115

Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Challenge

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Challenge 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 than its later counterparts, and that's where a lot of the interest on Challenge lies. For example, consider the Trevor Watts composition "Day of Reckoning." This tune starts with a dyadic juxtaposition of short arranged passages with quick trips into free space. Then a high-stepping military march theme briefly kicks in, and all four members of the group fall into lock-step (irony, anyone?). From there, it's open territory. One by one, each player steps up to solo: Rutherford deliberately starts and stops, pausing carefully between phrases. Drummer John Stevens, a master colorist and percolator, generates propulsive bubbles of sound that envelop the melody instruments without drawing attention to himself. When saxophonist Trevor Watts steps in for his solo, he throws the gates wide open. He screeches, snarls, and squeals, but mostly pursues a highly melodic series of arcs and spirals that evolve over time. After a brief bass solo, the dyadic intro and military theme rear their heads again. "Day of Reckoning" clearly features fixed compositional elements, but it also allows for near-total freedom during the interspersed solos. It's representative of a lot of the tunes on Challenge.

The final tune on Challenge deserves special attention. The previously unreleased "Distant Little Soul," a Stevens quartet composition of 15 minutes' duration, is the only piece featuring the soprano saxophone playing of Evan Parker. Parker is a wonderful foil for master reed player Trevor Watts, and together they break down plenty of barriers, playing with incredible versatility.

Challenge is a must-hear for fans of the SME. To the naive listener, this record offers a cornucopia of sonic exploration. It's not for the weak of heart (or mind), but it's remarkably powerful if you're willing to open your ears (and your mind) to some new sounds. Even though Challenge was recorded 35 years ago, it still sounds just as vibrant and fresh today.

Visit Emanem on the web.


Track Listing:

E.D.'s Message; 2.B.Ornette; Club 66; Day of Reckoning; End to a Beginning; Travelling Together; Little Red Head; After Listening ; End to a Beginning; Distant Little Soul.

Personnel: Kenny Wheeler: flugelhorn (1-3 & 6-9); Paul Rutherford: trombone; Trevor Watts: alto saxophone (except 9), soprano saxophone (9); Bruce Cale, bass (2-8); Jeff Clyne, bass (1&9); John Stevens: drums & cymbals (except 7). On (10): Trevor Watts, piccolo and alto saxophone; Evan Parker: soprano saxophone; Chris Cambridge: bass; John Stevens: drums & cymbals.

Title: Challenge | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Emanem


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Towards Language CD/LP/Track Review Towards Language
by John Eyles
Published: June 23, 2017
Read The Romeo and Juliet Project CD/LP/Track Review The Romeo and Juliet Project
by Jack Bowers
Published: June 23, 2017
Read Saluting Sgt. Pepper CD/LP/Track Review Saluting Sgt. Pepper
by Roger Farbey
Published: June 23, 2017
Read Crystal Machine CD/LP/Track Review Crystal Machine
by Glenn Astarita
Published: June 23, 2017
Read Saluting Sgt. Pepper CD/LP/Track Review Saluting Sgt. Pepper
by Karl Ackermann
Published: June 22, 2017
Read Thick as Thieves CD/LP/Track Review Thick as Thieves
by Jack Bowers
Published: June 22, 2017
Read "Alameda Gardens" CD/LP/Track Review Alameda Gardens
by Glenn Astarita
Published: December 22, 2016
Read "Stereotomic" CD/LP/Track Review Stereotomic
by Geno Thackara
Published: April 18, 2017
Read "Windows" CD/LP/Track Review Windows
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: September 12, 2016
Read "Scott Hamilton / Harry Allen: live!" CD/LP/Track Review Scott Hamilton / Harry Allen: live!
by Edward Blanco
Published: August 9, 2016
Read "Sizzle" CD/LP/Track Review Sizzle
by Geannine Reid
Published: October 10, 2016
Read "Landing" CD/LP/Track Review Landing
by Mark Sullivan
Published: April 30, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.