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Howard Riley: Discussions

Roger Farbey By

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The reissue on CD of Howard Riley's Discussions is to be welcomed, since it only ever saw a highly limited pressing of 99 copies when first released on the Opportunity label in 1967. It is also an important historical artefact because it provides a tangible clue as to how Riley progressed, via the foresight of David Howells at CBS, to record two outstanding albums Angle and The Day Will Come for that label. The sound quality on Discussions is not as good as might have been had it been recorded in a state-of-the-art recording studio as opposed to the room in a converted house where its tracks were laid down. However, the actual quality of the performances is quite superb and combined with a new remastering, the music is gripping.

"Sweet and Lovely" gets the Riley treatment straight from the off, and whilst the melody doesn't veer away from the original as much as did Derek Bailey's treatment of standards on Ballads, the makings of maestro free improvisers Riley and bassist Barry Guy are clearly perceptible here. Guy's pizzicato bass is well to the fore on the short-ish "Romance" whereas Jon Hiseman's brushed snare is prevalent on Miles Davis' "Nardis" again with some stellar bass work from Guy taking the initial solo.

Guy's arco bass underpins the melody to "Sunflower," which is short enough not include a solo but nevertheless benefits from a massive chordal richness. "Children At Play" frenetically and boldly anticipates the sound that Riley's trio produced on Angle and even on the much freer later album Flight. Riley and Guy have a field day and Hiseman—who famously was to pursue a career in jazz rock rather than free jazz—maintains a helter skelter rhythm.

Bill Evans' "Spring Is Here" is more ruminative and exploratory and gradually ebbs away from the original ballad into its own construct. "What's New" evolves into a lively number with some busy drumming from Hiseman which, due to the lack of ideal positioning of the microphones, tends to drown out the other instruments, but this is an engineering rather than musical fault. The final track from the original record "Folk Theme No 1" (surely a misnomer if ever there was one) is an absolute killer, with Riley and Guy totally letting rip and Hiseman, this time with drum volume better balanced, providing apposite percussive backing.

The bonus tracks "Just One Of Those Things" and "September In The Rain," recorded live at the very beginning of the 1960s are included mainly to demonstrate the progression of the Riley, from a prodigiously competent teenager playing the jazz standards heard here, to the innovative free improviser that he became. With the caveat raised initially concerning the recording quality, the music more than compensates for this shortcoming and is indicative clearly enough of Riley's indubitable genius.

Track Listing: Sweet and Lovely; Romance; Nardis; Sunflower; Children At Play; Spring Is Here; What's New; Folk Theme No. 1; Bonus tracks: Just One Of Those Things; September In The Rain.

Personnel: Howard Riley: piano; Barry Guy: bass; Jon Hiseman: drums. Plus on bonus tracks: Malcolm Kaye: bass; Ray Binns: drums.

Title: Discussions | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Dusk Fire

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