So, What Do You Think
01. So, What Do You Think?
Cello [Uncredited], Bass – Dave Holland
Drums, Composed By – John Stevens
Guitar – Derek Bailey
Soprano Saxophone – Trevor Watts
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Kenny Wheeler
Recorded at Tangent, London 27th January 1971.
The SME’s music can be seen in part as one answer to the problem of motion in music, as an attempt to synthesize linear and non-linear movement within a looser improvisational context without one seeming to take precedence over the other. Cecil Taylor, of course, forged something of his own intensely compacted solution to this problem, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s procedural and stylistic stream-of-consciousness was another. But only in England has this been at the heart of any on-going musical investigations – as a result of which certain of the English musicians have come to stand in the forefront of contemporary improvisation.
The Source is a composition in several parts (by John Stevens) whose principal aesthetic thrust stems more from Coltrane’s Ascension than from anything else. There are long, drawn-out lines that serve either as a basis for improvisation or as something to improvise against; or, at times, are ignored altogether. But, as absorbing as this piece is, it is not as dark or raucous a work as Ascension and, like Coltrane’s recording, tends as much to accentuate as to come to grips with the problem of motion. That is part of its attractiveness, but it is not as advanced as certain other English music from this time (the ground-breaking Topography of the Lungs, Incus 1, for example) nor does it offer as many implications for further development as an earlier SME recording, “Oliv II” (1969), on the out-of-print Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Marmalade 608 008).
“So What Do You Think?” suggests much more. Compositionally, the piece (in two parts) is credited to John Stevens, but it seems to be almost entirely improvised. Built on and around any number of quick, discontinuous motifs, there is a sense (during “Part One” anyway) that the piece could begin or end anywhere. It is clearly going someplace, but it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not it ever really gets there. Its investigations may in fact be only of a minute area – much like watching cell activity under a microscope – or it may be all-encompassing. It is not really certain and, in a sense, it doesn’t matter. It merely exists as itself and, in its agitation, presents multiple pathways into and out of that self. Its form is neither linear nor non-linear, yet it might be thought of as either.
“Part Two” is built on similar principles, but at times there is a deliberate falling back into relatively more conventional linear movement; this is juxtaposed by the type of activity referred to above. “Part Two” is less important for its juxtapositions, but its tentative retreats allow the further advances of “Part One” to stand out all the more clearly. That part, as noted, is particularly provocative and should be heard and absorbed.