London Improvisers Orchestra and Angeli / Parker / Rothenberg: Hard times, fine music

John Eyles By

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Even before the crisis of capitalism, 2008 was not the most auspicious year for improvised music in London or in Britain generally. Early in the year, the closing of the Red Rose club in Seven Sisters Road robbed improv of one of its strongholds, a decent-sized venue that charged reasonable entrance fees. The fallout of the loss will be felt for years to come. The club hosted such events as the annual Freedom of the City festival and monthly club events such as Back In Your Town and John Russell's Mopomoso. Yes, a focus indeed.

Around the same time, the London Musicians Collective (along with hundreds of other organisations) lost its subsidy from the Arts Council, drastically curtailing its ability to mount the type of cutting-edge events for which it is renowned. Maybe more significantly, to many improvising musicians the funding cut was demoralising, seeming to signal that their music was not valued.

All is not doom and gloom, though; successful events such as Rhodri Davies' Self Cancellation and The First Last LMC Festival give grounds for optimism, as does the emergence of Cafe Oto in Dalston as a thriving venue for experimental music.

All of which is highly relevant to these two releases...

London Improvisers Orchestra
Improvisations for George Riste

The Red Rose had been the home of the London Improvisers Orchestra since its birth in 1998, with the orchestra's monthly meetings providing a focus for dozens of musicians from the capital and further afield. (Check the credit list below for evidence.) Saxophonist Evan Parker's vitriolic sleeve notes give a rather more acidic critique of events than that above, with Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown all coming in for their fair share of damning criticism. As fiery as a Parker solo. Great stuff.

Unlike past releases of music by the LIO, which have largely featured "conductions"—pre-planned pieces conducted by an individual—this CD consists of four totally improvised pieces, the first three dating from 2003 and the fourth from 2007. All were picked by Martin Davidson from a shortlist put together by LIO stalwarts saxophonist Adrian Northover and guitarist Dave Tucker, with Davidson given no details of dates or personnel. He says he selected the final four because they seemed to be the ones where the LIO acted most orchestrally.

One of the perennial criticisms of free improvisations by large ensembles—and LIO is certainly large—is that they become cacophonous as everyone plays at once, only being able to hear those near themselves rather than the total effect. Indeed, this is the main reason that "conductions" were introduced, so that there was one controlling intelligence listening to the totality rather than to individual contributions.

The great strength of the four pieces included here is that they totally avoid any hint of cacophony. It is as if the LIO tradition of playing conductions has become assimilated into the orchestra's DNA. Even when they are improvising freely, they are listening to each other and showing restraint, allowing each other space to develop ideas and themes. This gives the music both coherence and variety. As different sections of the orchestra come to the fore, the coloration of their sound shifts dramatically. Davidson is right in his judgment; the LIO here are acting most orchestrally. One would find it difficult to distinguish these pieces from some of their conductions. It sounds as if there is one guiding mind at work; the miracle is that it is the collective mind of the LIO.

The good news is that the London Improvisers Orchestra has found a new home for their monthly meetings—at Cafe Oto—and their music goes from strength to strength.

Finally, you are maybe asking who George Liste is, and why the album is dedicated to him. Well, in keeping with the prevailing mood of not letting the bastards grind you down, George Liste is a stubborn fighter. Discover more here.

Paolo Angeli / Evan Parker / Ned Rothenberg
Free Zone Appleby 2007

The annual releases on Psi documenting the Sunday afternoon Free Zone concerts at the Appleby Jazz Festival have been one of the highlights of the label. Past releases have featured pools of musicians who have been deployed in a variety of groupings, large and small. In 2007, the format was different, with only three musicians present. However, they were used in two duos and a trio, retaining some of the methodology of past years.

If the lack of numbers could be seen as a disadvantage, in fact the opposite seems to be true, based on this evidence. The music here is the equal of any of the past recordings. (And, after the standard set in 2006, that is some feat).

The opening duo between guitarist/electronicist Paolo Angeli and reed player Ned Rothenberg (on clarinet) is a slow burner that occasionally bursts into life; as a curtain-raiser, it is just fine. Next up, Evan Parker and Rothenberg lock horns in an enthralling duo; at times the two are so entwined as to be indistinguishable, particularly when they are both playing flat out. Thrilling stuff.

The two duos act as hors d'oeuvres for the main course, the six trio pieces. These carry on from where the Parker-Rotherberg duo leaves off, with the two horn players often sounding like twins, matching each other every step of the way; one spins out a melodic line that is immediately answered and extended by the other, back and forth in an enthralling closely-reasoned discussion. With Parker alternating between soprano and tenor saxophones, and Rothenberg deploying alto sax plus clarinet and, notably, bass clarinet, there is great variety in the sound palette to accompany the pleasing consistency in the playing styles.

Lest it sound as if there are only two players in the trios, a word about Paolo Angeli: his contributions are less attention grabbing than those of the other two, but they are an important component of the whole. Just as a good rhythm section can transform the feel of a trio, Angeli performs a similar function here. He provides rhythmic support and structure, as well as accompaniment that adds colour and depth to the music. His contributions are subtle but vital to the music's success.

The bad news is that there was no Appleby Jazz Festival in 2008—partly due to the collapse of Northern Rock—so this seems likely to be the last of this fine series. If that is so, it has ended on a high.

Tracks and Personnel

Improvisations for George Riste

Tracks: Improvisation for George Riste 1; Improvisation for George Riste 2; Improvisation for George Riste 3; Improvisation for George Riste 4.

Personnel: Harry Beckett: trumpet (2, 3); Roland Ramanan: trumpet on (1, 2), wooden flute (2); Ian Smith: trumpet )1, 3, 4); Guillermo Torres: flugelhorn (2, 3); Robert Jarvis: trombone (2, 3); Neil Metcalfe: flute (1, 4); Catherine Pluygers: oboe (2); John Rangecroft: clarinet )1, 2, 4); Jacques Foschia: bass clarinet (2); Harrison Smith: bass clarinet (1, 2); Chefa Alonso: soprano saxophone (4); Lol Coxhill: soprano saxophone on 1, 2, 4); Adrian Northover: soprano and alto saxophones (1 - 4); Evan Parker: soprano saxophone (1,3); Caroline Kraabel: alto saxophone on (1, 3); Simon Rose: alto saxophone (4); John Butcher: tenor saxophone (1); Susanna Ferrar: violin (3, 4); Sylvia Hallett: violin (2); Ivor Kallin: violin and viola (4); Philipp Wachsmann: violin (1, 2); Charlotte Hug: viola (1); Marcio Mattos: cello on (2, 4); Barbara Meyer: cello (4); Simon H Fell: double bass (3); David Leahy: double bass (1, 2); John Bisset: electric guitar (4); Dave Tucker: electric guitar (2 - 4); B.J. Cole: pedal steel guitar (1); Steve Beresford: piano (1 -4); Amy Denio: accordion and voice (1); Annie Lewandowski: accordion and musical saw (3); Javier Carmona: percussion (4); Tony Marsh: drums (1 -4); Mark Sanders: percussion (3); Jackie Walduck: vibraphone (4); Orphy Robinson: percussion and electronics (1); Adam Bohman: amplified objects (2 - 4); Knut Aufermann: electronics (1 - 3); Pat Thomas: electronics (3); Filomena Campus: voice (1).

Free Zone Appleby 2007

Tracks: Shield (Blue) Duo 1; Shield (Blue) Duo 2; Shield (Blue) Trio 1; Shield (Blue) Trio 2; Shield (Blue) Trio 3; Shield (Blue) Trio 4; Shield (Blue) Trio 5; Shield (Blue) Trio 6;

Personnel: Paolo Angeli: Sardinian guitar and electronics; Evan Parker: soprano and tenor saxophones; Ned Rothenberg: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet.


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