PAUL RUTHERFORD trombone
PHILIPP WACHSMANN violin & electronics
BARRY GUY double bass & electronics
A1 - BALHAM BEDFORD 1 - 28:57
A2 - BALHAM BEDFORD 2 - 19:22
A3 - BALHAM BEDFORD 3 - 13:54
A4 - BALHAM BEDFORD 4 - 14:21
B1 - CLAPHAM COMMON SUN 1 - 25:15
B2 - CLAPHAM COMMON SUN 2 - 16:02
B3 - CLAPHAM COMMON SUN 3 - 32:35
All previously unissued
These two concerts come from an eight-year gap in the published recordings of Iskra 1903, between the 1983 tour heard on CHAPTER TWO and the concert heard on FRANKFURT 1991. They certainly show that there was no musical reason for such a gap – on the contrary, they make this listener want more. This surely must have been one of the most musically consistent bands ever, with this second version continuing the high standards set by the original edition.
I cannot recall hearing a dull, let alone bad, performance of Iskra 1903. Even the music they recorded around 1971 for a film sound track, BUZZ SOUNDTRACK, although somewhat restricted compared with their 'normal' performances, is still enjoyable good music. (The fact that it was put down in a book full of drivel only goes to confirm its worthiness.)
Madelaine Davidson describes the music of Iskra 1903 and a few other such groups as being 'internally consistent but not conventional.' In most music, consistency (where it exists) does depend on conventions such as a predetermined structure: a chord sequence or modes and/or rhythm and/or a specified chain of events, etc. In aesthetically successful free improvisation groups like Iskra 1903, even the structure is completely spontaneous and depends upon the ability of the musicians to play together and go with each other.
The result is a very wide spectrum of music ranging from slow and quiet to fast and furious, but usually staying in between these extremes. The music is always unpredictable, yet it remains totally consistent. There are no forced or preplanned unnatural moves to get from one scenario to another – one is usually not aware that the music has changed until sometime after it has.
It obviously helps that all three musicians are seasoned improvisers, each with their own distinctive voice, but also each with the ability to fit in with what the others are doing. Paul Rutherford may have put the group together in the first place, but once the music started he was no longer the leader. All three played an equal role with no one self-consciously following or imitating anyone else. Yet they managed to stay consistently together – surely one of the most difficult and rewarding skills in any area of music. Notice also how Philipp Wachsmann and Barry Guy skilfully enhance their playing with electronics, broadening their palettes considerably.
Iskra 1903 seemed to fizzle out sometime in the early to mid-1990s when gigs like these became financially impractical. (Such local gigs were virtually never financially rewarding, but could at least cover the cost of getting to and from the venue.) Perhaps the group really ended in 2007 at Rutherford's funeral where Wachsmann played a short improvised solo that managed to invoke aspects of the trombonist's playing without resorting to pastiche.
Sometime before that very sad day, Wachsmann had given me the cassettes he made of the two complete gigs heard in this double album, and I was determined to issue them, with Rutherford's concurrence. The fact that it has taken me so long to issue them has nothing to do with the music, except perhaps that Rutherford left so much great music behind that it was difficult to know where to begin.
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