Paul Rutherford’s, Derek Bailey’s and Barry Guy’s status as three of improvised music’s most original musical voices for since the late 60’s has always been recognised in Europe. ISKRA 1903 Chapter One 1970 – 1972 is only one such example. Although they have not won as much recognition or accolades this side of the pond, listeners here would be amazed not just by their technical prowess, but their fecund individual and collective imaginations. The three epitomize the man’s relationship between musician and society, something that appears as both haunting and fascinating in their music. And although it is not always obvious, there is a constant musical emphasis on the struggle of human endeavour. Not simply because of the reference to the revolutionary figure of Lenin in their title or because of the quote from the fiery Hugh MacDiarmid on the liners of CD A. It has everything to do with the music, however.
The origins of this classic set of three CDs lie in three sets of improvisations recorded between 1970 and 1972. Martin Davidson of EMANEM be praised yet again. Here, even in the trio’s most savage and turbulent pages is playing of an awesome clarity and poise. This aspect that runs through all of the CDs in the set with haunt and fascinate the listener as he sits through more than three hours of most challenging music ever made at any point in time. But as you listen to the music unfold, you also hear an astonishingly deft and assured dismissal of every difficulty on the prose and the poetry of this music. Such is the majesty of the intertwining of trombone, guitar and bass that the trio appears to set wild seas in uproar with unfaltering command and daunting versatility. It is also amazing how visceral and exciting each of the discs is. Even though they are months and sometimes years apart the group seems to pick up form where they left of each time they meet.
The ideas contained in the music are more exalted in the complete set of “Improvisations” and suggestive of a wider scheme of dynamics and the three “Offcuts”. However all of the works emerge as outstanding stabs at the trio format. They also draw inspiration not simply from the ethereal wind-generated tones of the trombone, but also from the string associations of guitar and bass. I am especially enamoured of “Improvisation 0” the longest segment of the lot. It is the grandest foray into the realm of music made on the spur of the moment, pushing the relationship between the musicians to the limit of their abilities. At the end there is a powerful feeling of arrival and fulfilment. Notwithstanding, the sophisticated phraseology of the three-part “Offcut” also gain a great deal from the depth of creativity and the expression of ideology.
The idea of the improvising trio is nothing new, of course; think of Paul Bley’s trios of the mid-60’s which also thrived on a sense of openness to of interaction. However ISKRA 1903 make extensive use of natural harmonics here, especially on the middle of CD B. It is almost like building a complex set of suites á là Berg. The effect is – quite literally – breathtaking aided in no small measure by the trio’s sense of intimacy throughout this set, which seems like it is more programmatic in tone. And in the “Offcut” series, which continues to fascinate, the listener will be reminded of music that is not so much of floating, but of being wrapped in a blanket of pure sound.
Track List: Improvisation 1; Improvisation 2; Improvisation 3; Improvisation 4; Improvisation 0; Offcut 1; Offcut2; Offcut 3; Improvisation 5; Improvisation 6; Improvisation 7; Improvisation 8; Improvisation 9; Improvisation 10; Improvisation 11; Extra 1; Extra 2; Extra 3; On Tour 1; On Tour 3; On Tour 2
Personnel: Paul Rutherford: trombone and piano ( 1, 9 & 8); Derek Bailey: guitar (with amplification); Barry Guy: double bass (with amplification)
Release date: 1971; 2000
Running time: A – 1:09:04; B – 1:00:10; C – 1: 05:34
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