the explosive playing of guitarist Terje Rypdal and saxophonist Brotzmann will make...
Ian R Watson 2002
Actions was recorded live in 1971 at Donaueschingen and features the "New Eternal Rhythm Orchestra" (especially assembled for this project to perform under the direction of Krystzof Penderecki and Don Cherry). The Orchestra were a veritable who's who of the then emerging European Free Jazz scene; Peter Brotzmann, Willem Breuker, Paul Rutherford and Han Bennink, plus Terje Rypdal, Kenny Wheeler and Tomasz Stanko are all in evidence.
These must have been very heady days indeed when 'serious composers' like Stockhausen and Penderecki could find a common ground with jazz players like those above. For whatever reasons the Classical composers were finding that their interests and working methods (structured improvisation, graphic scores, conduction and gesture as composition) were overlapping with like-minded musicians from an altogether different area, that of free jazz.
Meanwhile Don Cherry had come out from under the shadow of his mentor Ornette Coleman to spearhead the influence of the new found freedom (particularly in Scandinavia), whilst at the same time letting different folk musics seep into his musical DNA. So it should be little surprise to hear echoes of Turkish folk and classical Indian rhythms on Cherry's pieces ("Sita Rama Encores") interspersed with explosive passages of 'energy' playing.
The Penderecki piece ("Actions for Free Jazz Orchestra") explores the balance between composition and improvisation in a less playful yet no less meaningful way. Drones and extended techniques such as overblowing (which explore a concern with timbre) sit alongside brass chords which hang in the air as well as 4/4 walking bass. Apparently influenced by the Original Globe Unity Orchestra piece of 1967, "Actions" often sounds more overtly 'jazz' than that group; there are episodes that showcase the explosive playing of guitarist Terje Rypdal and saxophonist Brotzmann that will make your hair stand on end.
Sadly Cherry has passed on, and Penderecki's promised further pieces for the group didn't materialise. That said, the combustible influences that shaped both pieces are still relevant today and find echoes in the work of Butch Morris and myriad others. Oh, I've almost forgotten to say, (amongst all this talk of structure and influence) this is still damn fine music of any stripe that can be enjoyed without any prior knowledge of its participants whatsoever. Heady days indeed.