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Iskra 1903: Goldsmiths

John Eyles By

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The years 2010 and 2011 have already been a bumper period for re-releases of '70s improvised music—notably Emanem's Teatime and Life amid the artefacts—plus unreleased Derek Bailey (on More 74, Concert in Milwaukee and Scrutables). Now, after some delay, comes Goldsmiths, which could well be the pick of the bunch. It consists of a 67-minute live concert recording from London's Goldsmiths College made in March 1972, augmented by two shorter extracts of unknown provenance that are no mere extras, but contain music as vital and stimulating as the main concert.

Originally scheduled for March 2011, the release of Goldsmiths was delayed due to the arrival from the USA of an original tape of the start of the concert rather than the copy tape that was initially used for the CD. The release was delayed in the hope that further original tapes would emerge. That did not happen, but nonetheless the sound of the tapes used is perfectly good, and there is no detectable change in sound quality because of the shift from the original to copy tape.

Formed by trombone legend Paul Rutherford in 1970 and active until 1974, this first version of Iskra 1903, featuring guitarist Bailey and bassist Barry Guy, was one of the more revered improvising groups of the time, a summit meeting of three first-rate players. The absence of drums helped give the music a sense of lightness and freedom. From the start, it is obvious that Rutherford is the leading light, as the trombone is more to the fore, with guitar and bass interweaving with it to create a rich tapestry of sound. The (post hoc?) titling of the Goldsmiths concert pieces with the word "Cohesion" is spot on; the three combine together into one entity. As always, Rutherford's trombone playing is an all-too-human voice, imbued with a wealth of contrasting emotions including tenderness, humor, pathos and mischief.

Ultimately, Goldsmiths leaves an aura of happy sadness: the sadness, caused by the realization of the huge gap left by the deaths of Bailey and Rutherford; the happiness, by the discovery of this wonderful recording as a reminder of that loss. This album captures the trio in peak form and seems likely to become the first-choice recommended recording by the group.

Track Listing: Cohesion 1A; Cohesion 1B; Cohesion 2A; Cohesion 2B; Unknown 1; Unknown 2.

Personnel: Paul Rutherford: trombone; Derek Bailey: amplified guitar; Barry Guy: amplified double bass.

Title: Goldsmiths | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Emanem

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