Derek Bailey: Concert in Milwaukee and Scrutables

John Eyles By

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Remarkably, over five years after his death on Christmas Day 2005, these two recordings by guitarist Derek Bailey—one dating from 1983, the other from 2000—have never before been properly released. In a 2001 interview, Bailey spoke in typically jocular fashion about the number of neglected tapes that were about in his house in Hackney, London. Of a 1975 duo with Tristan Honsinger he said, "It's on one of these big reels [on a high shelf in his study]—it might have turned to dust if I open the box!" And of Emanem's Martin Davidson, he joked, "Martin is voracious for old tapes. Whenever he visits anybody, he kind of hunts down the back of the settee looking for tape."

Thankfully, these two hadn't turned to dust and didn't need to be retrieved from down the back of the settee! Neither of them was a "lost" recording; rather, each seems to have been forgotten about. Together they serve as a timely reminder of what a great player Bailey was and what an inspirational figure he was to others.

Derek Bailey Concert in Milwaukee Incus 2011

Although Concert in Milwaukee has never been officially released, it has circulated on a privately released semi-official cassette that was produced to tie in with a 1983 Bailey tour of Japan. (Now becoming scarce, the cassette is still carried on the Incus website.)

The music dates from a solo concert recorded on March 31, 1983 at Woodland Pattern, Milwaukee. Of the four tracks, Bailey plays electric guitar on two, acoustic on two—the suffix E or A in the track titles indicating which is which. The E and A tracks alternate, and there is surprisingly little to distinguish between them; occasionally Bailey will use the electricity to create a hint of reverb or to sustain a note slightly longer than the acoustic guitar would allow. But altogether the four tracks paint an accurate picture of solo Bailey on a good night, at his peak.

Each of the tracks he creates is a flowing, coherent piece with its own internal logic; while Bailey does not play melodies, each piece has its own individual sound, rhythm and harmonies which give it a clear identity. Although the CD recording has been transferred and restored from the original cassette, the sound quality is excellent, allowing Bailey's ringing tones to be heard to maximum effect.

Remarkably, there are still some listeners who claim not to "get" Bailey's guitar playing. Anyone who falls into that category would be well advised to invest their time listening at length to this album. It is an ideal place to start with Bailey as it transparently lays out all the qualities that make his playing special and highly influential.

Derek Bailey, John Butcher, Gino Robair


Weight of Wax


Scrutables was recorded at Moat Studios, London, in March 2000. It was originally to be released on Acta, saxophonist John Butcher's own label of the time. For whatever reason, that never happened, but now it is released on Weight of Wax, Butcher's current imprint. It features the trio of Bailey, Butcher and Gino Robair on energised surfaces. Bailey and Butcher had history dating back to 1990, when Butcher first played in Company, including the fine album Trio Playing (Incus, 1995) on which they were joined by tuba player extraordinaire Oren Marshall. Butcher and Robair had played together as a duo since the mid-1990s, but prior to this recording the threesome had no prior experience together. The results are very successful.

In the context of the trio (playing "in company" as Bailey would have described it) we hear a very different side of the guitarist to that presented solo in concert. Instead of the flow and coherence of his solo playing, we hear Bailey as an equal partner in the three-way exchanges of the trio. His playing is more episodic as the three react to each other and their contributions overlap, waxing and waning. Although sounds occasionally surface that are distinctive enough to be attributed to one of them, no-one remains in the spotlight for very long; there are frequent prolonged passages where all three are in full flow simultaneously, creating edge-of-the-seat thrilling music. On the delightful "Cosmetic Halo," all three produce ringing tones in an ensemble piece; this can make it difficult to distinguish who's who, but there are just enough clues in the timbres of the tones to separate them.

So, two contrasting examples of Bailey at his best. They are equally and highly recommended.

Tracks and Personnel

Concert in Milwaukee

Tracks: 8E; 21A; 15E; 9A.

Personnel: Derek Bailey: electric guitar, acoustic guitar.


Tracks: Almosthenics; Teasing needles; Cosmetic halo; Excrescence; Inkling; Frangible; Plugh; Surprise inspection.

Personnel: Derek Bailey: guitar; John Butcher: saxophones; Gino Robair: energised surfaces.

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