ALAN TOMLINSON trombone
STEVE BERESFORD electronics & objects
ROGER TURNER drum set & percussion
A1 - WC1R 4RL - 17:53
STEFAN KEUNE sopranino saxophone
JOHN RUSSELL guitar
A2 - MAMA YI SAYS HELLO - 21:20
VIV CORRINGHAM voice
ANGHARAD DAVIES violin
A3 - BETA PLEAT - 14:05
ALAN WILKINSON alto & baritone saxophones, voice
MARCIO MATTOS double bass
STEVE NOBLE drum set & percussion
A4 - THE LIVER IS THE COCK'S COMB - 22:53
MILO FINE clarinets, piano, drum set
HUGH DAVIES invented instruments
PAUL SHEARSMITH pocket trumpet, baliphone, hand flute
TONY WREN double bass
B1 - TONPSYCHOLOGIE - 25:17
JOHN BUTCHER soprano & tenor saxophones
JOHN EDWARDS double bass
B2 - SPOKES - 18:55
RHODRI DAVIES harp
MARK WASTELL cello
SIMON H FELL double bass
B3 - DYNEIDDIWR - 10:51
GAIL BRAND trombone
PHIL DURRANT laptop electronics
MARK SANDERS drum set & percussion
PAT THOMAS keyboard electronics
B4 - RELATIVE POVERTY - 23:57
Digital concert recordings made in London
at the Conway Hall by Paul Brogden - 2003 May 5
Total time 156:05
All previously unissued
This album features some of the very varied small groups that I asked to perform on the third day of the third FREEDOM OF THE CITY festival - are there really people who think that all improvised music sounds the same? Long-standing groups appeared alongside one-off get-togethers - loud, dense groups alongside quiet, sparse ones - and plenty in between.
As in previous years, the main problem in organising this festival was not who to invite, but who to leave out - there being so many fine improvising musicians based in London (and elsewhere). Several people who had not previously appeared at the festival were featured this time, including two visitors.
(A clarification about the three people called Davies: Angharad and Rhodri are sister and brother, while Hugh is unrelated.)
Alan Tomlinson, Steve Beresford and Roger Turner all started making themselves felt (and heard) in the 1970s. Although they were 'second generation' improvisers, they all found routes not taken by their predecessors. They have been working with numerous people ever since, but only recently formed this trio.
John Russell and Stefan Keune met in 1994 in a quartet called Beware of Art. Since 1997 they have often visited each other's countries (and elsewhere) to work as a duo.
This was only the second time that Viv Corringham and Angharad Davies had worked as a duo - their first appearance was a few months earlier in the tiny basement of Sound 323. So this is their initial duo appearance on record, although both have appeared over the years in other contexts.
The trio, FREE BASE - Alan Wilkinson, Marcio Mattos and Steve Noble - have been performing since the mid-1990s. Wilkinson is actually one of the quietest and most gentle people I know - that is, until he gets behind a saxophone.
Milo Fine has been the mainstay of the Minneapolis improvising scene for over three decades. He paid an extended visit to London in 2003, but put together this quartet before arriving. The other three members are all veterans of the London scene - electronic instrument-maker Hugh Davies first appeared in the 1960s, while Paul Shearsmith and Tony Wren go back to the early 1970s.
John Butcher and John Edwards have been working as a closely-knit duo since 1999, as well as meeting in larger groups.
The improvising string trio, IST, was formed in 1995. Initially convened by Simon H Fell, it was the first group in which Rhodri Davies and Mark Wastell played together.
LUNGE was formed late in 1997 by the quartet of Gail Brand, Phil Durrant, Mark Sanders and Pat Thomas. Durrant and Thomas have at times used violin and piano respectively, but on this occasion they just used electronics.
The Conway Hall is owned by a group whose ethic is morality without religion, and belief in human potential. The motto above the stage - 'To thine own self be true' - seems equally appropriate to the world of improvised music.
MARTIN DAVIDSON (2004)
"The trio of Alan Tomlinson, Steve Beresford and Roger Turner travels towards virgin territories where trombone, electronics and percussion lose their unique identity fusing into an acid deranged firecracker of joyous absurdity, with almost no time for reflection. Stephan Keune and John Russell, on sopranino sax and guitar, continue to surprise and amaze with a series of engaging bird-like discourses leaving no doubt on their high-virtuosity immersion in fresh waters of fun. Pure excellence transpires from the Viv Corringham/Angharad Davies duo; violin and voice become one in a piece that's challenging and disturbing at the same time, very nerve-touching and beautiful. Large doses of powerful interplay come from Free Base (Alan Wilkinson, Marcio Mattos, Steve Noble); their track is the nearest one to the commonly used concept of 'improvisation' between jazz-influenced musicians, literally exploding with positive energies.
The second CD opens with the most abstract playing of the whole set: Milo Fine, Hugh Davies, Paul Shearsmith and Tony Wren run amock between spontaneous eruptions and subdued shades of pinpoint elucubrations, embracing lots of definitions but endorsing none. Saxophone and double bass duos can't get better than John Butcher and John Edwards', especially when they explore the realms of droning resonance and dark-alley polyphony while knotting fingers and tongue in complex marvellous new languages; in that sense their Spokes could be the top of this selection. But if you need a mix of silent musical gestures and almost immobile vibration around well chosen plucks of harp and cello strings - PLUS an intramolecular double bass breaching of conventions, look no further than the trio of Rhodri Davies, Mark Wastell and Simon H.Fell: their intensity is directly proportional to the lots of spaces they vacuum-clean of any regular timbre. Lunge (Gail Brand, Phil Durrant, Mark Sanders and Pat Thomas) put the final word on these gorgeous recordings, climbing up the hills where the rarefied air of acoustic instruments (trombone and percussion) is easier to be savoured when spiced with smart use of keyboards and laptop running scared from repetition and clichés. That said, I'm left gasping for air at the end of this unbelievable gathering of great independent artists."
MASSIMO RICCI - TOUCHING EXTREMES 2004
"Big names like Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, Paul Rutherford and Trevor Watts having taken part to the event the previous year, this album may seem to lack panache at first glance, but don¹t be fooled: it is filled to the rim with fascinating music, mostly from musicians that don't get enough exposure outside the London scene. The trio of Alan Tomlinson, Steve Beresford and Roger Turner has a CD out on Emanem. Their 18-minute performance explores the same kind of abstract playfulness. Stefan Keune and John Russell's duet runs longer than anything they have previously released and hits higher peaks than their album FREQUENCY OF USE. Singer Viv Corringham and violinist Angharad Davies make their duo recording debut with Beta Pleat, a gripping piece revealing a deep understanding between the two improvisers. Disc 1 concludes with a vehement and eventful piece by Free Base (Steve Noble, Marcio Mattos and the towering Alan Wilkinson). Compared to this muscular finale, the opening track on disc 2, courtesy of Milo Fine, Hugh Davies, Paul Shearsmith and Tony Wren, sounds slightly thin and uneven. John Butcher and John Edwards deliver another strong improvisation (do they ever have a bad day?), while IST offers one of the most immersive and challenging moments of the album. The quartet Lunge (Gail Brand, Phil Durrant, Mark Sanders and Pat Thomas) concludes the album with a piece in the vein of the most electronic material presented on their album STRONG LANGUAGE."
FRANÇOIS COUTURE - ALL-MUSIC GUIDE 2004
"Many of the participants are veterans of British improv while others are less familiar, but all of these performances have much to recommend them. The first trio, Tomlinson/Beresford/Turner, set the pace with kissy trombone sounds and electronic plinks, gradually building in intensity before dropping to near silence. Beresford's electronics are complementary in pitch to the trombone and he acts as a solid middleman between horn and rhythm. John Russell's guitar playing is percussive, rich with harmonics and pendular notepairs while partner Stefan Keune squalls and squeaks like an angry bat on sopranino sax. The violin of Angharad Davies scrapes and growls behind Viv Corringham's sung multiphonics and deep gutterations, a nightmare soundtrack. On The Liver is the Cock's Comb Free Base (Wilkinson, Mattos and Noble) sonically interpret an Arshile Gorky painting with staggering results. The interplay between bass and bari makes this one of the best performances of the set.
Milo Fine and friends investigate the psychology of sound to start the second disc. It has some strong moments but sounds a bit too much like an orchestra warming up until the four musicians begin to really connect. No such problem plagues Butcher and Edwards, two of the scene's finest. Their interactions are exceptionally tight and entertaining from start to finish. IST, the string trio of Davies, Wastell and Fell, is extremely sparse, with barely a dozen notes played in the first couple of minutes. Aside from a few sudden volume jumps it never gets much fuller, and the impact is iffy. The disc closes with a 24-minute improv by Lunge which also takes forever to rise from silence. A couple of minutes in, Mark Sanders' percussion builds and the music takes on a character of progressive evolution. By the nine-minute mark the quartet is rollicking like an alien bebop band. Once again Emanem has drawn some excellent colours from the broad palette of contemporary improvisation."
TODD JENKINS - ALL ABOUT JAZZ LOS ANGELES 2004
"The opening set features an interesting, and at times quite disjointed, trio of trombonist Alan Wilkinson, percussionist Roger Turner, and Steve Beresford manipulating electronics and objects. On the one hand, there is great sympathy between these three veteran players; their darting, multi-directional approach and lightning quick oscillation between techniques and instrumental strategies is both stimulating and familiar as a home-cooked meal. This garrulous, busy set is followed by much more abstract and rarefied performance by the duo of acoustic guitarist John Russell and sopranino saxophonist Stefan Keune. Keune has a distinct voice on the difficult tiny sax, and his swan-diving and tonal contortions contrast vividly (and quite pleasurably) with Russell's choked chords and ringing harmonics (though the piece is a bit overlong and on occasion repetitive).
The duet for vocalist Vivienne Corringham and violinist Angharad Davies was altogether more compelling for me, with the vaguely tortured vocalisms blending subtly with the now brutal, now delicate playing of Davies. Corringham ranges from the outlandish forays of Phil Minton or Maggie Nicols to extremely sparse cooing (particularly during a lovely upper register drone section during the last third of the piece). But just in case you're jonesing for some old school, throwdown free improv, you get it at the end of disc one with the trio Free Base (baritone monster Alan Wilkinson, bassist Marcio Mattos, and percussionist Steve Noble). It rolls and rumbles, and in truth rambles, for 23 minutes, but it's also pretty exuberant fun when you're in the mood for this kind of thing.
The second disc opens with the more delicate, pointillistic improv Tonpsychologie - one which is again in a quite familiar idiom - played by Milo Fine (then visiting on tour from Minneapolis), Tony Wren, Paul Shearsmith and Hugh Davies. The junk clatter at times contrasts vividly with the tart vocalisms of Shearsmith or the sonorous lines from Wren, but the piece also loses direction on several occasions. Thankfully the strongest performances of this release follow. John Butcher and John Edwards create a marvellous tapestry of buzzing, shifting, microtones and a strange, birdcall language during their splendid duet. It's as strong as anything on their fine disc OPTIC. Most captivating of all is the bewitching set played by IST (harpist Rhodri Davies, cellist Mark Wastell, and bassist Simon H. Fell), eleven minutes of hushed chamber improv that might as well be played by the creatures in the rafters of Conway Hall. And the document is capped by a vigorous set from Lunge (trombonist Gail Brand, keyboardist Pat Thomas, percussionist Mark Sanders, and Phil Durrant on laptop electronics). So in summary, this is an essential release for London improv freaks; for others, it's got some really fine performances, but is a bit mixed overall."
JASON BIVINS - ONE FINAL NOTE 2004
"Anyone who still believes that free jazz/improvised music consists of randomly interchangeable groupings of non-musicians expressing their seemingly bottomless angst by banging away - at ear-splitting volume - on instruments they haven't learned to play, and deliberately casting any vestige of rhythm, pitch, melody, dynamics, or subtlety aside in favour of endless cacophony should give this album a chance. It documents one afternoon and evening of the annual event organised in part by Emanem Records owner Martin Davidson, and showcases mostly complete performances by eight different groupings of musicians, and I do mean different. Anyone who is willing to dump their pre-conceived notions of free music and listen without prejudice will find great blocks of intelligent, intricate, challenging, and - yes - enjoyable music within this double CD set.
Disc 1 begins with a trio performance featuring Alan Tomlinson's trombone, Roger Turner's drumming, and Steve Beresford's electronics and 'objects'. This grouping spends nearly 18-minutes playing with (not in) the European classical tradition. Alternately child-like and serious, and using as much slapstick humour as strum und drunge, they manage to cram what seems like the entire history of the form into this extract.
Stefan Keune and John Russell accompany each other as the former explores the outer reaches of the sopranino saxophone while the latter demonstrates his own, highly original fingering and chording technique. It is, at times, highly reminiscent of the meetings between Evan Parker and Derek Bailey, with each musician seeming to anticipate the other's every move.
Free Base has worked together for a number of years and features a relative rarity in free music, the baritone sax. The bari has a sometimes-deserved reputation as an unwieldy instrument, difficult to maneuver and - because of its low tones - hard to hear clearly when the going gets fast, but Alan Wilkinson handles it with great dexterity and near-crystal clarity from the opening, strutting stridently across the speakers with great authority for nearly the first quarter of the piece. At about the six-minute mark, an astonishing thing happens: Wilkinson, bassist Marcio Mattos, and drummer Steve Noble reach across time and the ocean to New York City in the 1960's, where they pay an obviously heartfelt tribute to the old ESP-Disc label. This 'look back' continues for nearly 12 minutes before Wilkinson begins to alternate alto and vocal chanting over some intricate percussion and arco work that is absolutely chilling. Finally, at about the 20 minute mark, the group begins a long wind up, beginning with quiet saxophone riffing over an extended drum roll, and building to an all-stops-pulled-out crescendo that takes us, once again, back to the '60's.
The opening track of Disc 2 catches Minneapolis-based multi-instrumentalist Milo Fine near the end of an extended British, in one of the two quartet situations documented in this set. Alternating Bb clarinet, piano and drums, Fine joins fellow multi-instrumentalist Paul Shearsmith (pocket trumpet, baliphone, and hand flute) along with Tony Wren's bass and Hugh Davies on multishozyg, an instrument of his own invention, in the type of situation he seems to enjoy best: an encounter where the musicians play in tandem, with solos arising out of the organic unity created by the ensemble mix. If this description sounds a tad touchy-feely, then try this: what sounds like a sort-of free music ESP is actually a group of musicians listening intently to each other's playing, then giving each other the space to play whenever and wherever it is needed/warranted. Fine brings to the clarinet the same sort of curiosity-in-exploration that Keune and Parker bring to their saxophones (although their approaches differ); his piano work is probing, and his drumming is revelatory, reminding us (and we need reminding!) that the drums are a bona-fide instrument, not merely a vehicle for noisemaking. Shearsmith alternates between his instruments so seamlessly, and with such effortless grace, that the differences are often hard to discern. It requires careful listening to figure out when his pocket trumpet gives way to the baliphone or the hand flute. The same is true for the blending of Tony Wren's bass with Davies' multishozyg. Who's playing what? Then again, what's the difference anyway? The music they are making is nothing short of sublime throughout. I tend to be wary of invented instruments, but I was quite taken with Davies' largely successful attempts to create a truly original instrument, with a sound all its own.
The meeting between John Butcher (tenor and soprano) and John Edwards (bass) is a duet in the purest sense. There is not a case of lead instrument with accompaniment, neither is there a sense that these two merely happen to be standing within hearing distance of each other while playing solos. As was true of the previous track - and as, indeed, can be said for every grouping on this album - the incredible harmony achieved by these musicians is accomplished by their ability to listen closely to one another, and respond with ideas of their own which, in turn, inspires the other(s), and so on, until it begins to sound as though there is only one musician - or, at least, only one mind - at work.
The trio, IST brings together an unusual grouping: the harp of Rhodri Davies with Mark Wastell's cello and Simon H. Fell's bass. Here is an example of how quiet free music can be. This is music with an almost Zen-like quality; almost meditative in its outlook. IST brings a sense of nature and open spaces to their music; I can hear the breezes blowing, the running water, the occasional snapping twig in the forest. Yet, by no stretch of the imagination does this qualify as New Age drivel. It is a study in space and silence, reminiscent of John Cage who, I think, would have enjoyed this grouping.
Freedom of the City 2003 closes with a performance by Lunge. Once again, we are out-of-doors, but these outdoors are less pastoral. Gail Brand's trombone seems to run through Africa, while Mark Sanders' percussion chases her down a dirt path and the restless natives of Phil Durant and Pat Thomas begin to wonder what all the noise is about. When everyone stops for a rest, we hear some of the more subtle forest murmurs - birds are calling to each other, and there's a waterfall close by - but what's that sound off in the distance; an elephant, or maybe an entire heard?
Most of the musicians on this album live and work in Europe. They play to small crowds for little or no money, and make next to nothing from the sale of their recordings. FREEDOM OF THE CITY - SMALL GROUPS offers you the chance to be a force for change in the music business. Start another British invasion; buy this album."
LOU SANTACROCE - LAST UNICORN RECORD STORE NEWSLETTER
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