Directing 14 Jackson Pollocks
Reissues can have a telescoping effect on our perception of an artist because they focus on music from the past, which in British bandleader and composer Graham Collier's case can be anything up to 40 or so years old. In the intervening decades his role as a composer has changed fundamentally, as has his place within a band. As a composer/director he now occupies a relatively sparsely populated place, but these recordings, from the early years of this century and the last decade of the last, serve to focus attention on the degree to which Collier's music is far more expansive than it was in the past.
This development is not just due to the fact that his ensembles are now bigger than they used to be. Collier has in common with Warne Marsh that seemingly innate capacity for not repeating himself (though in a very different way), and the outcome as it is here is music considerable in scope yet at the same time just as bounded by the moment. That said, he's a benevolent coach, as the music on these two discs exemplifies.
Collier's engagement with his own past is encapsulated here on Forty Years On, an overarching title for a fresh look at past compositions which occupies the whole of the first disc. The music throughout is unsurprisingly febrile and the level of engagement with the moment is never in any doubt. "An Alternate Ryoanji" is thus both a case in point and an embodiment of the degree to which nothing happens the same way twice. The essentially reflective nature of the piece is undermined by a certain anxiety, but happily there's no reason to believe that this quality is an essential part of it, such is the fluid nature of Collier's art.
"An Alternate New Conditions, And Some Out Blues" takes in lyricism of a different order, that impression underscored in no small part by Ed Speight's guitar, which is by turns both reflective and expansive. The colors Collier coaxes out of the ensemble on this one are as emblematic as anything here of how his directorial role is integral to the music's character, and the level of interaction that summons up is great enough to blur the distinction between musician and director.
No time at all is wasted over the course of the just over 20 minutes of "The Vonetta Factor" on the second disc. Again the ensemble produces a performance almost in defiance of the number of musicians deployed, such is its deft touch with the material at its disposal, although the flow of the music is anything but seamless. Instead a kind of impetus stems from the music's very discontinuities, with the heat Chris Biscoe generates on baritone sax amounting to a gradual sea change. After it, things are animated, although only for a passage, before the inimitable trumpeter and flugelhornist Harry Beckett again demonstrates why he's played such a key role in Collier's music over the years.
"An Alternate Mackerel Sky" seems to embody the significance of the alternate as a concept in Collier's music. Never a mere matter of takes, the alternate in this case refers to the notion of the blueprint. Nothing is ever the same way twice and both Beckett and saxophonist Art Themen, among a small plethora of soloists, prove it in no uncertain terms. They also maintain their identities, probably because they know of no other way of going about music.
"The Alternate Third Colour: Out Blues" closes the album out, but there's no sense that it closes out Collier's art or indeed that of the musicians who bring the music off the paper. The mood is indeterminate, which is appropriate, but the primacy of the soloist, here in the form of saxophonist Geoff Warren, Themen and others, proves that the balance struck is an exceptional one. A sense of the essentially slippery nature of the improvisatory arts is encapsulated beautifully.
Tracks: CD1 (Forty Years On): Between A Donkey And A Rolls Royce; An Alternate Aberdeen Angus; An Alternate Ryoanji; An Interlude; An Alternate New Conditions, And Some Out Blues; An Alternate Eggshell Summer; Mackerel Sky, An Alternate Blues; An Alternate Low Circus Ballad; An Alternate Third Simple Piece. CD2 (The Vonetta Factor & The Alternate Third Colour): The Vonetta Factor; The Vonetta Conclusion; An Alternate Mackerel Sky; The Alternate Third Colour: First Grooves; The Alternate Third Colour: Second Grooves; The Alternate Third Colour: Third Grooves; The Alternate Third Colour: Out Blues.
Personnel: Graham Collier: director (CD1#1-9, CD2#1-7); Alex Bonney: trumpet, flugelhorn (CD1#1-9, CD2#1-3); Harry Beckett: trumpet, flugelhorn (CD1#1-9, CD2#1-3); Steve Waterman: trumpet, flugelhorn (CD1#1-9, CD2#1-9, CD2#1-7); Simon Finch: trumpet, flugelhorn (CD2#4-7); Ed Sarath: flugelhorn (CD2#4-7); Mark Bassey: trombone (CD1#1-9, CD2#1-3); Fayyaz Virji: trombone (CD1#1-9, CD2#1-3); Hugh Fraser; trombone (CD2#4-7); Geoff Warren: alto sax, soprano sax, alto flute (CD1#1-9, CD2#1-7); Chris Biscoe: alto sax, baritone sax (CD1#1-9, CD2#1-3); Steve Main: alto sax, soprano sax, baritone sax (CD2#4-7); Art Themen: tenor sax, soprano sax (CD1#1-9, CD2#1-7), bass sax (CD2#4-7); James Allsop; tenor sax, bass clarinet (CD1#1-7, CD2#1-3); Karlheinz Miklin: soprano sax, tenor sax, alto flute, flute (CD2#4-7); Gideon Juckes: tuba (CD1#1-9, CD2 #1-3); Oren Marshall: tuba (CD2#4-7); Roger Dean; piano, keyboards (CD1#1-9, CD2#1-7); Ed Speight: guitar (CD1#1-9, CD2#1-7); Jeff Clyne: bass (CD1#1-9, CD2#1-3); Andy Cleyndert: bass (CD2#4-7); Trevor Tomkins: drums (CD1#1-9, CD2#1-3); John Marshall: drums (CD2#4-7).