At some point in the '60s, collective improvisation became intimately associated with "energy music," through the work of Albert Ayler and others. Sheer unrelenting intensity defined this sound. (Peter Brotzmann, Charles Gayle, and other improvisers offer ample proof that these two categories can fit together very nicely. However, British improvisers like Derek Bailey and the SME have also been busy since the late '60s recording evidence that alternative approaches can work just as well.)
Perhaps it's the "composed" nature of the work, but Brian Glick's debut recording, Trophy, quickly scuttles any expectations you might have about unbridled energy driving group improvisation. The six-part suite features a nonet, with Glick playing the role of conductor in addition to his personal contributions on the tenor saxophone. It's generally quiet, careful music, with sparse arrangements. Melodic progressions occur very naturally, without distraction or ostentation.
Glick's concept on Trophy (recorded in October '99) seems to be driven by the idea that shifting roles can make for fascinating dynamic evolution. His compositional framework specifies lead roles, harmonic guidelines, and much of the small group sound. But it's realized in a way that obscures any potential "imposition" on the collective performance. Soloists merge with small-group improvisation, only to yield to another player's emerging contribution. Five reed players join trumpet, vibes, bass, and percussion on Trophy, a paced progression through improvised space. Among the more notable contributions are Matthew Heyner's understated bass playing, Kevin Norton's pulsing support on the vibes, and Chris Matthay's gentle, breathy work on the trumpet. Not at all run-of-the-mill stuff: Trophy offers evidence of the vitality and subtlety of "composed improvisation." Future offerings from Brian Glick will deserve critical attention.
Personnel: Sean Meehan, percussion; Matthew Heyner, bass; Rafael Cohen, oboe; James Fei, bass clarinet; Seth Misterka, baritone saxophone; Chris Jonas, tenor saxophone; Chris Matthay, trumpet; Kevin Norton, vibraphone; Brian Glick, conductor and tenor saxophone.