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Quite simply, Company produced some of the most stimulating improvised music you will ever hear.
These recordings date from the Company Week held in June and July 1982. Having begun in 1976, by 1982 this annual improvisation festival was an established (and eagerly awaited) part of the calendar (even if the venue and time of year were unpredictable). Typically, Derek Bailey was looking beyond the cosy [his word] group of tried-and-trusted improvisers and was inviting musicians to Company Week who were not necessarily improvisers or who came from very different traditions. So where the 1977 Company had featured improv "stars" like Leo Smith, Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton and Evan Parker, the 1982 line-up shuffled the pack, with well-known improv names like Keith Tippett, Fred Frith and George Lewis being joined by concert pianist Ursula Oppens and composer & harpist Anne LeBaron. By 1982, Bailey was playing regulary in Japan and had established links, so he also invited Motoharu Yoshizawa on bass and Akio Suzuki on assorted instruments like glass harmonica. Such variety and eclecticism became a regular feature of later Company Week line-ups.
The music on the two CDs is typical of Company. One CD features a long improvisation on which all the musicians play. The second contains shorter pieces by various sub-groupings. The personnel of such sub-groupings was decided just before the players went on stage, with no prior indication of what they might be. Would it be a duo between Oppens and Yoshizawa? Or a quintet with Bailey, Frith, Lewis, Tippett and Suzuki? It was this unpredictabilityfor the players and the audiencesthat made Company Weeks so exciting and stimulating. No-one had any advance idea of the size of a group or of its instrumentation or personnel. Even for experienced improvisers, this lent a cutting edge to these events. Live, some combinations gelled and soared while others could fall flat or be rather dull. (But would it be exciting to watch tight rope walking if no-one ever fell off?) On record, only the best bits survive. The results are as varied as the personnel, but always (always!) worth listening to.
A decade ago, unpredictable as ever, Bailey stopped convening Company Week. Releases like this are a reminder of how much it is missed.