freedom of the city 2002

small groups


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TREVOR WATTS soprano & alto saxophones

A1 - WAYS AND MEANS - 3:25

SYLVIA HALLETT bicycle wheel, violin, saw, sarangi, voice, digital delays

A5 - SWARMING - 9:20
A8 - GEESE IN ICE - 4:24

LOL COXHILL soprano saxophone
IAN SMITH trumpet




CHRIS BURN trumpet
MATT HUTCHINSON synthesizers & electronics

B2 - MONKEYSHINE - 17:15

EVAN PARKER soprano & tenor saxophones

B4 - GIST IN TIME - DUO - 9:34
B5 - GIST IN TIME - SOLOS - 4:48
B7 - TWO OF THREE - 6:31
B8 - WHICH END? - 7:23

Digital concert recordings made in London
at the Conway Hall by Paul Brogden - 2002 May 4 & May 5
Total time 149:32

All previously unissued


Excerpts from sleeve notes:

Some people think that there are just two or three outstanding improvisers in Britain - they are wrong, because there are many more. In a sleeve note for another label, a writer recently indulged in a very random estimation that there are only 121 free improvisers in the world - he is wrong, because there are at least that number based in London. The FREEDOM OF THE CITY festival was initiated to try and help spotlight London-based improvisers. The trouble is, that there are so many of them, that programming the festival is a very frustrating task - so many musicians, so little time! And then when it came to compiling this double CD, there wasn't enough room for all the small groups, but it is intended to use some of the other recordings in other projects.

Four of the sets in this compilation are complete. The first minute of the guitar solo had to be dropped for technical reasons, while the trio is represented by the first half of their set and some solo sequences.

Some time ago, Veryan Weston worked in some of Trevor Watts' larger groups. In recent years they have come together again to improvise as a duo. They recorded 6 DIALOGUES (Emanem 4069) at Gateway Studio at the end of 2001.

As well as improvising on several instruments (including her voice), Sylvia Hallett often incorporates her songs in her performances. Her set starts with material similar to some of her recent solo CD, WHITE FOG (Emanem 4057), but then goes off in a very different direction.

Lol Coxhill, Paul Rutherford and Ian Smith had previously performed one five-minute improvisation as a trio, so a second helping was requested.

This was the first time that Roger Smith had played in public for several years. He has, however, continued to play every day in private, and selections from recent home recordings can be heard on GREEN WOOD (Emanem 4073). As usual, he performed without either a pick or a pick-up.

Chris Burn and Matt Hutchinson have worked as a duo for some time now, although this hasn't been previously documented. Hutchinson has also been a member of Burn's Ensemble since it was formed in the 1980s. They can both be heard on the most recent Ensemble CD, HORIZONTALS WHITE (Emanem 4080), half of which was recorded at the 2001 FREEDOM OF THE CITY festival. Burn was actually a trumpeter before he was a pianist, and has continued to play both instruments.

Evan Parker and John Russell have also worked as a duo for several years, without having made a duo record.

In writing the above notes, I have deliberately avoided using overworked adjectives of praise. Needless to say, I consider all of this music and all of these musicians to be superlative, etc., etc.



Excerpts from reviews:

"This is an absolutely fantastic compilation, a double CD made of electrifying music, intuitive geniuses and raw feeling wherever you decide to focalise your attention. Top of the mountain belongs without a doubt to Sylvia Hallett: her magnificent solo set, consisting of voice intertwining to violin, sarangi and bycicle wheel, is an invocation to unknown spirits capable of moving the very depth of my soul. Delicate, minimal and austere, Sylvia works her way to the highest highs of emotion and never looks back, scoring a wonderful result that won't be forgotten. Trevor Watts and Veryan Weston exchange ideas and suggestions without taking a minute of relief, creating on the spot what amounts to an excellent instant composition. Sax and piano speak to each other without interference and constantly on the limit between technique and heart. Also there travel the trio made of Lol Coxhill, Paul Rutherford and Ian Smith, authors of a pleasing improvisation in which any voice contributes to a series of lively messages, decoded without any trouble. Each one keeps his own strong personality but the overall mix results in a group's expressive style.

The second CD is opened by Roger Smith, the 'purest' guitarist around - he almost never plays live but when he does, he keeps us pleased with delicate, gentle chordal gesturing and (just) apparently simple solo lines. Chris Burn and Matt Hutchinson represent the most introspective area here, their obscure exchange molded with electronics and gasping blows: very intelligent music, striving to remain floating while a muddy river is trying to drag it down. The final belongs to Evan Parker and John Russell, who confront themselves blow by blow, Evan with his usual astounding spiralling phrasing hovering all around the place, John treating strings like they are a mix of angelic harps and whips for a nice torture. Never has a double CD shown such a high degree of consistency like this one."


"Equity has nothing to do with it. If Roger Smith, the trio of Lol Coxhill, Paul Rutherford and Ian Smith, along with the duo of Chris Burn and Matt Hutchinson are allotted under 20 minutes each, it doesn't mean that their music is of a lesser quality. Actually, Smith's Under the Greenword Tree makes a perfect companion to his then recent solo album and represents solid historical value since he had not played live for ages. But two artists get the lion's share. On disc 1 we find the 35 minutes of Sylvia Hallett's set and that¹s a blessing considering how short her discography is. In Swarming and Violet Revisited she plays a bicycle wheel with a bow, using her voice and digital delays to construct dreamy soundscapes similar to the material on her album WHITE FOG. For the other pieces she turns to the musical saw, the violin and the sarangi, always managing to make the instrument sound like something else. Disc 2 ends with a 36-minute set by Evan Parker and John Russell, their first recordings as a duo. Highly creative and attuned to each other, the musicians pulled off a memorable performance that by itself gives you enough reason to acquire this album."


"The sheer sonic impact of the Trevor Watts / Veryan Weston duet is inevitably muted here because the recording puts you right onstage, giving it a different flavour than when I was sitting there with Watts' enormous sound rebounding around the hall. But the greater delicacy and transparency of the CD simply reveals other facets of the music. What's striking is how often the players choose to work within close quarters, deliberately stepping on each other's tracks rather than (as is more usual in improvised duets) trying to work at a safe distance or on parallel paths. The recording captures particularly clearly Weston's ability to play in a manner at once very precise and yet open-ended, constantly suggesting myriad avenues of exploration instead of closing them off.

One of the most powerful performances here is Sylvia Hallett's. She begins by bowing the spoke of a bicycle wheel, which produces a sound that is often very vocal. Each sound she produces and each instrument is like a thread added to an increasingly complex musical weave sustained by digital delay. Snatches of raspy balladry, shivery wails, sweet freshets of violin that become snagged in dissonance, low thrums - all these sound knit together and then drop away. At the end all that's left are faint wisps of bowed saw. For the encore, Hallett loops the sound of her tapping the microphone, and overlays it with some extraordinarily passionate playing on the sarangi.

Only part of the set by Lol Coxhill, Paul Rutherford, and the much younger trumpeter Ian Smith is presented here. The long, brightly coloured set-opener is mostly busy and abstract but on occasion almost verges on Dixieland polyphony. Smith plays well but nonetheless the two veterans steal the honours. The other track is a bit of a makeweight, a round of four one-minute solos; it brings the first disc to an unexpectedly muted close.

Guitarist Roger Smith rarely plays in public, and one's sense of a very private musical character was accented by the exceedingly soft dynamic level of his acoustic guitar. It was a real test for the ears, and even on the recording there are moments where you feel you'd need to have your ear pressed up against the instrument to quite follow every gesture. Like much of Smith's work the performance is marked by his patient accretion of flickering back-and-forth sweeps across the strings that return to more or less the same point from which they set out. Breaks in this cumulative process occur rarely but without warning: Sometimes the music withdraws even further into silence; on other occasions Smith states a disarmingly direct melody and then abandons it. At the piece's end is a startlingly uncharacteristic eruption of scrabbling, knocking and string-noise.

One unexpected highlight of the festival was Chris Burn's turn on the trumpet in duet with synth-player Matt Hutchinson; it provides the most sheerly entertaining music on this set, a crumbling comic dialogue that gets ever more fragmentary and distracted as it goes along. Working with a mute, Burn evokes everything from a truculent child to chimpanzee cries. Hutchinson counters with broken-calliope toots and vocalised R2D2 burbles.

The disc is rounded off by a duet by Evan Parker and John Russell. Parker starts out on soprano, playing with a breathy, beguiling lyricism. Russell's acoustic guitar work recalls Derek Bailey in terms of basic vocabulary while being otherwise decidedly unBaileyesque in its approach to structure, pace and methods of interaction - not to mention Russell's scratchy, plingy, sometimes half-choked sound that's very different from Bailey's more resonant playing. In the beginning Russell dawdles over octave figures that the older guitarist would have dispensed with quickly; instead, Russell hangs back, and it's only after several minutes that things start to get scrabbly and heated. And then he breaks a string. Parker covers for him with a circular-breathing solo, and Russell returns the favour with a brief solo of his own: crunchy twists of the tuning peg followed by a brisk scrub-down of the strings. Following this enforced interlude it seems we're back as square one - a slower-paced sequence with some gorgeously melancholy Parker arabesques - but this is deceptive. The rest of the set is decidedly combustible. Parker is in excellent form throughout, but the real stunner here is Russell, and he plays more abrasively and inventively with every minute. By the conclusion of Which End?, the players' musical relationship seems to have reached a kind of equilibrium - at which point (fittingly) the entire performance comes to a close.

Far too many discs drawn from music festivals are incoherent bundles of 'highlights' that leave one wishing for more from some groupings and nothing from others. This set is nothing like that: the musical quality throughout is exceptional, and except for the Coxhill/Rutherford/Smith concert, all sets have been presented entire. The Parker/Russell, Smith and Hallett sets in particular number among these musicians' best recent recordings. The set is highly recommended to followers of improvised music."


"The two solo performances are extraordinarily personal. Sylvia Hallett combines her wistful, evanescent songs with deeply meditative improvisations on violin, sarangi and bicycle wheel. Her 35 minute set is a fine adjunct to her solo CD WHITE FOG. Conversely, Roger Smith's Performs here in public for the first time in several years, effectively transferring the intimacy of his recent recordings to the public stage.

Similarly, the animated duo of pianist Veryan Weston and saxophonist Trevor Watts has recently been documented at greater length, but the other groups have previously gone without released recordings. Chris Burn on trumpet and Matt Hutchinson on electronics create rich associations with space and understatement, while Even Parker, on both tenor and soprano, and guitarist John Russell play rugged and rambunctious music. The wind trio of Lol Coxhill, Paul Rutherford and the younger trumpeter Ian Smith creates blustery, far-reaching, dialogue with blurred accents.

In all, it's a delightful collection of performances - and a fine gift for anyone who thinks all improvised music sounds the same."


"FREEDOM OF THE CITY 2002: SMALL GROUPS offers mostly convincing evidence for the health of the mainstream of British free improvisation in general and of the Emanem label in particular. There's very little that unifies the music on this sprawling double-disc set, other than that most of it seems to be freely improvised, and much of it is scrambling and busy rather than fiery.

Trevor Watts and Veryan Weston begin the first disc. In contrast with most sax/piano duos, Watts and Weston balance nicely with one another, with Weston sticking mostly to single-note lines and thinly voiced chords. Weston's piano playing, therefore, doesn't overwhelm Watts' saxophone or force the duo's partnership into a boring melody-and-accompaniment straightjacket. Watts' superb playing begins with the sort of tapered-off phrasing and singing vibrato one might expect to hear on a blues record, but his syntax and note choices are wonderfully odd.

Sylvia Hallett is certainly the odd person out here: her set is based on looping digital delays and changing textures rather than real-time improvisation. Hallett's abilities with loops and many acoustic instruments are impressive, but I suspect that her eerie, evocative pieces would sound better if they were recorded in a studio, where she could take advantage of the intimate production upon which her style of (semi-) electronic music often depends.

Soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill, trumpeter Ian Smith and saxophonist Paul Rutherford end the first disc with two trios that switch seamlessly between traditionally played notes and extended-technique growls, spits and screeches. The three players stay at roughly the same dynamic level throughout each piece (although the second piece is far quieter than the first), but they're always listening to each other, constantly changing textures.

After fourteen minutes of Roger Smith's tangled, Derek Bailey-esque solo guitar, Chris Burn and Matt Hutchinson offer a duo featuring two very different instruments. Burn, especially, is a fascinating player, but his trumpet never sounds like anything but a trumpet. Hutchinson's electronics, meanwhile, are a reminder of what electronics sounded like in 1983. With live improvisation, it's not fair to expect electronics to be as crisp as they are in studio recordings, but here there's a huge difference in sound between the two instruments.

Soprano saxophonist Evan Parker and guitarist John Russell finish off the second disc. Parker's rapid-fire circular breathing tends to leave some of his collaborators in the dust, but Russell sticks with him nicely by looking for the moments where Parker really gets going, poking him with accelerating plucks and busy chord patterns that propel him forward."



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