When the Another Timbre label was launched in autumn 2007, proprietor Simon Reynell expressed his desire to release contemporary composition alongside improvised music, with the understandable proviso that it was more expensive to release. To date, the label's releases have been dominated by improvised music. There was a fine release of compositions by Frank Denyer, played on shakuhachi by Yoshikazu Iwamoto. However, a promised album by John Tilbury of pieces by John Cage and Terry Jennings remains unreleased and seems to be dropping off the radar.
All of which makes Decentred a particularly welcome release. On it, four first-rate improvisers turn their attentions to "Four6," a scored work by Cage, and to three pieces by Michael Pisaro from his Harmony Series, interspersed with two improvisations. So the album is exactly the imaginative mix of composition and improvisation initially envisaged for the label.
Each of the Pisaro pieces is a duo for a different pair of playersAngharad Davies on violin and John Edwards on bass, then Tom Chant on bass clarinet and Davies, finally Benedict Drew on electronics and Edwards. The pairings are well chosen to emphasize the contrasts between their instruments' pitches and timbres. The pieces evolve slowly and deliberately, with occasional silences, giving them an air of tranquil beauty.
With a duration of thirty minutes, "Four6" dominates the album, although not at its centreyes, the album is true to its title. "Four6" is scored for four players who can use "any way of producing sounds." Each player chooses twelve sounds and these are played within a structure of time brackets given in the score. The time brackets and distribution of sounds were determined randomly by Cage. As the actual sounds used are the choice of the players, no two performances of the piece need ever sound the same. Nonetheless, the time brackets organize the sounds, preventing the players getting in each others way or masking each other. The end result is not dissimilar to a free improvisation produced by experienced improvisers.
That point is highlighted here by the inclusion of two excellent improvised pieces in which all four players participate. They are skillfully controlled and focused to the extent that hearing "Activation (improvisation)" in sequence between Pisaro's "Reader, listen" and the Cage piece, it becomes impossible to distinguish scored from unscored music. Maybe one of the intentions of this album was to emphasize that.
As Duke Ellington
observed, "There are two types of music: good and bad. I like both." However, the distinction between good and bad does not coincide with the distinction between scored and unscored (or vice versa). Scored and unscored, this album is full of good music.
Personnel: Tom Chant: saxophones, bass clarinet; Angharad Davies: violin, objects; Benedict Drew: electronics, objects; John Edwards: double bass