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Iskra 1903: Goldsmiths

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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Iskra 1903: Goldsmiths Iskra is the name of a group comprised of ingenious British improvising musicians on the very edge what is idiomatically modern. Iskra is Russian for "spark," and also happens to have been the name of the paper that Lenin edited before the Russian Revolution. Add to the equation Goldsmiths, a venue for their breathless, expressive music. In a very odd but fortuitous manner, it all seems to come together, to make sense. For here is music that has been mined like very precious metal; music played—although the first few notes may seem to declare otherwise—with unbridled invention and ingenious craftsmanship, raising the bar on energy, and resulting in high drama and catharsis.

ISKRA 1903 "Goldsmiths" documents a concert played by the group at the so-named college in South London in 1972. Here, all three musicians appear to be in fine form as they tear apart conventional norms relating to melody, harmony, and even rhythm, only to introduce in their stead a musical spectrometer that makes for raging drama. With short breaks revealing sly, ironic intent, they execute a truly successful attempt at revealing how timbral conflict and rapidly changing colors and tones can make for memorable musical drama.

The extended suite, "Cohesion," is a musical event in four parts. The first three sections provide room for each musician to explore the full spectrum of his instrument. Paul Rutherford, taking a cue from Roswell Rudd, turns his trombone into a veritable human voice yearning to be heard. He gives new meaning to the word "gutbucket" as he employs growls and grunts, smears and gurgles, and probes the depths of the tubing to redefine its colors and brazen timbre. Derek Bailey, ever the musical terrorist with his guitar, rips what could have been melodic lines to shreds. He howls and screams in broad counterpoint as well as twangs, and shuffles into a groove surreptitiously. When it is his turn to announce his intent, Barry Guy turns the bass—with a series of four dimensional lines and inversions—into an instrument of indeterminate musical geometry. Finally, the suite reaches its dénouement in segment four of the piece, "Cohesion 2B," with the glue that holds the music together being the very catharsis that releases the musicians from the binding character of form.

As the succeeding titles suggest, "Unknown 1" and "Unknown 2" are free musical improvisations. They appear out of nowhere and are rattled around by the musicians of Iskra with a deep irony that suggests that all sound is music, just as Allen Ginsberg suggested in "Howl" that all words sung together were poetry.

With ISKRA 1903 "Goldsmiths", yet another classic reissue coming from way across the pond, it is beginning to appear that the European musicians of the 1970s—taking their cues from the likes of Don Cherry, Lester Bowie and Albert Ayler—were starting to give as good as they received.


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.

Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Emanem


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