Sunday, February 26, 2017

Spontaneous Music Ensemble - 1975 - Face to Face

Spontaneous Music Ensemble
Face to Face

01. Preface To Face A 3:30
02. Preface To Face B 4:16
03. Face To Face 1 10:34
04. Face To Face 2 Middle 4:06
05. Face To Face 2 End 1:38
06. Face To Face 3 3:57
07. Face To Face 4 5:29
08. Face To Face 5 9:15
09. Face To Face 6 4:48
10. Face To Face 7 Middle & End 10:16

All analogue recordings made in London at the Little Theatre Club
1-3: 1973 November 29
4-9: 1973 December 6
10: 1973 December 14

3-4 & 6-10 originally issued in 1975 as Emanem LP 303 Spontaneous Music Ensemble - Face To Face
1-2 & 5 previously unissued


Face to face means exactly that. When Trevor and I perform it, we are seated to enable the drums and the saxophone to be approximately on the same level. We face each other and play at each other, allowing the music to take place somewhere in the middle. This is very much an outward process. We are trying to be a total ear to the other player, allowing our own playing to be of secondary importance, apart from something that enables the other player to follow the same process - the main priority being to hear the other player totally. Both players are working at this simultaneously. At this stage we are not aware of the total sound of the two players. When we arrive at hearing the other player completely and playing (almost subconsciously) for his sake at the same time, we then allow ourselves to bring into focus the duo sound. Up to this point we've let our own personal playing function in an unconscious way. From then on we start to converse naturally, retaining the group awareness we've developed between us. Free group improvisation is our aim, and a preparation piece like this is to aid us to achieve the concentration required for the best results. The actual process, loosely described in these notes, may only take a few seconds, but those few seconds are significant in getting us beyond ourselves and into the music. Trevor and I have been the best of friends since 1959, and would like to feel that this, our first duo record, is a good example of that friendship.


John Stevens (1940-1994) and Trevor Watts (b. 1939) first met in 1959 when they (and Paul Rutherford) were in the Royal Air Force. They re-met in 1965, when Stevens became the drummer in the quintet co-led by Watts and Rutherford. With the opening of the Little Theatre Club at the beginning of 1966, that group became the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME). The personnel evolved over the next year. Early in 1967 Stevens had become the sole leader, and the other members were Watts, Rutherford, Kenny Wheeler, Evan Parker, Derek Bailey and Barry Guy. By the middle of that year, with a change of musical direction to the beginning of what is generally considered SME music, the group had reduced to the duo of Stevens and Parker, with other musicians added on an ad hoc basis. Watts, meanwhile, formed the first version of Amalgam with Guy and others.

In the Spring of 1968, Parker left the SME, and Watts rejoined - Stevens and Watts becoming the mainstay of the group until 1976. Once again, various musicians were added on an ad hoc basis, and some joined for extended periods, notably, Maggie Nicols, Johnny Dyani, Mongezi Feza, Julie Tippett and Ron Herman. Stevens also joined Amalgam, which coexisted and continued to explore more jazz related areas during this period.

In 1976, Watts left the SME and Stevens left Amalgam, with the two of them rarely working together thereafter. From 1976 to 1992, the SME was the trio of Stevens, Nigel Coombes and Roger Smith, and at the time of Stevens' untimely death, John Butcher had replaced Coombes. Amalgam continued for some years with Watts, who eventually replaced it with his various groups going under the general name of Moiré Music.

During the latter half of 1973, the SME was just the duo of Stevens and Watts. The two had become extremely close musically, and the music had become very austere - stripped down to the bare essentials. The end result was at times akin to one person playing two instruments, unlike so many duos which sound like two people playing solo simultaneously. This could be called minimalist music, if that term had not been hijacked by the school of ad nauseam mechanical repetition.

The main piece performed during this period was entitled FLOWER. This can, perhaps, best be described as sub-minimal - it certainly makes the music on this disc sound decidedly rococo! After this exercise in hyper-austerity, the duo was ready to make the magnificent music heard herein.

All of the versions of FACE TO FACE recorded are now included on this disc, although numbers 2 and 7 have been edited. (The first two pieces were not included on the original LP due to lack of space. Since they were performed before the piece that came to be titled FACE TO FACE 1, they have been called PREFACE TO FACE.) Although all the pieces start off from the same premise, and bear similar titles, they end up encompassing a considerable range of expression, with each one capable of standing on its own. They were highly influential when they were first released, and are still worthy of further investigation.

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