown back at him in real-time; and Veryan Weston, a light-fingered pianist whose attention to melody and pulse closely reflect Coxhill's own.
Let's get the ugly details taken care of up front: these are live analogue recordings from 1978, and the sound quality lags far behind what you'd find in today's recording studio. Enough on that subject; the shortcomings are definitely audible but do not substantially interfere with the music. The first six duets consist of Coxhill's conversations with himself through the medium of Simon Emmerson. Coxhill works patiently here, pursuing held tones and well-articulated intervals, which provide his partner fuel for the fire. The rich reverb drenching the whole interaction competes with delay for the listener's attention, but the most exciting moments are when Emmerson distorts the saxophonist's tone into sharp metallic shards or multichromatic hunks of sound. You can hear Coxhill striding forward on the left channel, while Emmerson gradually builds up tension on the right and eventually chases him around the field. It's early stuff, so we're talking basic tools here... none of the computerised gadgetry that dominates interactive improvisation today. But it's done in real time, and the spirit of improvisation pervades both artists' work.
The second half of the disc consists of mostly short pieces featuring Coxhill and pianist Veryan Weston. The call-and-response motif pops its head up here and there, as the two players feel each other out in the moment in order to determine where they're headed. For the most part, they pursue sparse, melodic improvisation. The melody may fragment or implode, but most of the time one or the other of these two players is holding up a flag in the wind. (For overpowering evidence of the latter, check out their version of Embraceable You, which concludes with a clever and very jazzy jam.) Coxhill mostly sticks to clean tones, though he demonstrates a mastery of swooshing legato runs that blur the distinctions between their endpoints. (And he's not at all opposed to sighing, whistling, or crying in the night.) Weston is a fantastic foil, because he understands the importance of space. While he's not averse to simple lines, he often works in clusters of clusters: simple repeated or modulated pinches of the keys. At times he borrows from atonality, but when you listen closely you can usually find that local tonal centers agree heartily with the saxophonist. And Weston's pulse has an undeniable logic, though it might not hit the ground every two beats."
NILS JACOBSON - ALL ABOUT JAZZ 2001
"DIGSWELL DUETS is a pretty good example of Coxhill's art. Recorded (murkily at times) at artists commune Digswell House in 1978, the first half of this album features the electroacoustics of Simon Emmerson, who treats and loops Coxhill's improvisations in real time. Preceding SLOW MUSIC, Coxhill's proto ambient tape loop driven collaboration with Morgan Fisher by a couple of years, this is delightful, sensual music making. On First Encounter Part One and the sourly celestial Additional Ending, Emmerson creates luxurious floatscapes as the curling lines of the soprano are looped and repeated into increasingly blurred drones. Though similar to Terry Riley's Poppy Nogood and Fripp and Eno's Revox excursions in its immersive beauty, Coxhill's questing ear and tireless invention resists the urge to play it safe. Elsewhere, Emmerson subjects the saxophone to extreme filtering , ring modulation and all manner of jiggery pokery; clouds of bats, foghorns and distressed owls are conjured up in quick succession. Occasionally Coxhill cocks an ear, listens, then moves on. You can almost hear him raise his eyebrows. Heady, beautiful stuff and historically important too; though the notion of live improvisation and treatments is pretty old hat these days, it certainly wasn't in 1978.
The second half of the CD documents one of Coxhill's first sessions with pianist Veryan Weston. Jazzier pleasures are on offer here. Weston's knotty chords are a perfect foil for Coxhill and their interpretations of Embraceable You and I Can't Get Started are wonderful; the duo gently deconstruct but avoid pastiche (no easy feat). On the latter track Coxhill balances long, affectingly melodic arcs with sardonic mutterings as Weston's piano dips in and out of the song's changes. Both musicians know this stuff backwards, and although at times it may sound like they're even playing it backwards, there's a deep awareness and respect for jazz tradition here coupled with a playful sense of discovery. Lovely."
PETER MARSH - BBC MUSIC 2001
"There is simply no other soprano saxophonist like Lol Coxhill. Although his busking days are entirely behind him, Coxhill's improvising mentality remains that of a musician playing in tube stations and on street corners. He can be impeccably song-like; his little airs sinuous, graceful, and quite blue with bent, scooped and - especially - slurred tones. Conversely, he can also become enmeshed in his mercurial persona, lapsing into hectoring effects and lines gnarled with contentiousness. As he indulges in split-second changes of mood, Coxhill may contort himself into a performer ripping off a mask, only to reveal a new one underneath. The slipping about of his tone on the glazed surface of his chosen pitches seals the impression of slapstick. Coxhill's art, then, is one that demands a great deal of poise, and there is something almost ritual about manner in which his improvisations, especially his solo performances, consistently involve the same relatively fixed set of emotional elements. And, as with the sidewalk games played by children, participating in Coxhill's music and observing it can yield very different experiences. One may be delightful, the other fraught with deep, potentially corrupted feelings and a sense that something extraordinary lurks beneath the codes and rules directing the behaviours of the players.
It is the collaborations with Simon Emmerson and his Digswell Tapes System which are of particular value. Superficially, Emmerson and Coxhill assume an approach that is both colourisitic and eminently lyrical. These performances might even recall to some listeners Terry Riley's chorales for soprano sax and tape delay feedback system. There are important distinctions, however. The electronics in Riley's early studies are truly automatic and controlled by a human intelligence only so far as their processes are set up and cued by the performer. And the works themselves are very mimetic, with one instrument in control of an entire orchestra that sounds just like itself. By contrast, Emmerson is a truly equal partner here. Moreover, over the course of these performances, the two men toss back and forth, stretch, wad up and smooth out the natural plangency and notorious intonation and inflection difficulties of the soprano sax. There are the clarinet-like sounds heard in First Encounter Part One, the crystalline notes dotting Side One Part Two, and the bassoon calls of First Encounter Part 3. Still, long stretches of this music are Riley-like, especially in the opening First Encounter Part One and the long Side One Part One. Coxhill's response to Emmerson's time-lagged reiteration of what he has just played generates an almost infinite flow of melody, an unstoppable outpouring, out-of-tempo, that suggests the opening alapa section of an Indian raga. And, at about the four-minute mark of Side One Part One, Coxhill indeed plays a whirling, Eastern-sounding tune.
Yet - and this is better heard over headphones, as the stereo panning and flanging effects are rendered much more explicit - these duets are very much about sound as a symbolic representation of time, space, and motion. Here, sound is offered as a reflection of local conditions, individual sounds as traces or remnants of one's identity left behind as one passes through an environment. On First Encounter Part Two, the space defined is industrial, jarring: against an echo of klaxons or steam screaming from safety valves, notes from the saxophone are bent and truncated so they sound like drops of water striking metal surfaces. At the piece's conclusion, a steely web of reverb surrounds Coxhill; he is in the heart of the complex, his sound faint and whistling but not crushed in the gears of various sequencer rhythms. Additional Ending finds the 'natural' and the 'processed' vying with one another, much in the manner that the dulcet and the perverse vie in Coxhill's own style. The space expands more and more as the contest wrenches towards a stalemate, emblematic of an entropic universe that will continue to burn outwards until it turns still, black and cold. Additional Ending is the dark obverse of the infinite sound of ecstatic praise, of the song heard in Side One Part One. Or, rather, Additional Ending reveals how that feeling of boundlessness is an illusion; a fiction that allows for the momentary escape from yet also assures the ultimate preservation of the self and its perceptual limitations. The finite is an emotional necessity after all, but one that admits the existence of other, and is thus both terrible and transporting in its disorder. Unique and even visionary, DIGSWELL DUETS is more contemporary now that it perhaps has ever been."
JOE MILAZZO - ONE FINAL NOTE 2001
"Coxhill has had a varied and eclectic career - it's not every musician who's been in bands as diverse as Kevin Ayers' and The Damned! This particular recording from 1978 captures Coxhill duetting, initially, with Simon Emmerson (first six tracks) and then Veryan Weston (last ten tracks). The original album had bits missing, so this new release should come as a bit of a happy ending as most of the original recordings are here in their full glory. The first six tracks feature Coxhill soloing through a variety of subtle and atmospheric effects via the electronics of Simon Emmerson. To be honest, these are simply stunning. At times you're reminded of Eno as the sax ends up processed beyond recognition, leaving a kind of synth sound. The duets with Weston are, again, as different again. Both Weston and Coxhill weave and interplay, creating some fascinating textures. What startles are the renditions of Embraceable You and I Can't Get Started - it would gobshut any critic who says this is just noodling. If nothing else, it just goes to show why Coxhill is the man he is."
DAVE W HUGHES - MODERN DANCE 2001
"The duets with Emmerson on the first half of the program are a spooky affair built on space age technology. Emmerson programs his instrument to capture the serene output of Coxhill. He manipulates and reprocesses the sound back to allow Coxhill the opportunity to create new improvisation in duet with his regenerated sound, which in turn is reprocessed by Emmerson to provide new fodder for Coxhill. It is an ongoing creative loop, intricately honed by both artists to simulate an atmosphere of outer space. The duets with Weston are presented in the more traditional interactive mode for two artists. Coxhill swirls his soprano sound round and round while Weston uses short, truncated phrases to enwrap the high-pitched improvisations. It is an interesting contrast, with Coxhill making flowing statements and Weston inserting choppy staccato exclamation points. Both duet sessions connote the feeling of seriousness and form unique challenges for Coxhill to explore the creative process. The cuts with Weston are particularly stimulating."
FRANK RUBOLINO - CADENCE 2001
"The electronics set is superb; Coxhill plays freely and navigates the sounds Emmerson provides, processed from Coxhill's playing. It's not gimmicky. The sounds Emmerson creates are appropriately brassy and electronic in the analogue sense. They both play hard. No tinkly floating electronic fireflies here."
STEVE KOENIG - LA FOLIA MUSIC REVIEW 2002
"The first half features a 1978 concert by Lol Coxhill on soprano saxophone with Simon Emmerson manipulating his sound output electronically. This is one of the, if not the first recording of a saxophonist being processed in real-time. Coxhill dialogues with his electronic ghost, interacting with Emmerson's manipulations (20 years later John Butcher and Phil Durrant would use the same technique, with much better technology). The electronics are not intrusive at all, letting the saxophonist develop his mellow melodies. First Encounter Part Two and Side One Part One are both precious moments.
The second half of the album is made of excerpts from a duo concert a few days later with pianist Veryan Weston. One of the first recordings from this long-standing duo, this set suffers a little from poorer sound quality. Halfway through, the listener has the surprise of finding himself into the Gershwins' Embraceable You, which retrospectively gives a delicate jazzy flavour to this whole half. Both players were in very good shape, but this recording pales in comparison to the duo¹s 1998 set Boundless (EMANEM 4021)."
FRANÇOIS COUTURE - ALL-MUSIC GUIDE 2001
"Helpful reissue of the '79 LP, always one of the more desirable nuggets in the Coxhill back catalogue. It's sought after largely for the contents of its first side - on which one Simon Emmerson electronically 'treats' Coxhill's sax in real time - but contemporary reappraisal shows that the second - duos with Veryan Weston - is of equal worth.
Though the methodology Emmerson utilises is now quite familiar - cf. Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, Butcher/Durrant duo - in 1978 it was something of a novelty and, 23 years on, it sounds as though it was at the time grappling with its own newness and/or novelty. Emmerson tends to duplicate Coxhill's sax into overlapping melodic streams, often creating a hall of mirrors-type effect which initally sounds impressive but quickly wears off. The collaboration works best when Emmerson's presence isn't immediately evident, when he subtly enhances and smears Coxhill's playing; it's less effective when Emmerson indulges in sounds which Coxhill could have achieved by feeding his sax through an echo unit. Nonetheless, there's an enticing air of oddness about it, and any Coxhill fan will want to investigate.
The duos with Weston are some of the first these two recorded, a typically fulsome splurge of vignette-ish pieces. Coxhill's tone is warm and open, almost sentimental - he holds the middle ground while Weston darts agilely around him, a dynamic that's as much catch-as-catch-can as call-and response. The recording quality is pleasantly musty, adding a surprisingly appropriate veneer of surface nostalgia, reminding us of how far the pairing has come in the time since, and quietly marking the inception of this most tastefully under-recorded of English improv partnerships."
NICK CAIN - OPPROBRIUM 2001
"Fascinating playing and sound processing, involving Lol, Veryan Weston p) and Simon Emerson (elec)."
RICHARD COOK & BRIAN MORTON - The Penguin Guide to JAZZ RECORDINGS, 9th edition, 2008
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