Featuring the earliest published recordings of Barry Guy & Evan Parker, percussionist John Steven's presents transitional sextet and septet performances of his groundbreaking free improv group from 1966 & '67 with Trevor Watts, Paul Rutherford, Kenny Wheeler, and Derek Bailey.
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Catalog ID: 5040
Squidco Product Code: 22214
Country: Great Britain
Packaging: Cardboard Gatefold 3 Panels
Tracks 1-4 recorded September 1966 and tracks 5-11 recorded March 1967 in London by Eddie Kramer. Reissue of Emanem 4020.
Kenny Wheeler-trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion
Paul Rutherford-trombone, percussion
Trevor Watts-oboe, alto saxophone, flute, voice, percussion
Evan Parker-soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, percussion
Derek Bailey-amplified guitar
Barry Guy-doublebass, piano
John Stevens-drums, cymbals, percussion
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1. Withdrawal Soundtrack - Part 1A 5:19
2. Withdrawal Soundtrack - Part 1B 5:07
3. Withdrawal Soundtrack - Part 1C 7:51
4. Withdrawal Soundtrack - Part 2 13:50
5. Withdrawal Sequence 1 11:24
6. Withdrawal Sequence 2 10:54
7. Withdrawal Sequence 3 "C4" 2:43
8. Seeing Sounds And Hearing Colours - Introduction "Puddles, Raindrops & Circles" 4:04
9. Seeing Sounds And Hearing Colours - Movement 1 4:45
10. Seeing Sounds And Hearing Colours - Movement 2 "C" 5:17
11. Seeing Sounds And Hearing Colours - Movement 3 7:24
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sample the album:
"Here is a missing link between the first two Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME) recordings to be published. The music on CHALLENGE (recorded 1966 March and issued on a long vanished Eyemark LP) is mainly free jazz, with composed themes framing improvisations which are mostly accompanied by the rhythm section. On the other hand, KARYOBIN (recorded 1968 February, originally on Island and now on Chronoscope CD CPE2001-2) is radically different - a distinctive, translucent group improvisation with virtually no traces of jazz left. (Some earlier recordings of this highly influential SME or "atomistic" approach were recently issued as SUMMER 1967 on Emanem 4005.)
This CD, however, does not give the whole interim story - thirty years later one can only listen to the aspects that were recorded. The SME was then a collective grouping with John Stevens and Trevor Watts being the prime movers (and composers). Regular performances, mostly at the Little Theatre Club in London, featured some or all of these seven musicians (plus a few others) in various combinations, using pre-composed material at times. All the while, new approaches were being tried, but many did not make it to tape.
WITHDRAWAL was composed and recorded as the soundtrack to a 35 minute film of the same name, produced and directed by the American George Paul Solomos. The film was hardly begun, due to a funding crisis and a dispute with the British Film Institute. However, two (slightly imperfect) mono tapes of music, recorded to be used as the soundtrack, have survived. Special mention must be made of Kenny Wheeler's very fine playing in what is almost a concerto on PART 1, with Paul Rutherford's trombone and Trevor Watts' oboe providing most imaginative foils. PART 2 contains particularly excellent playing by Watts (on alto saxophone) and Wheeler. As before, Barry Guy's role is limited to providing a flexible drone.
These recordings are the earliest recordings to be published of the then recent SME recruits, Barry Guy and Evan Parker - and they will probably remain the earliest. It must be said that not much of Parker is heard here - he says he felt overawed in such company! The other four musicians had all been on the CHALLENGE LP, whilst Wheeler had appeared on numerous jazz records during the previous decade.
For the next three months Stevens was resident in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, with one or two other SME musicians joining him for shorter periods. The group still continued during this period under the direction of Watts, who also invited Derek Bailey to join them at the Little Theatre Club, so that when Stevens returned, the group comprised seven musicians who all went on to have very distinguished careers in free improvisation and/or other areas of music.
It was decided to record an LP to be called WITHDRAWAL that would include a reworking of some of the material used for the soundtrack, plus a new suite composed by Stevens while he was away. The remainder of this CD (tracks 5-11) is the music that was then chosen for that LP, but not issued until now.
This session is one of the earliest recordings of Bailey playing free music. He appears to play excellently thoughout, but is unfortunately rather under-recorded.
The revisiting of the WITHDRAWAL material is quite different from the soundtrack recordings. For instance, Guy no longer has the restricted droning role he had before. The most obvious item in common is the glockenspiel motif played intermittently on the soundtrack by Stevens, and now played by Parker (who does not even get to play a saxophone on the two major tracks).
SEQUENCE 1 features some very fine trombone and trumpet work, and a prime example of what Victor Schonfield calls "start/stop" drumming. Stevens still used a fairly orthodox jazz drums and cymbals kit - the small SME kit (first recorded on SUMMER 1967) was some months off. SEQUENCE 2 is particularly notable for Watts' flute playing (over a rare example of Guy playing piano), while other tracks feature his equally strong oboe playing, A year or two later, he decided to concentrate exclusively on the soprano and alto saxophones, and abandoned his other wind instruments. SEQUENCE 3 is a sparse composed theme over a busy backdrop (based on C4 written for the mid-1966 Jeff Clyne Quartet SPRINGBOARD date).
SEEING SOUNDS AND HEARING COLOURS was a suite composed and directed by Stevens with specific musical textures, timbres and 'colours' in mind.. It reveals the group at an historically significant transitional point, experimenting with instrumentation and composition, before taking the plunge with free improvisation; but the group were not wholly satisfied with these experiments and Stevens later felt he was 'getting side-tracked from the natural, organic approach towards improvisation'.
This INTRODUCTION featuring oboe and bowed cymbal was inspired by a scene depicting raindrops falling into pools of water in a natural history film about New Zealand. MOVEMENT 1 starts with a flourish that ends with a long oboe note leading into a collective improvisation. MOVEMENT 2 is an improvisation built around the note C. The final MOVEMENT 3 begins with three chords preceding a group improvisation that is terminated by the material from the start of MOVEMENT 1 in reverse.
As well as containing historically important transitional music, this CD can be also enjoyed, thirty years late, as being excellent in its own right by any standards."-Martin Davidson, from the liner notes
• 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 Evan Parker
"Evan Parker was born in Bristol in 1944 and began to play the saxophone at the age of 14. Initially he played alto and was an admirer of Paul Desmond; by 1960 he had switched to tenor and soprano, following the example of John Coltrane, a major influence who, he would later say, determined "my choice of everything". In 1962 he went to Birmingham University to study botany but a trip to New York, where he heard the Cecil Taylor trio (with Jimmy Lyons and Sunny Murray), prompted a change of mind. What he heard was "music of a strength and intensity to mark me for life ... l came back with my academic ambitions in tatters and a desperate dream of a life playing that kind of music - 'free jazz' they called it then."
Parker stayed in Birmingham for a time, often playing with pianist Howard Riley. In 1966 he moved to London, became a frequent visitor to the Little Theatre Club, centre of the city's emerging free jazz scene, and was soon invited by drummer John Stevens to join the innovative Spontaneous Music Ensemble which was experimenting with new kinds of group improvisation. Parker's first issued recording was SME's 1968 Karyobin, with a line-up of Parker, Stevens, Derek Bailey, Dave Holland and Kenny Wheeler. Parker remained in SME through various fluctuating line-ups - at one point it comprised a duo of Stevens and himself - but the late 1960s also saw him involved in a number of other fruitful associations.
He began a long-standing partnership with guitarist Bailey, with whom he formed the Music Improvisation Company and, in 1970, co-founded Incus Records. (Tony Oxley, in whose sextet Parker was then playing, was a third co-founder; Parker left Incus in the mid-1980s.) Another important connection was with the bassist Peter Kowald who introduced Parker to the German free jazz scene. This led to him playing on Peter Brötzmann's 1968 Machine Gun, Manfred Schoof's 1969 European Echoes and, in 1970, joining pianist Alex von Schlippenbach and percussionist Paul Lovens in the former's trio, of which he is still a member: their recordings include Pakistani Pomade, Three Nails Left, Detto Fra Di Noi, Elf Bagatellen and Physics.
Parker pursued other European links, too, playing in the Pierre Favre Quartet (with Kowald and Swiss pianist Irene Schweizer) and in the Dutch Instant Composers Pool of Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink. The different approaches to free jazz he encountered proved both a challenging and a rewarding experience. He later recalled that the German musicians favoured a "robust, energy-based thing, not to do with delicacy or detailed listening but to do with a kind of spirit-raising, a shamanistic intensity. And l had to find a way of surviving in the heat of that atmosphere ... But after a while those contexts became more interchangeable and more people were involved in the interactions, so all kinds of hybrid musics came out, all kinds of combinations of styles."
A vital catalyst for these interactions were the large ensembles in which Parker participated in the 1970s: Schlippenbach's Globe Unity Orchestra, Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra (LJCO) and occasional big bands led by Kenny Wheeler. In the late 70s Parker also worked for a time in Wheeler's small group, recording Around Six and, in 1980, he formed his own trio with Guy and LJCO percussionist Paul Lytton (with whom he had already been working in a duo for nearly a decade). This group, together with the Schlippenbach trio, remains one of Parker's top musical priorities: their recordings include Tracks, Atlanta, Imaginary Values, Breaths and Heartbeats, The Redwood Sessions and At the Vortex. In 1980, Parker directed an Improvisers Symposium in Pisa and, in 1981, he organised a special project at London's Actual Festival. By the end of the 1980s he had played in most European countries and had made various tours to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. ln 1990, following the death of Chris McGregor, he was instrumental in organising various tributes to the pianist and his fellow Blue Notes; these included two discs by the Dedication Orchestra, Spirits Rejoice and lxesa.
Though he has worked extensively in both large and small ensembles, Parker is perhaps best known for his solo soprano saxophone music, a singular body of work that in recent years has centred around his continuing exploration of techniques such as circular breathing, split tonguing, overblowing, multiphonics and cross-pattern fingering. These are technical devices, yet Parker's use of them is, he says, less analytical than intuitive; he has likened performing his solo work to entering a kind of trance-state. The resulting music is certainly hypnotic, an uninterrupted flow of snaky, densely-textured sound that Parker has described as "the illusion of polyphony". Many listeners have indeed found it hard to credit that one man can create such intricate, complex music in real time. Parker's first solo recordings, made in 1974, were reissued on the Saxophone Solos CD in 1995; more recent examples are Conic Sections and Process and Reality, on the latter of which he does, for the first time, experiment with multi-tracking. Heard alone on stage, few would disagree with writer Steve Lake that "There is, still, nothing else in music - jazz or otherwise - that remotely resembles an Evan Parker solo concert."
While free improvisation has been Parker's main area of activity over the last three decades, he has also found time for other musical pursuits: he has played in 'popular' contexts with Annette Peacock, Scott Walker and the Charlie Watts big band; he has performed notated pieces by Gavin Bryars, Michael Nyman and Frederic Rzewski; he has written knowledgeably about various ethnic musics in Resonance magazine. A relatively new field of interest for Parker is improvising with live electronics, a dialogue he first documented on the 1990 Hall of Mirrors CD with Walter Prati. Later experiments with electronics in the context of larger ensembles have included the Synergetics - Phonomanie III project at Ullrichsberg in 1993 and concerts by the new EP2 (Evan Parker Electronic Project) in Berlin, Nancy and at the 1995 Stockholm Electronic Music Festival where Parker's regular trio improvised with real-time electronics processed by Prati, Marco Vecchi and Phillip Wachsmann. "Each of the acoustic instrumentalists has an electronic 'shadow' who tracks him and feeds a modified version of his output back to the real-time flow of the music."
The late 80s and 90s brought Parker the chance to play with some of his early heroes. He worked with Cecil Taylor in small and large groups, played with Coltrane percussionist Rashied Ali, recorded with Paul Bley: he also played a solo set as support to Ornette Coleman when Skies of America received its UK premiere in 1988. The same period found Parker renewing his acquaintance with American colleagues such as Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy and George Lewis, with all of whom he had played in the 1970s (often in the context of London's Company festivals). His 1993 duo concert with Braxton moved John Fordham in The Guardian to raptures over "saxophone improvisation of an intensity, virtuosity, drama and balance to tax the memory for comparison".
Parker's 50th birthday in 1994 brought celebratory concerts in several cities, including London, New York and Chicago. The London performance, featuring the Parker and Schlippenbach trios, was issued on a highly-acclaimed two-CD set, while participants at the American concerts included various old friends as well as more recent collaborators in Borah Bergman and Joe Lovano. The NYC radio station WKCR marked the occasion by playing five days of Parker recordings. 1994 also saw the publication of the Evan Parker Discography, compiled by ltalian writer Francesco Martinelli, plus chapters on Parker in books on contemporary musics by John Corbett and Graham Lock.
Parker's future plans involve exploring further possibilities in electronics and the development of his solo music. They also depend to a large degree on continuity of the trios, of the large ensembles, of his more occasional yet still long-standing associations with that pool of musicians to whose work he remains attracted. This attraction, he explained to Coda's Laurence Svirchev, is attributable to "the personal quality of an individual voice". The players to whom he is drawn "have a language which is coherent, that is, you know who the participants are. At the same time, their language is flexible enough that they can make sense of playing with each other ... l like people who can do that, who have an intensity of purpose." "-Evan Parker Website (http://evanparker.com/biography.php)
^ Hide Bio for Evan Parker
• Show Bio for Derek Bailey
"Derek Bailey (29 January 1930 - 25 December 2005) was an English avant-garde guitarist and leading figure in the free improvisation movement.
Bailey was born in Sheffield, England. A third-generation musician, he began playing the guitar at the age of ten, initially studying music with his teacher and Sheffield City organist C. H. C. Biltcliffe, an experience that he did not enjoy, and guitar with his uncle George Wing and John Duarte. As an adult he worked as a guitarist and session musician in clubs, radio, dance hall bands, and so on, playing with many performers including Morecambe and Wise, Gracie Fields, Bob Monkhouse and Kathy Kirby, and on television programs such as Opportunity Knocks. Bailey's earliest foray into 'what could be called free improvised music' was in 1953 with two other guitarists in their shared flat in Glasgow. He was also part of a Sheffield-based trio founded in 1963 with Tony Oxley and Gavin Bryars called "Joseph Holbrooke" (named after the composer, whose work they never actually played). Although originally performing relatively "conventional" modal, harmonic jazz this group became increasingly free in direction.
Bailey moved to London in 1966, frequenting the Little Theatre Club run by drummer John Stevens. Here he met many other like-minded musicians, such as saxophonist Evan Parker, trumpet player Kenny Wheeler and double bass player Dave Holland. These players often collaborated under the umbrella name of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, recording the seminal album Karyobin for Island Records in 1968. In this year Bailey also formed the Music Improvisation Company with Parker, percussionist Jamie Muir and Hugh Davies on homemade electronics, a project that continued until 1971. He was also a member of the Jazz Composer's Orchestra and Iskra 1903, a trio with double-bass player Barry Guy and tromboneist Paul Rutherford that was named after a newspaper published by the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin.
In 1970, Bailey founded the record label Incus with Tony Oxley, Evan Parker and Michael Walters. It proved influential as the first musician-owned independent label in the UK. Oxley and Walters left early on; Parker and Bailey continued as co-directors until the mid-1980s, when friction between the men led to Parker's departure. Bailey continued the label with his partner Karen Brookman until his death in 2005.
Along with a number of other musicians, Bailey was a co-founder of Musics magazine in 1975. This was described as "an impromental experivisation arts magazine" and circulated through a network of like-minded record shops, arguably becoming one of the most significant jazz publications of the second half of the 1970s, and instrumental in the foundation of the London Musicians Collective.
1976 saw Bailey instigate Company, an ever-changing collection of like-minded improvisors, which at various times has included Anthony Braxton, Tristan Honsinger, Misha Mengelberg, Lol Coxhill, Fred Frith, Steve Beresford, Steve Lacy, Johnny Dyani, Leo Smith, Han Bennink, Eugene Chadbourne, Henry Kaiser, John Zorn, Buckethead and many others. Company Week, an annual week-long free improvisational festival organised by Bailey, ran until 1994.
In 1980, he wrote the book Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice. This was adapted by UK's Channel 4 into a four-part TV series in the early '90s, edited and narrated by Bailey.
Bailey died in London on Christmas Day, 2005. He had been suffering from motor neurone disease."-Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derek_Bailey_(guitarist))
^ Hide Bio for Derek Bailey
• Show Bio for Barry Guy
"Barry John Guy (born 22 April 1947, in London) is a British composer and double bass player. His range of interests encompasses early music, contemporary composition, jazz and improvisation, and he has worked with a wide variety of orchestras in the UK and Europe. He also taught at Guildhall School of Music.
Born in London, Guy came to the fore as an improvising bassist as a member of a trio with pianist Howard Riley and drummer Tony Oxley (Witherden, 1969). He also became an occasional member of John Stevens' ensembles in the 1960s and 1970s, including the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. In the early 1970s, he was a member of the influential free improvisation group Iskra 1903 with Derek Bailey and trombonist Paul Rutherford (a project revived in the late 1970s, with violinist Philipp Wachsmann replacing Bailey). He also formed a long-standing partnership with saxophonist Evan Parker, which led to a trio with drummer Paul Lytton which became one of the best-known and most widely travelled free-improvising groups of the 1980s and 1990s. He was briefly a member of the Michael Nyman Band in the 1980s, performing on the soundtrack of The Draughtsman's Contract.
Guy's interests in improvisation and formal composition received their grandest form in the London Jazz Composers Orchestra. Originally formed to perform Guy's composition Ode in 1972 (released as a 2-LP set on Incus and later, in expanded form, as a 2-CD set on Intakt), it became one of the great large-scale European improvising ensembles. Early documentation is spotty - the only other recording from its early years is Stringer (FMP, now available on Intakt paired with the later "Study II") - but beginning in the late 1980s the Swiss label Intakt set out to document the band more thoroughly. The result was a series of ambitious, album-length compositions designed to give all the players in the band maximum opportunity for expression while still preserving a rigorous sense of form: Zurich Concerts, Harmos, Double Trouble (originally written for an encounter with Alexander von Schlippenbach's Globe Unity Orchestra, though the eventual CD was just for the LJCO), Theoria (a concerto for guest pianist Irène Schweizer), Three Pieces, and Double Trouble Two. The group's activities subsided in the mid-1990s, but it was never formally disbanded, and reconvened in 2008 for a one-off concert in Switzerland. In the mid-1990s Guy also created a second, smaller ensemble, the Barry Guy New Orchestra.
Guy has also written for other large improvising ensembles, such as the NOW Orchestra and ROVA (the piece Witch Gong Game inspired by images by the visual artist Alan Davie).
His current improvising activities include piano trios with Marilyn Crispell and Agusti Fernandez. He has also recorded several albums for ECM, which often focus on the interface between improvisers and electronics, including his work in Evan Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble and his own Ceremony.
Guy's session work in the pop field includes playing double bass on the song "Nightporter", from the Japan album Gentlemen Take Polaroids.
He is married to the early music violinist Maya Homburger. After spending some years in Ireland, they now live in Switzerland. They run the small label Maya, which releases a variety of records in the genres of free improvisation, baroque music and contemporary composition.
Guy's jazz work is characterised by free improvisation, using a range of unusual playing methods: bowed and pizzicato sounds beneath the bass's bridge; plucking the strings above the left hand; beating the strings with percussion instrument mallets; and "preparing" the instrument with sticks and other implements inserted between the strings and fingerboard. His improvisations are often percussive and unpredictable, inhabiting no discernible harmonic territory and pushing into unknown regions. However, they can also be melodious and tender with due regard for harmonic integration with other players, and at times he will even play with a straight jazz swing feel.
Similarly, in his concert works, Guy manages to alternate harmonic and rhythmic complexity worthy of 1960s experimentalists such as Penderecki and Stockhausen with joyous, often ecstatic, melody. Works such as "Flagwalk" for string orchestra and "Fallingwater - Concerto for Orchestra" display Guy's compositional skill in handling extended forms and writing for large instrumental groups.
Some of his compositions, such as "Witch Gong Game" for ensemble, use graphic notation in conjunction with cue cards to lead performers into playing and improvising material from numbered sections of the score.
He is also an architect."-Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barry_Guy)
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• 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))
^ Hide Bio for John Stevens
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