1970s Incus: Old and New
Coincidentally, two recent releases, one a reissue on Emanem, the second an album of previously unissued material on Incus, put the spotlight on the Incus label in the mid 1970s. This was a time when the so-called "second generation of free improvisers" was emerging. At the time, the first generationincluding Incus proprietors guitarist Derek Bailey, saxophonist Evan Parker and drummer Tony Oxley plus drummer John Stevens and trombonist Paul Rutherfordwas building on the foundations laid since the mid 1960s by ensembles such as SME, AMM and Iskra 1903. This included forging links with improvisers in Europe such as members of ICP and Globe Unity Orchestra, and in USA with members of Chicago's AACM. When the annual Company Weeks began in 1976, they attracted such overseas players as reeds player Anthony Braxton, trumpeter Leo Smith, multi-instrumentalist Han Bennink and cellist Tristan Honsinger, setting the seal on improvised music being a worldwide as well as a UK phenomenon.
Meanwhile, new British players were emerging to follow in the footsteps of the "founding fathers..."
This is a valuable and welcome reissue. Teatime was originally released by Incus on LP in 1975. This release is its first appearance on CD. The five featured musicians were part of the "second generation"a phrase all of them except pianist Steve Beresford and guitarist John Russell use in their reminiscences that form the album's sleeve notes. However, it is fruitless to get too bogged down in distinctions about the membership or approaches of these arbitrarily named generations; in reality, new players were joining the scene all the time and others leaving rather than a series of discrete generations appearing.
On this evidence, if there is one element that clearly distinguishes the second generation from the first, it is humour. Bailey, Parker and company never lacked humour, but on Teatime it is all pervasive. It is most evident in the track titles, witness the brief opening track which features a percussion solo from Dave Solomon, cheekily entitled "Irritating Tapping." Next up is "European improvised music sho' 'nuff turns me on," which opens with a parody of a sober BBC-style Royal Wedding commentary that could have originated from the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. But it is not jokes all the waythat same track develops into a prolonged collective improvisation for violin, guitar, piano and drums. On occasions, Beresford may stray close to hamming it up with his piano flourishes, but otherwise it is played straight.
The emphasis is clearly on the collective, with no-one dominating or leading. Across all the tracks, recorded between late 1973 and February 1975, the five players never all play together but are a pool from which are drawn solos, duos, a trio and two quartetsa set-up that John Russell writes gave Bailey the idea to form Company. The sound of the musicians fits Dave Solomon's description of them: "five friends with a common love of this music who wanted to be part of it." And, incidentally, are all still part of it in 2010.
As well as the musicians' reminiscences of the times, the sense of this being a historical document is further enhanced by its inclusion of period photographs (which were not included on the original Incus LP) showing the five players hanging around on the streetoutside the Marquis of Anglesey pub, by vending machines and outside Bow Street magistrates court. They are made unrecognisable compared to their 21st century selves by 1970s fashion and haircuts. Hilarious stuff. Nice flares!
Similarly, some of the music makes the musicians unrecognisable compared to their later playing styles. Most extreme is Russell's electric guitar which is louder and more aggressive than his characteristic acoustic playing; it displays the influence on his playing of Derek Bailey, notably on the closing track, the previously unreleased "Low-fi." "European improvised music sho 'nuff turns me on, part 4" closes with enthusiastic applause from Bailey himself, the sound of the first generation endorsing the second. Talking of which...
As its title suggests, More 74 consists of recordings that add to those on Derek Bailey's Lot 74 album (Incus, vinyl 1974, CD 2009). When preparations were being made for the release of Lot 74 on CD, Karen Brookman discovered two reel-to-reel tapes stored along with the original album masters. They contained material similar to that on Lot 74, without any certainty about its origins. Hence, the album credits tiptoe carefully about making specific attributions"all music recorded in London in 1974, as far as we know"and the word "probably" is frequently used in the credits (and in the track titles too).
Despite such uncertainties, one thing is certain: this album makes a valuable companion piece to Lot 74, being unmistakably from the same period, with Bailey employing many of the same techniques and ideas. The analogy that best helps understand it comes from visual art: More 74 is the aural equivalent of an artist's sketchbooks. In the same way, those can help appreciate a finished work but can also be appreciated in their own right.
For most of the album, Bailey employs stereo electric guitar, a good clue to the vintage of the recordings. He generates fast-moving, ever-shifting streams of sound that requires total concentration and focus to be fully appreciated. There is rarely a pause or slowing of the pace to allow for respite or reflection. The most amusing such pause comes during "Wrong Number": with Bailey in full flight, he is interrupted by the telephone ringing; he pauses just long enough to say "wrong number" into it before continuing headlong, as though nothing had happened. Otherwise, the flow is uninterrupted, and the only valid alternative to complete concentration is total immersion and surrendergoing with the flow. Ultimately, just enjoying the music is more satisfying than trying to "understand" it.
As on Lot 74 one of the delights of More 74 is to be able to hear Bailey's voice, most notably on the chat-plus-guitar monologue, "I Remember The Early Seventies"a reminder of his warmth, humour and sense of fun.
The good news is that this seems unlikely to be the last release of new Derek Bailey music. As he hinted in an interview back in September 2001, there are likely to be countless more undiscovered tapes in his house in Hackney. On this evidence, there will be no shortage of labels wanting to release them.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Irritating tapping; European improvised music sho' 'nuff turns me on, part 1; European improvised music sho' 'nuff turns me on, part 2; European improvised music sho' 'nuff turns me on, part 3; European improvised music sho' 'nuff turns me on, part 4; Deadbeat; I didn't get up this morning, part 1; I didn't get up this morning, part 2; I didn't get up this morning, part 3; I didn't get up this morning, part 4; Graham shows his teeth; Low-fi.
Personnel: Garry Todd: tenor saxophone; Nigel Coombes: violin, low grade electronics; Steve Beresford: piano, toys: John Russell: electric guitars; Dave Solomon: percussion.
Tracks: Catford part1; Catford part 2; Catford part 3; Wrong Number; Provenance Unknown 1; Provenance Unknown 2; Probably part 1; Probably part 2; Probably part 3; Probably part 4; Little Old Acoustic Guitar 1; Little Old Acoustic Guitar 2; I Remember The Early Seventies.
Personnel: Derek Bailey: stereo electric guitar (1-10), 19-string (approx) acoustic guitar (11-13), voice (4, 11, 13).