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Bailey/Davies/Fell/Gaines/Wastell: Company in Marseilles

John Eyles By

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What is it that makes Company Company?

In the early days, some people thought that it was a group. But the personnel changed radically, so it couldn't be a group. Other people thought that any grouping led by Derek Bailey was Company. But Bailey also recorded under his own name, and one year Company Week did not even include him, so that was not the answer. And then Company Week stopped happening and Company went global, appearing in France (as here, in 1998) or in America (earlier this year). So Company was not the annual London-based event to which Bailey invited a varied selection of musicians from across the globe. Having established what Company isn't, the question remains: What is it?

One answer is that Company is a methodology—a way of organising and presenting improvised music, combining contrasting elements to maximise unpredictability and creativity.

This Company grouping is smaller than in the past (five members, compared to the ten or more at Company Weeks) and seems stable (this is the same line-up that played in New York this year). But, ostensibly, the Company methodology is there, namely, random (?) sub-groupings of the members freely improvising. Of the six pieces here, two feature all five players, three are trios and three are duos. The opening piece is a trio featuring Davies, Fell & Wastell. The second piece features Bailey and Gaines. Therein lies an inherent problem. Away from Company, Davies, Fell & Wastell are the occasional trio IST, no strangers to each other. And Will Gaines has been among Bailey's most frequent collaborators in recent years. So, these improvisations are coherent exchanges between players who are familiar with each other from past encounters. There is not the old sense of unfamiliar, contrasting (even conflicting) elements being flung together to see what happens. With five players, there are only twenty-six (non-solo) possibilities, compared to the many hundreds when there are ten players in the pool. While there is scope for unpredictability here (as in any improvised music), it is drastically reduced compared to past Company outings.

This is an excellent, accessible, enjoyable album. But I'm not sure that it merits the "Company" tag. (Notice that it is credited to the five players, not to Company.) Company Week could sometimes produce less than riveting musical conversations. But such lows were more than balanced out by unpredictable, unexpected highs; you could just never tell what would happen. The version of Company that played in Marseilles does not have the lows, but neither does it have those unexpected moments.

So, is Company anything that Derek Bailey deems it to be? No. He would not turn Company into just another marketable brand name, into a registered company. We trust him too much.

Personnel: Derek Bailey, guitar; Rhodri Davies, harp; Simon H. Fell, bass; Will Gaines, dance claquettes; Mark Wastell, cello.

Title: Company in Marseilles | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Incus


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