Reviewing reissued recordings by the likes of Derek Bailey, Trevor Watts and John Stevens, how much is it (already) done? Each newly discovered archival tape, each release on one small label reissued on another, each and every specimen put under a microscope and (but) put there out of love, not science. And yet (yet) when are (is) the liner notes reviewed?
The accompanying notes for the 1999 record Dynamics of the Impromptu by guitarist Derek Bailey, saxophonist Trevor Watts and drummer John Stevens, written by the poet and drummer Steve Day, must have been considered worthy as they were retained for this FMR reissue (even keeping a reference, now rendered inexplicable, to Entropy, the originally issuing label). They are (the notes) no more available to the cost-conscious consumer looking for guidance in expenditures than is the music contained therein prior to purchase, and in fact perchance less so as the music can likely be illegally downloaded (although it oughtn't be) but the liners remain tucked away in the retail object. And so, as is the assigned task, Mr. Day (whose "Then I Saw it Was a Fox" from the CD Visitors on Leo Records being a personal fav[o]urite) does as he ought, taking us back to those heralded (halcyon?) days of London's Little Theatre circa 1972 whilst owning up to never having been there himself. He likens the trio at hand to Stevens' and Watts' Spontaneous Music Ensemble, under which banner this CD easily could have flown as Bailey too was a (sometimes) member of that grouping, and makes the garrulous and terribly British claim that "Dynamics of the Impromptu is a good place to start investigating the mid-period SME."
He (Day) goes on to say that the sound on the recording "may not be absolutely digital mint," a needlessly humble assessment made (we remind) to someone who has already (presumably) put down his or her hard-earned money to procure the package (this reviewed excepted). We part ways with Mr. Day here. Even after setting aside the necessarily tautological (given possible world contingencies) avowal that it "may not be" etc., etc. The audio quality is certainly above a merely acceptable level, with more separation and clarity and little in the way of extraneous audio information or interruption than one might expect from a set of recordings made in 1973 and 1974 (a claim which might not in fact be said of the entirety of the program itself, suggesting that it is all but extraneous noise, this parenthetical be inserted in a spirit of frivolity). Perhaps Mr. Day, writing some 15 years ago, and 25 years after the recordings were made, was mired in a moment when compact discs and digital technology were considered to be the "be all and end all" and hence felt duty-bound to report that the recording isn't of the pristine nature of, say, a Midnight Vultures or an OK Computer. If anything, Mr. Bailey is a bit buried, at least on the first of the three dates from which these recordings are culled, under the quick and cutting sounds of Mr. Watts' soprano saxophone and Mr. Stevens' flurries of cymbal and rim shots; we can imagine the famously curmudgeonly Mr. Bailey remarking that it is "just as well" that his guitar is turned down in the mix, something we, of course, would hate to see have happened, and in any event he does seem to "amp it up" a bit on the other dates.
On the second date (18/12/73, or 12/18/73 for American readers) some (even more) surprising sounds begin to spring from Mr. Watts, cries and goose calls that shake the Steve Lacy-esque circles and lines which are a part of the whole we are more used to hearing from him. This seems to stir Mr. Bailey's (metaphorical) pot and what almost sounds like him playing with a slide can be heard, as if in response. By the third date (17/1/74, the three dates are each a month apart, or rather run in succession at monthly intervals) the trio seems to have gelled, "found itself" as listeners are sometimes wont to say, and are more evenly paced. But evenness of pace, of course, isn't the (only) goal of such "free improvisers." Their form is one of pushing and pulling, of seizing the impromptu (to play on the album's title), and herein we find an excellent example of same.
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