If one recognises parallels between improv and conversation, this music is not idle...
John Eyles 2002-11-20
Of the many significant improvised music ensembles formed in the late 60s and early 70s (AMM, Globe Unity Orchestra, ICP, The London Jazz Composers' Orchestra, SME, to name a few), Iskra 1903 was one of the least recorded and (with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight) one of the more important.
Formed by Paul Rutherford in 1970, and originally consisting of Rutherford, Barry Guy and Derek Bailey, the trio had no drummer, in contrast to all those listed above in which the drummer was a key figure. This removed any expectations of a conventional rhythm or pulse, allowing the listener to focus on the individual voicings and their interactions, a giant leap at the time. Emanem has been a primary source of Iskra 1903 recordings; the triple CD Chapter One (Emanem 4301) documented their earliest work from 1970 to 1972, and Buzz Soundtrack is an important complement to it. Recorded early in the trio's existence, it is the soundtrack to a long forgotten film by Michael Grigsby, a friend of Rutherford's. The trio played while viewing the film, providing a soundtrack to complement the events they saw on screen. Across the twenty-one tracks (which play continuously, without gaps) there are trio, duo and solo pieces.
Unlike most improvised music, the players are not primarily reacting to each other's playing but to the stimulus of the film. However, this music definitely stands alone, not needing any visuals to enhance it. Similar in character to the trio's earliest work on Chapter One, the defining qualities on show are subtlety, restraint, patience and sensitivity. The music is allowed to evolve slowly without any of the players forcing the issue. All three sublimate individual ego to the greater totality, content to leave each other ample space in which to create, without the need to constantly assert themselves. If one recognises parallels between improv and conversation, this music is not idle chatter or a heated argument; it is a polite, formal debate.
Given that it is over thirty years old, Buzz Soundtrack sounds remarkably contemporary; the understatement and restraint displayed are reminiscent of the work of New London Silence players such as Mark Wastell and Rhodri Davies. This welcome release can stand on its merits; it is of far more than historical interest.