Emanem Tidies Up

John Eyles By

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As well as releasing contemporary recordings of improv, Martin Davidson's Emanem label has played a vital role in documenting the history of the music by releasing, re-releasing or re-curating recordings that are decades old. In the process, Davidson has sometimes worked tirelessly to improve the sound quality of recordings that were never intended for release, and has been relentless in his pursuit of vital recordings that plugged gaps in the discographies of important musicians. In a 2001 interview, Derek Bailey said (only half-jokingly), ..." Martin is voracious for old tapes. Whenever he visits anybody, he kind of hunts down the back of the settee looking for tape."

The two double-disc releases, below. are shining examples, as the recordings in question date from 1961, and 1973 through to 1981, respectively. They are sensibly programmed and meticulously documented, making each of them an essential pillar of the discography of the ensemble in question.

Jimmy Giufffre 3 with Paul Bley & Steve Swallow
Bremen & Stuttgart 1961

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre's trio, with Paul Bley on piano and Steve Swallow on double bass, stands out as a vitally important ensemble in the history of both jazz and free improvisation. Incredibly, most of the music upon which that judgment depends was recorded in the year 1961—the studio albums Fusion (Verve, 1961) and Thesis (Verve, 1961)—which were re-released together as 1961 (ECM, 1992)—plus the live recordings Flight, Bremen, 1961 (hat ART, 1993) and Emphasis, Stuttgart, 1961 (hat ART, 1993). The trio's classic studio album Free Fall (Columbia, 1963) took free improvising further than any of those 1961 albums, leading to the trio falling from grace and soon disbanding (until its successful renaissance in the late 80's and 90's).

As its title suggests, Bremen & Stuttgart 1961 is a reissue of the two 1993 hat ART live albums in their entirety, with the bonus of six previously unreleased tracks from Bremen and two tracks from the Fusion session that did not make it onto the ECM reissue. The music consisted of relatively short compositions, mainly by Giuffre himself but others by Paul Bley, Carla Bley, and even Gordon Jenkins' 1935 standard "Goodbye." In each case, once the initial head melody has been played, the trio improvised more freely than was the norm at the time, so they do not queue up to solo in turn, and the bass and piano go way beyond being "the rhythm section." This trio did not represent a complete break with the melodic folk-jazz of past Giuffre trios, but an extension into new territory.

An advantage of having the Bremen and Stuttgart concerts side by side on one album is that their different versions of pieces can be compared, such comparisons revealing that the music's direction could change radically on different nights. For instance, in Stuttgart Paul Bley's "Carla" lasted five-and-a-half minutes while in Bremen it was some three minutes longer. More importantly, three previously unreleased tracks are included from Bremen featuring Bley and Swallow as a duo—Monk's "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues Are," Ornette's "Compassion for P.B." and the Vernon Duke standard "I Can't Get Started"—a welcome bonus that fits in perfectly with the trio pieces.

Altogether, this album is one of the very best re-releases of recent years; taken together with 1961 and Free Fall, it provides encyclopaedic coverage of this historically vital and endlessly enjoyable group. Simply essential.

Spontaneous Music Orchestra directed by John Stevens
Search and Reflect

Crossing the Atlantic and hopping forward a decade, we encounter another ensemble that was vital to the development of improv, albeit one that is often overshadowed by a smaller sibling. The Spontaneous Music Orchestra (SMO) was the name given to expanded versions of John Stevens' Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME). Whereas SME could sometimes consist of as few as two performers (Stevens plus Evan Parker in summer 1967, for instance) when numbers went into double figures, through the addition of audience or workshop members and others, the SMO tag was used; the larger ensemble sometimes featured twenty to thirty players, as illustrated by Jak Kilby's 1975 black-and-white photo of SMO that is featured along the top of this album's front cover.

Back in those days, Davidson did not always keep a record of everyone involved, so some of the personnel listed below are rather speculative. In the past, SME and SMO tracks appeared side by side on some Emanem releases but now, in a sensible act of re-curation, the two are being separated, leading to this SMO compilation album which contains tracks previously found on Mouthpiece (Emanem, 2000), Plus Equals (Emanem, 2001) and Trio & Triangle (Emanem, 2008).

Fittingly, this release bears the title Search and Reflect which was also the title of a 1985 book by Stevens. Subtitled "a music workshop handbook," it contained many pieces designed to be used in his community music workshops, pieces that are still widely used in improvising workshops, over two decades after Stevens' death. Titles such as "Click Piece," "Sustain," "One-Two" and "Triangle," which are familiar to SME and SMO aficionados, come straight out of the book's pages. Given the size of SMO at its largest, and the fact that it could include players of varying abilities, the use of such pieces was vital to give the ensemble's music coherence and to avoid it descending into an anarchic cacophony of cocktail-party chatter.

The opening twenty-minute track, "In Relation to Silence," from 1973, consists primarily of short notes sounded on a range of instruments; crucially, as Stevens intended, there is clear evidence of all the players leaving space for one another and listening to what the others are playing. Two contrasting versions of "Sustained Piece," one instrumental, the other vocal, display the same strengths and discipline. The album's centrepiece and highlight is the forty-minute, multi-part "Plus Equals," dating from St. John's Smith Square in January 1975. The 21-strong SMO is equally split between SME members and workshop players, but the casual listener would be hard-pressed to detect that, as the piece in question integrated the two camps exceptionally well.

Throughout its hundred-and-forty-one minutes, the music here is eloquent testimony to the success of Stevens' abilities as a workshop leader, group leader, communicator and writer. Although the reputations of the two are sure to remain intertwined, this album seems destined to raise the profile of SMO to be nearer to that of SME. As with the Giuffre album, above, Search and Reflect will remain enjoyable and informative for decades to come. Bravo, Emanem.

Tracks and Personnel

Bremen & Stuttgart 1961

Tracks: Call of the Centaur; Postures; Sonic; Goodbye; Suite for Germany; Cry, Want; Flight; That's True, That's True; Jesus Maria; Carla; Whirrrr; Venture; Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues Are; I Can't Get Started; Compassion for P.B.; Whirrrr; Emphasis; Sonic; Venture; Jesus Maria; Suite for Germany; Carla; Cry, Want; Trudgin' (original take) ; Used to be.

Personnel: Jimmy Giuffre: clarinet (1-13, 17-26) ; Paul Bley: piano; Steve Swallow: double bass.

Search and Reflect

Tracks: In Relationship to Silence; Sustained Piece (instrumental); Sustained Piece (vocal); One-Two; Mouthpiece; Plus Equals (Search & Reflect, Sustained Piece, Free Improvisation); Triangle; a fragment of Static.

Personnel: John Stevens: cornet, percussion (6-8), voice (7-8); Nigel Coombes: violin; Trevor Watts: soprano saxophone; Brian Eley: voice (1-5); Ron Herman: double bass (1-5); Marc Meggido: double bass (1-5); Simon Mortimer: piano (1-5); John Russell: electric guitar (1-5); Paul Shearsmith: cornet (1-5); Dave Solomon: percussion (1-5); Larry Stabbins: saxophone (1-5); Dave Panton: various (1-5); Chris Turner: various (1-5); Herman Hauge: alto saxophone (1-6); Martin Mayes: French horn (6); Robert Calvert: sopranino saxophone (6); Evan Parker: soprano saxophone (6); Bob Turner: soprano saxophone (6); Dave Decobain: alto saxophone (6); Ye Min: alto saxophone (6); Chris Turner: harmonica (6); Peter Drew piano (6); Ian Brighton: electric guitar (6); Robert Carter: violin (6); Stephen Luscomb: violin (6); Lindsay Cooper: cello (6); Jane Robertson cello (6); Colin Wood: cello (6); Angus Fraser: double bass (6); Marcio Mattos: double bass (6); Roger Smith: guitar (6-8); Maggie Nicols: voice (7, 8); Jon Corbett: trumpet (7, 8); Alan Tomlinson: trombone (7, 8); Paul Rutherford: euphonium (7), trombone (8); Lol Coxhill: soprano saxophone (7, 8); Howard Riley: piano (8).


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