JOHN STEVENS cornet, voice
TREVOR WATTS soprano saxophone
HERMAN HAUGE alto saxophone
JOHN RUSSELL electric guitar
NIGEL COOMBES violin
RON HERMAN double bass
MARC MEGGIDO double bass
DAVE SOLOMON percussion
1 - INTERMEDIATE - 15:15
Analogue concert recording made in London (ICA)
by Martin Davidson - 1973 July 1
HERMAN HAUGE alto saxophone
SIMON MORTIMER piano on 3-5
NIGEL COOMBES violin on 2
MARC MEGGIDO double bass on 2-5
DAVE SOLOMON percussion
2 - ALTITUDES - 10:27
3 - UNARMOURED - 25:16
4 - GESTURE - 5:35
5 - ARANATA - 4:13
6 - LUCID - 10:23
7 - ZEAL - 4:54
Total time 76:31
All previously unissued
Our group Otherways was put together in early 1973 with the aim of exploring interactive improvisational territory along with some curiosity about where exactly it would lead us. Marc, Simon, David and I had known each other for some time, were good friends by then, and felt confident enough as musicians to follow this exploration through. I myself had grown up listening to an extensive range of classical music but always felt intuitively that there were indeed ‘other ways’ of making adventurous music.
From about 1964 on I’m pleased to say my curiosity led me beyond exclusively Eurocentric references so that I was listening avidly to music from all round the world where different cultures have alternative traditions that put our own into question. Here in Europe Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin among many others were outstanding improvisers in their day and renowned for their abilities in this field. Bach was in fact almost unknown as a composer in his day but famous instead for his prodigious improvisational skills, even writing several instructional manuals on how to accomplish this effectively. The result frequently was that the compositions would develop out of the extemporising.
But of course there are no recordings so that has as yet not been recognised as a phenomenon deemed worthy of instruction in conservatories, let alone healthy encouragement. Quite the opposite in fact... As far as I can ascertain it is the norm in these educational establishments actively to discourage students from any attempts to be inventive in this area. You could say then that apparently music students go to conservatories where effectively they are taught not to be able to improvise.
To quote Julliard-trained classical pianist and music therapist Eric Barnhill, ‘Improvisation lay at the centre of the conception of what it meant to be a musician… Our understanding of the evolution of western music is terminally distorted…’
Being perpetually in thrall to a procession of composers whose works speciously seem set in stone can arguably reduce musicians to the functioning roles of being not much more than galley slaves. An outrageous and offensive notion? Not necessarily if considered in perspective…
I confess I’m optimistic enough to anticipate a future stage in our culture where there will be more fruitful working relationships between composers and improvising performers. Composition is after all a form of musical architecture and improvisation the sounds of life from around and within the completed structures. There will after all be life inside the buildings, not just empty space as it appears on the architect’s drawing board. The effective interface between design and human beings is a way of implementing a completed project. A combination to look forward to and hopefully celebrate. I wish more of this co-operation were taking place now.
All the music played here is completely improvised with no prior planning or arrangements, and there are many moments of extraordinary interplay in these performances that make me proud to have been a participant.
By way of clarification, the term ‘unarmoured’ derives from Wilhelm Reich’s identification of how people going about their lives become protectively armoured against competitive pressures. These pressures are perceived by the inner personality as hostile threats from the outside world and so from an early age the ego develops a kind of armour which acts as a defensive shield. There are occasions though when these defences are lowered, the guarding armour dropped, and these are moments which make our lives worth living.
Within the music presented here I think the listener will detect many such moments…
HERMAN HAUGE (2011)
Around 1973, John Stevens and Trevor Watts were the only full time members of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME). Several other (mainly younger) musicians performed in various groups at the Little Theatre Club, while Stevens was also directing a couple of regular workshops in west and east London. Most of the musicians involved in these activities became the basis of the Spontaneous Music Orchestra (SMO), which can be heard on MOUTHPIECE (Emanem 4039). In between the very small SME and the very large SMO, Stevens decided to put together a medium-sized improvising group called Free Space which typically involved six to twelve people. This lasted about a year, with the personnel changing somewhat from gig to gig.
The enclosed Free Space recording, probably the only extant one usable, features an octet in a concert at the ICA. Apart from 'first generation' veterans Stevens and Watts, the others were all talented 'second generation' improvisers. Of these, only John Russell has continuously remained part of the London improvising world both as a musician and a gig organiser. Nigel Coombes went on to become a key member of the SME from 1976 to 1992, but has subsequently not performed much in public. Dave Solomon left the scene, but has recently made a come-back. Both Herman Hauge, who toured and broadcast with the extended SME in 1970, and Marc Meggido, who was in AMM with Strings, left the improvising scene years ago. Tragically, Ron Herman, a member of the 1971 SME, died at an early age.
The bulk of this CD features Otherways, a 'second generation' group co-founded by Hauge that has not appeared on record before. This delayed publication, combined with the general lack of recognition of the musicians involved, does not prepare one for the excellent music they made together. They all performed very well, although it’s unfortunate that the piano is under-recorded. The approach was rather different to that of other 'second generation' groups, such as those heard on the 1975 TEATIME (Emanem 5009), even though there were participants in common. It was also very different from that of Free Space.
MARTIN DAVIDSON (2011)
"This fifteen-minute recording, Intermediate, is the only surviving one of Free Space. Given the quality of its music, that is a pity. For an eight-piece ensemble, the music is commendably spacious, open and uncluttered. It opens quietly with delicate cornet from Stevens, gradually joined by small sounds from other players. And so it continues, with brief overlapping contributions from all concerned, no-one roaring and no prolonged period of playing from anyone. The temperature does rise gradually towards the end, led by Stevens' cornet, signaling a satisfying climax. Overall, the piece has an impressionistic quality that is remarkably modern given its vintage. It would be no surprise had it been recorded in recent years — maybe one of those tracks waiting to catch someone out in a blindfold listening.
Compared to Free Space, Otherways is rather less subdued, with Meggido and Solomon propelling it more than in the eight-piece. The group was founded by Hauge, and his playing is its trademark sound; he is featured prominently, firing off a series of distinctive solos which together demonstrate great variety and inventiveness. When present, Coombes also has plenty of solo space, his contributions being a good partner to the saxophone, thus giving the four-piece a broad palette of sounds. Easily the most impressive tracks are the two sax-percussion duos; Hauge and Solomon are highly sympathetic to each other's playing and interact well. Hearing them decades after their playing was recorded makes it all the more regrettable that Hauge is no longer active as an improviser.
As a whole, LIFE AMID THE ARTEFACTS makes engaging listening from start to finish; although definitely of historical interest, it is so much more than that."
JOHN EYLES - ALL ABOUT JAZZ 2011
"The creative music environment is full of characters that, while perhaps not crucial to the music's overall growth, nevertheless contributed some fascinating documents. It's always debatable how or whether someone's work was canonically necessary - individual fans may love or be dismissive of certain obscure artists - but then again, that's part of the reason why canons are so oppressive. Of course, when a certain musician never appeared on any contemporaneous recordings, it's hard to judge their place in history - but a "record" of a performance, whether studio or live, doesn't negate its value. While Emanem has long been a major documentarian of British free music and brought to the CD and LP a number of fascinating archival recordings, LIFE AMID THE ARTEFACTS might take the cake as an unheard curio. The disc brings together a number of performances whose common denominators are percussionist Dave Solomon and saxophonist Herman Hauge.
At first glance, one might think that these two groups are a perfect complement to the recently reissued TEATIME sessions, as both discs focus on the second wave of London improvisers. Though collectively these three groups share musicians - Solomon, violinist Nigel Coombes and guitarist John Russell - the music is entirely different. A September 1973 rehearsal joins Hauge and Solomon with bassist Marc Meggido and pianist Simon Mortimer for three improvisations that, while similarly low fidelity, are very different from the subversively Dutch-themed work of TEATIME. Solomon chatters and bashes in a field derived from somewhere left of Sunny Murray, while Hauge's alto playing stitches together cooler, worrying inventions from the John Tchicai / Lee Konitz playbook with occasional bursts indebted to Trevor Watts. While piano and bass are under-miked, their wandering chordal flesh helps to outline the group's collective, spiky pulse. From just days earlier is a Little Theatre Club recording with Coombes in for Mortimer, high-pitched glissandi mating with bowed cymbals and piercing alto squeals that gradually coalesce into a biting, shimmering stew that, on the surface, seems reminiscent of some of the textures one would find in early 1970s Afro-American art music - violin, bass and drums as a more jittery Revolutionary Ensemble, perhaps. The closing two tracks are alto-drums duets recorded in a mid-80s performance, and are quite cleanly rendered as Solomon's rattle and pop complements the quixotic, lyrical trills of Hauge's alto.
Free Space is altogether quite different from Otherways, and is more closely related to the sonic exercises John Stevens was doing with the SME/SMO during the early 1970s. Intermediate is an additive piece that moves from hushed breath to micro-movements and responsive, short phrases exuding delicacy as well as lemony sharpness. While not nearly as massive as the SMO material, Free Space provides an interesting missing link between smaller and larger-scale collective interaction, as well as being an interesting aside in the story of 'not necessarily English music'."
CLIFFORD ALLEN - NI KANTU 2011
"Intermediate is the sole Free Space piece which clocks in at 15-minutes. Asymmetrical parts minimalist and microtonal, Hauge's sax parts summon imagery of a balloon bobbing in a calm wind. Here, the instrumentalists focus on a given register then partake in a jab and spar session towards the closeout.
Otherways is a band with alternating personnel and is represented with rehearsals and performances in London in 1973 and 1984. At times rambunctious and often abetted by Dave Solomon's rumbling percussion, the unit darts, dances, and conveys frantic escapism. However, on Gesture, Hauge's smooth voicings counter Simon Mortimer's trickling piano movements and other passages that transmit a vibrant scenario amid flirtatious exchanges and orbital frameworks. With swarming pulses and propulsive breakouts, the band generates an abundance of dips and spikes.
The musicians execute fractured ballad-like musings, circular phrasings, and on Lucid, they perpetuate glowing trinkets of sound atop Solomon's use of small percussion instruments and other articulations. Coupled with the artists' ceaseless enthusiasm and borderless ruminations, the organic nature of these works instil a grassroots characteristic, underscored by a modality that may be analogous to neural engineering-like initiatives.
Rating: Four Stars"
GLENN ASTARITA - JAZZREVIEW 2011
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