Derek Bailey is the master of the ungroove, of the sound of the moment without reliance on rhythmic or melodic predictability. His guitar music, as well as being tuneless and arhythmic, is forbidding and full of noise effects.
Consequently, perhaps the only predictable thing on this disc of miscellaneous pieces dating from 1971 to 1988 is the wry collection of quotations on the cover. Some are on the order of a 1968 Down Beat article that called Bailey's playing "texturally subtle and varied, with impressionistic melody and harmony and calm structures to match." On the other side are ones like this from Midland Bank: "Unless you make a sustained effort to bring your account into credit we shall have no alternative but to -" Critical accolades, sure. But no grooves, no coins.
What, then, is Bailey's playing? Well, on this disc it is a collection of crackles and jangles, usually unaccompanied and unhurried, although Anthony Braxton gets Derek going a bit toward the frenetic end of "Rehearsal Extract - Area 8." John Stevens and Kent Carter do the same on a coupla electric fragments of Steve Lacy pieces: "A Bit of the Crust" and "A Bit of the Dumps." (There is nothing here of Lacy's actual pieces "The Crust" and "The Dumps," except perhaps historical context.) And on the amplified sections, like "Six Fairly Early Pieces," there's an occasional indulgence of feedback.
It is easiest to hear what Bailey does on the comparatively lengthy (seven minutes plus) and unamplified track "Tunnel Hearing," from 1980. Single notes. Small melodic excursions, usually ending in an unexpected but ringing turn. Unexpected progressions of one note or a few, rhythmically varied. The sound of his playing is crystalline and pure, and there's a sample of his wry humor here too. (You'll find more of Derek Bailey the Man Beyond the Legend in the two parts of "The Last Post," actual audio letters he sent to Emanem's Martin Davidson, including some trenchant political commentary.) He revels in the clear sounds of the notes, and he carefully and drily brings them to our attention here. It and the other two pieces from this time period, "10% Extra Free" and "20% Extra Free," are especially brilliant examples of the peculiarly affecting quality of his playing. "20% Extra Free" verges on a flamenco groove, but our many is too canny to fall in. Yet how captivating are the edges on which he creeps and mutters!
How strange to say that this is great music, but it undeniably is. Derek Bailey has pulled off a miracle by eschewing all the standard ingredients of great music and making it anyway, out of his brilliantine shards and fragments. Recommended.