Derek Bailey New Sights, Old Sounds Solo Live Review

BBC Review

Re-issue of live and studio recordings from improvising guitar hero Bailey.

John Eyles 2002

Last Autumn, when I interviewed Derek Bailey, he told me that he thought solo guitar playing was a second rate activity compared to playing with people, and that he preferred releasing newly recorded music to stuff from the archives. Thankfully, both of these opinions have been outweighed in selecting this latest Incus release, a double CD of his solo playing recorded in Japan in May 1978.

These recordings briefly saw the light of day on the Japanese Morgue label, but almost immediately disappeared following the death of label proprietor Aquirax Aida (who introduced Bailey to Japan). They have become much sought after, and copies of the Morgue LPs are extortionately expensive. Bailey has finally acquired the rights to release them, having been trying for at least a decade, which may be an indication of how he feels about this music.

One CD is studio recorded, the other live. They provide an interesting contrast, one that goes beyond his using acoustic guitar in the studio and electric guitar live. In the studio, Bailey is introspective and exploratory. With no other player to react to, he sounds exposed. His avoidance of the expected, of clichés, of well-worn paths (call it what you will) seems more tangible than ever. Sometimes, his deliberation is almost painful to hear.

Live, although his methodology is not radically different from in the studio, Bailey sounds more assured and fluent, less introspective. He has the audience to react to, but is not just playing to the audience, he is playing to the gallery. On this early trip to Japan, he seems keen to make a lasting impression. The live set uses amplification and feedback to good effect, with periods where the sound is just in control, teetering on the edge of chaos.

This is a fascinating release that illuminates Bailey's solo playing as much as any I can recall.

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