I have to disagree with my Buddhist, musician friend Pilcher. He believes that the proper way to listen to free improvisation recordings is to replicate the spontaneity of the performance by only spinning the disc once! Pilcher understands the experience should be fleeting, with only the memory sense? impression as a reference. He argues, you only read most books in your library once, why not do the same with creative music?
Ignoring the cost of the discs themselves, listeners may not absorb everything the first time around and besides, who would deny one’s self the pleasure of a positive experience?
Those thoughts returned to me as I grappled with the nearly four-and-a-half hours that make up the Freedom In The City 2001 recordings. Split between Small Groups and Large Groups, these two double-discs document three days of performance last May, at London’s Conway Hall. Prompted by saxophonist Evan Parker, Emanem label chief Martin Davidson invited various London-based creative musicians to perform in this first (of hopefully many) annual event.
Just as the London scene, the musicians and music made was multiform, many-shaped, and diverse. It ranged from the solo stride-meets-freeform piano cascades of Pat Thomas to the 39-piece London Improvisers Orchestra. Honestly, This music cannot be absorbed in one listening session. Maybe ten, maybe twenty, these recordings are too rich to be taken lightly.
The Large Group sessions are split between one disc of the massive London Improvisers Orchestra (LIO) and a second in which a dozen Strings (including Kaffe Matthews on laptop sampler) perform. The Strings is a reprise of last year’s excellent 3-disc Strings With Evan Parker recording. In fact, Parker joins The Strings for one track.
The LIO assembled for seven separately guest-conducted pieces and one 33-minute free improvisation. The 39-strong relies more on a deft touch than power, stirring an aurally pacific and mindful set. The composed, semi-composed and game-like pieces the LIO perform showcase a diverse and ineffable ensemble certainly worth our attention.
The jewel of these sessions are the Small Groups from the stunning duo of saxophonist John Butcher and Steve Beresford’s electronics to a super group gathering of Phil Minton, Paul Rutherford, Lol Coxhill, John Russell, and Roger Turner. In between there is plenty to feast on from stringed quartets to tap dancing freeforms.
As of this review, I am on my fifth go round of the Freedom In The City festival. I’m not sure ten turns at this will be enough; it is in my non-Buddha nature.