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CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Spontaneous Music Ensemble: New Surfacing 1978 & 1992

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This album offers a snapshot of the post-1976 version of the legendary free-jazz improvisational unit, Spontaneous Music Ensemble's (SME) reign as a quartet. Two thirds of the material is derived from performances by the guitar-violin-percussion rendition, captured at a 1978 concert in Newcastle, England. It was previously released on Trio & Triangle (Emanem, 1978) but the recording quality was less than desirable, emanating as it did from a cassette tape. Producer Martin Davidson cleaned it up, yet eventually tracked down the master copy on reel-to-reel, marking a significant audio improvement evidenced on this release. The third piece, “Complete Surfaces," was ...

MULTIPLE REVIEWS

Contrasting Faces of Spontaneous Music Ensemble

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For years, the Emanem label has had so many releases by Spontaneous Music Ensemble in its catalogue that it has become the de facto guardian of the SME legacy, the keeper of the flame. Although there have been excellent SME recordings on other labels--Karyobin (Island, 1968; Chronoscope, 1993) and Spontaneous Music Ensemble (Marmalade, 1969; Polydor, 1972) spring to mind--no other label's SME releases match the breadth, depth, richness and variety of those on Emanem. As well as seeking out unreleased SME recordings and getting them fit for release, Emanem proprietor Martin Davidson is continually finding ways to improve ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Spontaneous Music Ensemble & Orchestra: Trio & Triangle

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Given the quantity of SME music released by Emanem, cynics might be thinking that quality control must have slipped, that the barrel is being scraped. Miraculously, nothing could be further from the truth. Each new release adds to the body of work available, shedding further light on the exploits of John Stevens' multifaceted ensemble, and putting the whole into sharper perspective. Trio & Triangle is no exception, matching the high standard set by other recent SME releases.

The first three tracks here were recorded in 1981, and released on LP as SME + SMO In Concert (SFA, 1982). The trio ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Bare Essentials 1972-3

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John Stevens and Trevor Watts are vitally important in the history of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (and so of improvised music) but the only previous album of the duo alone is Face to Face (Emanem, 1974). From 1968 to 1976 the two often were the SME. But when recording opportunities came up, Stevens usually opted for an expanded version rather than this minimal version. However, from 1970 onwards, Watts recorded SME performances onto cassette tapes. This release comes from his tape archive, and dates from 1972 and 1973--a treasure trove of previously unreleased music. (Incidentally, the tapes have cleaned up ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Frameworks

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All of the freely improvised music collected here is previously unissued and, to the best of my knowledge, only the duo of percussionist John Stevens and reed player Trevor Watts has been extensively documented on record before now, notably on Face To Face (Emanem, 1973). The duo is featured on “Flower here. The piece was recorded in the same period as the music on Face to Face and it's in the same austere and minimal vein.

The thirty minutes plus of “Familie Sequence is, however, another matter entirely. Part of its duration is an example of the “Sustained Piece a ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Quintessence

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After releasing this music on two LPs and then on two CDs, Emanem now re-release it on a double CD. In the process, the performances are put into a more sensible order. The vast bulk of their 1974 ICA concert (seventy-five out of the eight-five minutes) is now together on one CD. This concert featured the “superstar" line-up of John Stevens, Evan Parker, Trevor Watts, Derek Bailey and Kent Carter, not the usual SME line up of the time. “Forty Minutes" is frequently cited as one of the best free improvised group performances ever, and it is not ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Frameworks

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Increasingly, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble recordings released on Emanem (which now number ten CDs, not including Spontaneous Music Orchestra releases) resemble the pieces of a large and intricate jigsaw puzzle. The recordings span some twenty-eight years, at least twenty-five recording occasions ("sessions not being the appropriate word) and numerous line-ups--John Stevens being the only ever-present participant.

Despite this proliferation, each new release brings fresh insights into this vital and pioneering group. This CD adds three more key pieces to the jigsaw, its tracks dating from 1968, 1971 and 1973. The first two tracks are from the (relatively undocumented) period in ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Biosystem

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Emanem has been the bastion of SME releases for years now; without the label, John Stevens' legacy would be a fading memory, despite his lasting influence on a generation of players. However, this SME release--dating from 1977--appears on Psi rather than Emanem, as it was originally released on Incus (incidentally, making it the first Incus re-release on Psi not to feature Evan Parker).

This recording was a radical departure for SME; it saw the grouping completely move away from horns (Parker, Trevor Watts) to a quieter soundscape that, apart from Stevens occasional interjection on cornet, only featured strings. Apart from ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Spontaneous Music Ensemble: A New Distance

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We all owe great thanks to Emanem, without whom there would be very little music available by the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. The archive of SME recordings on the label now numbers twelve, ranging from Challenge, recorded in 1966-7, when free improvisation was in its infancy, through to these recordings from 1993-4, not long before John Stevens' premature death in September 1994. In the intervening years, SME personnel changed many times, with Stevens being the only constant member, but its working methods and ideology remained focussed, thanks to Stevens clarity of purpose. Despite his central role, he was not the leader, ...

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Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Coming Together

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Although the jazz vocabulary is undoubtedly American in origin, with the passing of time and the evolution jazz has arguably become a pejorative term for the making of improvised music. The improvisational element reaches its logical conclusion in music that is freely improvised, that is to say music that is free of all predetermined elements and the structure of which is of the moment.

Free improvisation has followed a more international path than did jazz as such in the earliest decades of its life; an outcome of this has been, to put it both crudely and with a degree of ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Challenge

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For the world of free improvisation, Challenge marks a major milestone. It represents the first recording of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, longtime standard-bearers of British free improv. Parts of this record were briefly released on the Eyemark label (which otherwise specialized in recordings of steam engines and opera spoofs!), but two tunes here never made it onto wax at all. Emanem has collected these pieces for release. One can view Challenge as a launching point for a free-spirited group with a revolving door of personnel, but an ever-expanding sense of musical freedom.

The early SME placed more emphasis on composition ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Challenge (1966-7)

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These recordings are of historical importance. More importantly, they are a good listen.They are the earliest available recordings of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, dating from March 1966 and (one track, previously unissued) April 1967. They were issued briefly on LP in 1966. The recordings capture free improvisation at the point in time when it was diverging from free jazz but when the two were still close enough to be obviously related. Over the next two years, largely because of nightly musical explorations and experiments at the Little Theatre Club in central London, SME's music evolved rapidly. (Compare this ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Low Profile

The Spontaneous Music Ensemble consisted of a shifting cast of characters centered around the late lamented percussionist John Stevens; here he's joined by violinist Nigel Coombes, cellist Colin Wood (on two tracks), and guitarist Roger Smith (on one track). Thus all of these tracks are interplays of strings of various textures with percussion. Most of this is quiet music, with sudden convergences and divergences, and little thematic continuity. Yet at the same time there is an inescapable cumulative effect and a range of minute, intricate moments of subtle drama.

The center of the disc is the thirty-one minute “The Only ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Low Profile 1977-1988

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The late drummer John Stevens was charismatic, at times unpredictable yet played with conviction and enthusiasm through his now historic free jazz/improv band, “Spontaneous Music Ensemble”. The rendition of SME portrayed here, represents the version “that lasted the longest period, whilst probably performing and recording the least”, from the words of Emanem’s Martin Davidson. Here, Stevens performs alongside guitar virtuoso Roger Smith (See AAJ July’99 review), violinist Nigel Coombes and cellist Colin Wood. Low Profile features material recorded live between 1977-1988.

SME was all about improvisation, workmanship and nonconformity. Stevens was somewhat of an iconoclast in the British free-jazz scene ...



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