derek bailey | han bennink | ISKRA 1903 | verity’s place


ISKRA 1903 Incus 3/4 re-released on emanem

Paul Rutherford / trombone, piano, Derek Bailey /acoustic and amplified guitar, Barry Guy / acoustic and amplified bass.
Recorded: Sides 1 & 2: August 1970 in concert; Sides 3 & 4: May 1972.



Derek Bailey / guitar; Han Bennink / percussion.
Recorded; June 16, 17, 1972.

Everything about Iskra 1903 is revolutionary. The music is entirely spontaneous and a-thematic, freed from any compositional mediation. Neither fixed rhythms nor tempos nor any given harmonic system, tonal or atonal (Bailey would refer to it as “non-tonal”), serve as a basis for the way in which sound is organized. At most, the music rests on implied shapes (though frequently the shapes are overlapping, pushing against as well as reinforcing each other). Evan Parker perhaps described this approach best: “Improvisation is a process which defines its own form” (quoted by Steve Beresford in Musics 1). Maybe all that is necessary, then, is that the musicians adhere to some relatively shared principles as to the nature, functions, and ultimate possibilities of sound (which, after all, is all any music is based upon), but here those common beliefs have been expanded considerably; so that any pitch, timbre, rhythmic or tonal reference, or even stylistic allusion may coexist within the same musical space, the one stricture being that it does not exert a controlling influence on the music as a whole.

On the earlier date, there is still a slight awkwardness in dealing with music of such a radical sort. The presence of the piano on “Improvisation 1,” with its purity of tone and tempered harmonic system, seems particularly out of place. And bassist Guy betrays a certain romantic penchant throughout. But, even so, the achievement is fairly remarkable. Always there is a type of pulse and deep sense of expectation (one almost wants to call it drama) such as might be associated with a more linear form of jazz. And it is always apparent that, although this is in the first place group music, it allows the maximum freedom for individual expression.

incus3.jpgWhat most sets off the 1972 session from the earlier one is an even greater instrumental (and thus group) virtuosity and an even greater emphasis on timbre (as opposed to note). As a consequence, there is an even more frenetic and varied surface. Especially noticeable are the increased vocal power of the trombone and the string bass and the still greater range of expression of the guitar. Bailey, in fact, seems to almost play around everyone else, simply because he is able to imply so much through such a wide harmonic span. But Rutherford and Guy are always there, themselves instrumentalists of the first order. Guy’s tone is deep and dark and his movement always loose and flexible while Rutherford, his sound muffled and plunged, has undertaken a fuller expansion of the possibilities of the trombone than any player since Roswell Rudd. Also obvious is that these are musicians who work at playing the music they play. This is no chance meeting of these three, still less is it the product of some kind of aesthetic nihilism. What is here is a set of near telepathic trio improvisations, music which, when it is finally heard, is likely to be returned to and studied for some time to come.

The Bailey-Bennink tracks work from similar principles, but there is an unevenness in that one or the other of the two men tends to dominate. Still, the virtuostic display keeps it all interesting. There’s some absolutely classic Bailey (the opening of “Balance” or “Whiling” or just about any place), and the sometimes lacking conceptual unity should not be cause for passing this album by. There’s some classic Bennink too, ranging from the speeded-up, broken extensions of Milford Graves to the early blossomings of his current anarchic humor. At his best, Bennink provides a momentum that is something of a link to more traditional improvisational forms, and this seems to bring out more fully Bailey’s relationship to that tradition and also his radical break with it. Further, there are tracks when the balance between the two musicians is just right (“The Title,” “Din Din,” or “Day Is Done”), and these are truly extraordinary explorations. While not so conceptually concentrated an LP as Iskra 1903, Live At Verity’s Place is the type of meeting that, due to the very stylistic differences it showcases, tends to push the music into unusual areas, stretching the musicians’ abilities to the fullest. It’s the type of meeting upon which the growth and expansion of improvised music depends.

Henry Kuntz, 1975


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