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Barry Guy, Howard Riley, Philipp Wachsmann Improvisations Are Forever Now, 1977-9 Review

Album. Released 2002.  

BBC Review

Reissue of 1977 session from Brit improv stars.

Bill Tilland 2002

On this CD issue/reissue, three notables from the British free improv scene collaborate spontaneously during two afternoon studio sessions, one recorded in December 1977, and the other in January 1979. The pieces from the 1977 session, eight in all, were previously released on an LP; the three 1979 pieces that round out the set are previously unreleased.

Each musician was already a mature artist at the time of the initial recordings. Pianist Riley and violinist Wachsmann were in their mid-thirties; Bassist Guy, the baby of the group, had just turned thirty. Guy's name has perhaps the strongest international cachet, due to his responsibilities as director and chief composer for the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, which he helped to found in 1970. But both Riley and Wachsmann have impressive resumes as well, and both are longstanding members of the LJCO.

Riley's contributions provide the trio with a rhythmic and harmonic center of gravity on most of the CD's eleven tracks. He utilizes rapid runs and tone clusters somewhat reminiscent of Cecil Taylor, although he is by no means an "energy" player, and displays only sporadic touches of Taylor's flamboyant physicality.

Wachsmann and Guy scrabble, saw and scrape behind him (or less frequently in a duet format), sounding sometimes like an animated insect convocation, sometimes like alien radio transmissions from distant galaxies, and other times like rats gnawing at wainscoting.

Pizzicato playing, rapid glissandos and all manner of extended techniques are the preferred mode for the strings, but vaguely lyrical legato passages emerge at times, as the collective spirit dictates. With Guy playing all over the bass, and also applying realtime electronic treatments (as does Wachsmann), it's sometimes difficult to distinguish bass from violin. Riley blurs distinctions even further by sometimes probing his instrument's innards, producing a variety of small, supportive sounds on the piano strings.

In spite of the generally jagged, hard-edged nature of the proceedings, it's obvious at all times that the three participants are highly attuned to one another, and group dynamics are managed skillfully, with eerie, almost meditative sections evolving into careening cat and mouse chases, and twitchy sonic outbursts.

Music of this sort never has much surface appeal, but the best of it can eventually draws the receptive listener in, inviting an appreciation of tones and textures and the ebb and flow of spontaneous creation. The superficial impression might be that of a series of impenetrable academic exercises, but closer listening reveals a sense of drama, an interior logic and the emotional resonance of three people who are thoroughly enjoying their collective musical journey.

Credit also to Dave Hunt and the Emanem production crew for taking most of the music on this CD from the original vinyl release in the absence of master tapes. Under the circumstances, the sound is remarkably clean and nuanced, with all of the subtler interactions retained.

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