Monday, February 27, 2017

Spontaneous Music Ensemble - 1997 - Withdrawal

Spontaneous Music Ensemble 

01. Withdrawal Soundtrack - Part 1A 5:19
02. Withdrawal Soundtrack - Part 1B 5:07
03. Withdrawal Soundtrack - Part 1C 7:49
04. Withdrawal Soundtrack - Part 2 13:42
05. Withdrawal Sequence 1 11:22
06. Withdrawal Sequence 2 10:51
07. Withdrawal Sequence 3 "C4" 2:34
08. Seeing Sounds & Hearing Colours - Introduction "Puddles, Raindrops & Circles" 4:02
09. Seeing Sounds & Hearing Colours - Movement 1 4:43
10. Seeing Sounds & Hearing Colours - Movement 2 "C" 5:15
11. Seeing Sounds & Hearing Colours - Movement 3 7:23

Double Bass, Piano – Barry Guy
Drums, Percussion, Cymbal [Cymbals] – John Stevens
Guitar [Amplified] – Derek Bailey (tracks: 5 to 11)
Oboe, Alto Saxophone, Flute, Voice, Percussion – Trevor Watts
Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Percussion – Evan Parker
Trombone, Percussion – Paul Rutherford (2)
Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Percussion – Kenny Wheeler

1-4: 1966 September/October
5-11: 1967 March

Originally issued in 1997 as Emanem 4020.

All compositions by John Stevens

Here is a missing link between the first two Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME) recordings to be published. The music on CHALLENGE (recorded 1966 March and reissued on Emanem 5029) is mainly free jazz, with composed themes framing improvisations which are mostly accompanied by the rhythm section. On the other hand, KARYOBIN (recorded 1968 February, originally on Island and now with its ownership in dispute) is radically different - a distinctive, translucent group improvisation with virtually no traces of jazz left. (Some earlier recordings of this highly influential SME or "atomistic" approach were eventually issued in 1995 as SUMMER 1967 on Emanem 4005.) Some aspects of this music, such as using many instruments to produce varied 'colours', are similar to those reached around the same time by the AACM in Chicago. It should be emphasised, however, that neither group of musicians was aware of each other’s existence at the time.

This CD, however, does not give the whole interim story - thirty years later one can only listen to the aspects that were recorded. The SME was then a collective grouping with John Stevens and Trevor Watts being the prime movers (and composers). Regular performances, mostly at the Little Theatre Club in London, featured some or all of these seven musicians (plus a few others) in various combinations, sometimes using composed material. All the while, new approaches were being tried, but many did not make it to tape.

"WITHDRAWAL was composed and recorded as the soundtrack to a 35 minute film of the same name, produced and directed by George Paul Solomos. The film was adapted from a 90-page book by David Chapman, based on the true story of a young male addict and his experiences in a mental institution. The group read the book in preparation of the soundtrack which, unusually, was intended to accompany the action throughout the film from start to finish." *

The film was hardly begun when it was aborted by a funding crisis and a dispute with the British Film Institute. However, two (slightly imperfect) mono tapes of music, intended for use as the soundtrack, survived. Special mention must be made of Kenny Wheeler's very fine playing in what is almost a concerto on PART 1, with Paul Rutherford's trombone and Trevor Watts' oboe providing most imaginative foils. PART 2 contains particularly excellent playing by Watts (on alto saxophone) and Wheeler. Barry Guy's role is limited to providing a flexible drone in both parts. These 1966 pieces are extracts from longer performances – tracks 1-3 were edited together at the time for possible release, while the edited-out start of PART 2 featured the drummer laying down a rock rhythm which everyone else ignored.

These recordings are the earliest released recordings of the then recent SME recruits, Barry Guy and Evan Parker – and they will probably remain the earliest. It must be said that not much of Parker is heard here – he says he felt overawed in such company! The other four musicians had all been on the CHALLENGE LP, whilst Wheeler (who migrated in 1952 from Toronto to London where he subsequntly remained) had appeared on numerous jazz records during the previous decade.

For the next three months Stevens was resident in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, with one or two other SME musicians joining him for shorter periods. The group still continued during this period under the direction of Watts, and there was one (as yet unissued) recording session - the only SME recording without Stevens. Watts also invited Derek Bailey to join them at the Little Theatre Club so, when Stevens returned, the group comprised seven musicians who all went on to have very distinguished careers in free improvisation and/or other areas of music.

It was decided to record an LP to be called WITHDRAWAL that would include a reworking of some of the material used for the soundtrack, plus a new suite composed by Stevens while he was away. The remainder of this CD (tracks 5-11) is the music that was chosen for that LP, but not issued until 1997 – all of these pieces are complete performances.

This session is one of the earliest recordings of Bailey playing free music. He appears to play excellently thoughout, but is unfortunately rather under-recorded.

The revisiting of the WITHDRAWAL material is quite different from the soundtrack recordings. For instance, Guy no longer has the restricted droning role he had before. The most obvious item in common is the glockenspiel motif played intermittently on the soundtrack by Stevens, and now played by Parker (who does not even get to play a saxophone on the two major tracks).

SEQUENCE 1 features some very fine trombone and trumpet work, and a prime example of what Victor Schonfield calls "start/stop" drumming. Stevens still used a fairly orthodox jazz drums and cymbals kit - the small SME kit (first recorded on SUMMER 1967) was some months off. SEQUENCE 2 is particularly notable for Watts' flute playing (over a rare example of Guy playing piano), while other tracks feature his equally strong oboe playing, A year or two later, he decided to concentrate exclusively on the soprano and alto saxophones, and abandoned his other wind instruments. SEQUENCE 3 is a sparse composed theme over a busy backdrop (based on C4 written for the mid-1966 Jeff Clyne Quartet SPRINGBOARD date).

"SEEING SOUNDS AND HEARING COLOURS was a suite composed and directed by Stevens with specific musical textures, timbres and 'colours' in mind. He said the composition had been influenced by Webern's FIVE PIECES FOR ORCHESTRA, and that he visualised the score one morning (lines and shapes) while in Amsterdam. It reveals the group at an historically significant transitional point, experimenting with instrumentation and composition, before taking the plunge with free improvisation, but the group were not wholly satisfied with these experiments and Stevens later felt he was 'getting side-tracked from the natural, organic approach towards improvisation'. The suite was dedicated to artist Geoff Rigden."

The INTRODUCTION featuring oboe and bowed cymbal was inspired by a scene depicting raindrops falling into pools of water in a natural history film about New Zealand. MOVEMENT 1 starts with a flourish that ends with a long oboe note leading into a collective improvisation. MOVEMENT 2 is an improvisation built around the note C; the idea of improvising around a single note is similar to some music by Giacinto Scelsi, of whom the SME was then unaware. The final MOVEMENT 3 begins with three chords preceding a group improvisation that is terminated by the material from the start of MOVEMENT 1 in reverse.

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