Spontaneous Music Ensemble
Released in: Great Britain
"This CD contains three previously unissued performances that all feature Stevens' frameworks leading to group improvising. FAMILIE SEQUENCE from mid-1968 features a unusual instrumentation with three wind instruments, voice and percussion. (An earlier, unissued studio recording of FAMILIE has the very different instrumentation of two voices, piccolo, flute, soprano sax, piano, guitar, cello, two double basses and percussion.) The group texture is made even more unusual by Watts playing bass clarinet.
The first nine minutes comprise the loose theme which was heavily inspired by Gagaku (Japanese court music). This leads to a group improvisation which is interrupted at one point by a short section in which everyone plays glissandi together. Then come short Sustained and Click Pieces which in turn lead to another free improvisation which is capped off by looser versions of Sustained and Click. The overall sequence is unlike any other on record, although there are sections similar to other SME performances.
By the start of 1969, the SME had evolved to the line-up of Stevens, Watts, Johnny Dyani and Maggie Nicols with Wheeler added at times. This was followed by an unrecorded quartet with Mongezi Feza instead of Nicols and Wheeler. 1970 saw the inclusion of several more jazz-aligned musicians into the SME, then for several months in 1971 there was the quartet of Stevens, Watts, Julie Tippett and Ron Herman, which some listeners regard as their favourite SME line-up. (This band has a special place for me, since one of their concerts turned me on to the world of free improvisation.)
The QUARTET SEQUENCE heard here is somewhat similar to their masterpiece BIRDS OF A FEATHER which was recorded a few months later. One aspect of this quartet's music was the reintroduction of free jazz elements into the SME group improvising. Thus the opening section is influenced by the trio of Albert Ayler, Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray - one of the major influences on the SME group music. The second section is more like SME group music, though it does contain repetitive elements. The third section is like a very emotional Ayler ballad. This is followed by a Click Piece and a Sustained Piece.
Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this quartet is the amazing interplay between saxophone and voice. Prior to this, Julie Tippett had been a successful pop singer (using her maiden name), but had become disillusioned with that world, and had decided to find something else that was more spiritually satisfying to her. Ron Herman was one of numerous young musicians discovered and encouraged by John Stevens. He played with the SME for a few years, but died at a tragically young age. Stevens can be heard using a glockenspiel in addition to his evolving small drums and cymbals kit that is heard throughout this CD.
For the next couple of years, the SME was basically just Stevens and Watts, with other people added on an ad hoc basis. During most of 1972 and 1973, the duo SME performances were very austere, concentrating on performances of the hyper-minimalist piece FLOWER, which is superficially similar to the Click Piece. Most of Stevens' pieces were designed to open up into freedom - after over six minutes of apparently mechanical playing, the version heard here changes into some emotionally charged free improvisation. This encapsulates the way they came out of their austere period late in 1973, culminating in the magnificent performances collected on FACE TO FACE (Emanem 4003)."-Martin Davidson, from the sleeve notes
• Show Bio for John Stevens
"John William Stevens (10 June 1940 in Brentford, Middlesex - 13 September 1994 in Ealing, west London) was an English drummer. He was one of the most significant figures in early free improvisation, and a founding member of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME).
Stevens was born in Brentford, the son of a tap dancer. He used to listen to jazz as a child, but was initially more interested in drawing and painting (media through which he also expressed himself throughout his life). He studied at the Ealing Art College and then started work in a design studio, but left at 19 to join the Royal Air Force. He studied the drums at the Royal Air Force School of Music in Uxbridge, and while there met Trevor Watts and Paul Rutherford, two musicians who became close collaborators.
In the mid-1960s Stevens began to play in London jazz groups alongside musicians like Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott, and in 1965 he fronted a septet. Influenced by the free jazz he was hearing coming out of the United States by players like Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, his style began to move away from fairly traditional be-bop to something more experimental.
In 1966 SME was formed with Watts and Rutherford and the group moved into the Little Theatre Club at Garrick Yard, St. Martin's Lane, London to develop their new music. In 1967 their first album, Challenge, was released. Stevens then became interested in the music of Anton Webern, and the SME began to play generally very quiet music. Stevens also became interested in non-Western musics.
The SME went on to make a large number of records with an ever changing line-up and an ever changing number of members, but Stevens was always there, at the centre of the group's activity. He also played in a number of other groups, drumming in Watts' group Amalgam and later forming bands like Freebop and Fast Colour, for example, but the SME remained at the centre of his activities.
In the latter part of 1967 Evan Parker joined the SME and worked closely with Stevens in the group, eventually becoming one of the longest standing members. He later summed up Stevens' approach to improvising in two basic maxims: if you can't hear another musician, then you're too loud; and there is no point in group improvisation if what you are playing doesn't relate to what other members of the group are playing.
Stevens also devised a number of basic starting points for improvisation. These were not "compositions" as such, but rather a means of getting improvisational activity started, which could then go off in any direction. One of these was the so-called "Click Piece" which essentially asked for each player to repeatedly play a note as short as possible.
Stevens played alongside a large number of prominent free improvisors in the SME, including Derek Bailey, Peter Kowald, Julie Tippetts and Robert Calvert, but from the mid-1970s, the make-up of the SME began to settle down to a regular group of Stevens, Nigel Coombes playing violin, and Roger Smith playing guitar. During the mid-1970s Stevens played regularly with guitarist and songwriter John Martyn as part of a trio that included bassist Danny Thompson. This line up can be heard on Martyn's 1976 recording Live at Leeds.
From 1983 Stevens was involved with Community Music (CM), an organisation through which he took his form of music making to youth clubs, mental health institutions and other unusual places. Notes taken during these sessions were later turned into a book for the Open University called Search and Reflect (1985). In the late 70s and early 80s John was a regular performer at the Bracknell Jazz Festival.
Aside from SME, Stevens also ran or helped to organise groups that were more jazz or jazz-rock based, such as Splinters, the John Stevens Dance Orchestra, Away, Freebop, Folkus, Fast Colour, PRS, and the John Stevens Quintet and Quartet. He also contributed significantly to Trevor Watts' group Amalgam and Frode Gjerstad's Detail, as well as collaborating with Bobby Bradford on several occasions.
The SME continued to play, the last time being in 1994 with a group including John Butcher. Stevens died later that year."-Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stevens_(drummer))
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• Show Bio for Paul Rutherford
"Paul William Rutherford (29 February 1940 - 5 August 2007) was an English free improvising trombonist. Born in Greenwich, South East London, Rutherford initially played saxophone but switched to trombone. During the 1960s, he taught at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
In 1970, Rutherford, guitarist Derek Bailey and bassist Barry Guy formed the improvising group Iskra 1903, which lasted until 1973. The formation was documented on a double album from Incus, later reissued with much bonus material on the 3-CD set Chapter One (Emanem, 2000). A film soundtrack was separately released as Buzz Soundtrack. Iskra 1903 was one of the earliest free improvising groups to omit a drummer/percussionist, permitting the players to explore a range of textures and dynamics which set it apart from such other contemporary improvising ensembles as SME and AMM. The group's unusual name is the Russian word for "spark"; it was the title of the Iskra revolutionary newspaper edited by Lenin. The "1903" designation means "20th century music for trio"; occasionally Evan Parker played with the group (Iskra 1904) and Rutherford also at one point assembled a 12-piece ensemble called, inevitably, Iskra 1912. The group was later revived with Philipp Wachsmann replacing Bailey, a phase of the group's life that lasted from roughly 1977 to 1995; its earlier work is documented on Chapter Two (Emanem, 2006) and its final recordings were issued on Maya (Iskra 1903) and Emanem (Frankfurt 1991).
Rutherford also played with Globe Unity Orchestra, London Jazz Composer's Orchestra, Centipede, the Mike Westbrook Orchestra, and the Orckestra, a merger of avant-rock group Henry Cow, the Mike Westbrook Brass Band and folk singer Frankie Armstrong. He also played a very small number of gigs with Soft Machine. He is perhaps most famous for solo trombone improvisations. His album The Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoisie is a landmark recording in solo trombone and his 1983 Trio album Gheim, recorded at the Bracknell Jazz Festival is another acclaimed work.
Rutherford died of cirrhosis of the liver and a ruptured aorta on 5 August 2007, aged 67."-Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Rutherford_(trombonist))
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• Show Bio for Trevor Watts
"Trevor Charles Watts (born 26 February 1939 in York) is an English jazz and free-improvising alto and soprano saxophonist. He is largely self-taught, having taken up the cornet at age 12 then switched to saxophone at 18. While stationed in Germany with the RAF (1958-63), he encountered the drummer John Stevens and trombonist Paul Rutherford. After being demobbed he returned to London. In 1965 he and Stevens formed the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, which became one of the crucibles of British free improvisation. Watts left the band to form his own group Amalgam in 1967, then returned to SME for another stretch that lasted until the mid-1970s. Another key association was with the bassist Barry Guy and his London Jazz Composers' Orchestra, an association that lasted from the band's inception in the 1970s up to its (permanent?) disbandment in the mid-1990s.
Though he was initially strongly identified with the avant-garde, Watts is a versatile musician who has worked in everything from straight jazz contexts to rock and blues. His own projects have come increasingly to focus on blending jazz and African music, notably the Moiré Music ensemble which he has led since 1982 in configurations ranging from large ensembles featuring multiple drummers to more intimate trios. He has only occasionally recorded in freer modes in recent years, notably the CD 6 Dialogues, a duet album with Veryan Weston (the pianist in earlier editions of Moiré Music). A solo album, World Sonic, appeared on Hi4Head Records in 2005.
Watts has toured the world over numerous times, run workshops, received grants and commissions, and he has collaborated with some of the great jazz musicians including Archie Shepp, Steve Lacy, Don Cherry and Jayne Cortez. As of 2011, he continues to travel and toured North American with Veryan Weston."-Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trevor_Watts)
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• Show Bio for Julie Tippetts
"Julie Tippetts (born Julie Driscoll, 8 June 1947) is an English singer and actress, known for her 1960s versions of Bob Dylan and Rick Danko's "This Wheel's on Fire", and Donovan's "Season of the Witch", both with Brian Auger and The Trinity. Along with The Trinity, she was featured prominently in the 1969 television special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee, singing "I'm a Believer" in a soul style with Micky Dolenz. She and Auger had previously worked in Steampacket, with Long John Baldry and Rod Stewart.
"This Wheel's on Fire" reached number five in the United Kingdom in June 1968. With distortion, the imagery of the title and the group's dress and performance, this version came to represent the psychedelic era in British rock music. Driscoll recorded the song again in the early 1990s with Adrian Edmondson as the theme to the BBC comedy series Absolutely Fabulous, the main characters of which are throwbacks to that era.
Since the 1970s, Driscoll has concentrated on experimental vocal music. She married jazz musician Keith Tippett and collaborated with him and now uses the name Julie Tippetts, adopting the original spelling of her husband's surname. She took in Keith Tippett's big band Centipede and in 1974 sang in Robert Wyatt's Theatre Royal Drury Lane concert. She released a solo album, Sunset Glow in 1975; and was lead vocalist on Carla Bley's album Tropic Appetites and also in John Wolf Brennan's "HeXtet".
Later in the 1970s, she toured with her own band and recorded and performed as one of the vocal quartet Voice, with Maggie Nichols, Phil Minton, and Brian Eley.
In the early 1980s, Julie Tippetts was a guest vocalist on an early single by pop-jazz band Working Week, on the song "Storm of Light", which brought them to the attention of a wider audience."-Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julie_Driscoll)
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Catalog ID: 4134
Squidco Product Code: 7786
Country: Great Britain
Packaging: Jewel Tray
Recorded in London, 1968, July 14 (track 1), 1971, April 25 (2), and 1973, October 11 (3).
John Stevens-percussion, voice
Trevor Watts-bass clarinet, soprano saxophone
Julie Tippett-voice, guitar
Ron Herman-double bass
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1. Familie Sequence - 32:30
2. Quartet Sequence 29:30
3. Flower 9:18