derek bailey | lot 74: solo improvisations



Derek Bailey / guitar.
Recorded: Spring 1974.

Due to the expressive potential of his instrument and his willingness and ability to exploit it to the fullest, Derek Bailey has become one of the most complete musicians in the world today: complete in the sense that Bailey as soloist is now on the verge of creating a music that only a short time back might have been created by several musicians. A comparison of Lot 74 with one of the first sides of ISKRA 1903 (review to follow) is instructive. The range of sound and timbre is naturally greater on the trio date, but Bailey comes quite close to singlehandedly simulating its rhythmic/harmonic complexity.

incus12.jpgAn interesting thought comes to mind: perhaps the guitar, particularly as it is being explored by Bailey, has assumed a role in this music that was the domain of the piano in music more directly dependent upon the tempered scale; if so, then the guitar has become the single instrument most inherently capable of presenting the music in all its dimensions at once. Bailey, however, is the lone practicioner.

Making use of an extended range, he achieves this “orchestral” sense by playing one end of the instrument against the other; utilized in conjunction with unusual harmonies, lengthened tones, and various rhythmic figures and tempos, this works to set up several seemingly “independent” musical entities. It’s perhaps far removed but not really too different from what a saxophonist does when, while improvising on a particular melody, he sets up a honking riff underneath. Bailey, however, sets up multiple reference points and (as well as overlapping) they are liable to be frequently changing, right out from under you.

rileythebook.jpgYet while the form of Bailey’s music is different, its content is not without its roots. Some of these have been touched on by Peter Riley (”Some Considerations of the Playing of Derek Bailey“, SEAT WORKS TWO, October 1973): “Webern has been studied, but the social context of this music makes it clear that such study has not been a means to instant contemporaneity, nor a step toward the high-brow, for much shorter routes to those undesirable ends are available. Nor has it resulted in a complete abstract – the base layer is a rich resource of part-reference whether conscious or not: mandolins & Balalaikas strumming in the distance, George Formby’s banjo, Leadbelly’s steel 12-string, koto, lute, classical guitar…. and others quite outside the field of the plucked string.”

Having now heard Derek Bailey on about a dozen different recordings, in contexts ranging from this solo album to a 16-piece orchestra, and in the company of any number of the most important improvisors anywhere (including Peter Brotzmann, Han Bennink, Evan Parker, Paul Rutherford, Alexander v. Schlippenbach, John Tchicai, and others), I can likewise attest that Bailey’s music is not as intensely self-contained as it may appear on first hearing and that it is accessible to anyone willing to open their ears to it. Lot 74 is Bailey’s latest significant contribution to the field of contemporary music; as well as an interesting extension of his previous work, it might also serve as a useful introduction into his aesthetic world.

Henry Kuntz, 1975


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