It must surely have taken a very special human connection to create music in this manner; to simply set up and get into position, take a few breaths, perhaps, and start to play. It is something that all improvising musicians – perhaps all musicians – often dream of at least once in a lifetime. And so to actually perform in this manner time and again as The Spontaneous Music Ensemble did is quite unique; something truly unheard of before and almost never to be heard of again because of the special circumstances and manner in which the music came to be.
Propelled by the vision of drummer John Stevens and soprano saxophonist Evan Parker Karyōbin is a record that captures The Spontaneous Music Ensemble at the very beginning of their adventures. They might have poured everything into this set which, as it turned out was easily the gold standard, the Holy Grail of free improvisation. Free improvising musicians, including those who are in denial about the invisible, wraith-like hand of the mystical wave of the wand, will attest to the fact that the connection of mind and spirit is as rare as a visitation of an archangel. In the case of Karyōbin it seems that this is the case each time the musicians put hand to instrument.
For the almost fifty minutes of this intense recording, it appears that each musician is working relentlessly towards achieving a state of absolute (musical) economy, compressing a vast range of emotions into a few wisps of music. Phrases and lines are the epitomé of a revolutionary brevity; some in “Part 2” and “Part 6” a novel in a single gesture, a joy in a breath in the case of those played by Evan Parker and Kenny Wheeler on soprano saxophone and flugelhorn respectively. There is an impressive concentration on the quality of each note, and on the musical architecture, which seems to be fashioned by Mr. Parker and Mr. Wheeler, with Derek Bailey and Dave Holland’s extraordinary contributions, while John Stevens – ever the sculptor of the sound – chiseling away at the sharper angles of the music and shaping it all to a nicety, with contributions from each of the others.
The fundamental material for this set is shaped and reshaped from end to end in six variations, as if the musicians were examining a gem from various angles to see the light it casts. By the end of the performance it becomes clear that in timbre, rhythms and dynamics there is quite nothing like this on record, which is why although others have said this before – including Martin Davidson in his notes – it bears repeating: Karyōbin is the greatest example of free improvisation on record.
Track list – Karyōbin Part 1; Karyōbin Part 2; Karyōbin Part 3; Karyōbin Part 4; Karyōbin Part 5; Karyōbin Part 6
Personnel – Kenny Wheeler: trumpet; Evan Parker: soprano saxophone; Derek Bailey: amplified guitar; Dave Holland: double bass; John Stevens: percussion
Released – 2017
Label – EMANEM
Runtime – 49:20