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Moss Freed / Union Division: Micromotives


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Moss Freed / Union Division: Micromotives
A question any composer for improvisers must face is whether they can create something more worthwhile than what they might come up with if left to themselves. It can be a tough call. For some, such as Alexander von Schlippenbach's Globe Unity Orchestra or Peter Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet, the ultimate conclusion was no, while for others such as Anthony Braxton and Barry Guy the answer has been far less clear cut. British guitarist Moss Freed falls somewhere between the two camps. He has been writing for free improvisers since 2014, seeking to facilitate the freedom enjoyed in a small group for a large ensemble. Manchester-born Freed studied at Berklee before relocating to London where he leads bands such as The Moss Project, whose What Do You See When You Close Your Eyes? (Babel Label, 2013) includes traces of folk and prog rock as well as jazz, and Let Spin, another eclectic outfit which leans high energy, intense and plugged in on Steal The Light (Efpi Records, 2020). However on Micromotives the music remains predominantly acoustic, though still far from conventional.

Freed workshopped and evolved his ideas with the group of players that became Union Division, which includes some of the UK's finest talents, including saxophonists Rachel Musson and Chris Williams, and trumpeters Laura Jurd, Sam Eastmond and Charlotte Keefe, and presents the fruits of their labors on the seven varied cuts that make up this double CD, drawn from performances in 2018 and 2021. Freed has developed a system which gives band members as much agency as the writer, in that they can choose to ignore any instruction, and furthermore also conduct others. While elements such as unisons, fixed meter or melodies are largely absent, Freed imparts his compositional aims in other ways.

"Left-Leaning" provides one of the most discernible approaches, as his initial raw guitar attack lays down the template from which others extrapolate, in a seething broth of stuttered echoing bursts set amongst silence. But even here there are other contrary forces at play as the number progresses, as George Crowley's clarinet pipes merrily alone, Steve Beresford's piano rampages, and the piece ends with a scorching thrash from Will Glaser's drums and Pierre Alexandre Tremblay's electric bass.

The composer's mark is also apparent in "Hidden Hand" where Freed toggles between an angular trumpet/piano duet and a more cooling saxophone refrain. Elsewhere intent manifests more indirectly through the organization of resources, like the collective vibe of "Union Of Egoists" where the switches in density and direction suggest a controlling mind, or the rapid changing discreet combos which make up "Kilter," dedicated appropriately enough to John Zorn. "Starlings" comprises a series of orchestral feels, from spectral shimmer to slowly rousing fanfares and a crescendo of garrulous horns, while "Hung Parliament" offers another sequence of linked small group vignettes, although this time with more space for interplay between the constituent parts.

Whether it's the makeup of the pieces selected or a growing familiarity with the process among the crew, but the tracks drawn from the second concert seem more compelling and coherent than those from the session three years before. This stretches to the improvisers themselves who seem to accept the challenge with an added dose of autonomous attitude, which brings us to one wrinkle. Although this is primarily an ensemble music, with limited opportunities for extended individual expression, the overlaps in instrumentation mean that the listener is never sure who is doing what (always one of the joys of improvised music).

Freed suggests strikingly novel ways to organize a large group on Micromotives, and one must hope that he can maintain a core of players versed in his methods to take his explorations even further.

Track Listing

Union of Egoists, for Anthony Braxton; Unprecedented Times, for Pauline Oliveros; Left-Leaning, for Louis Andriessen; Kilter, for John Zorn; Starlings, for Christian Wolff; Hidden Hand, for Terry Riley; Hung Parliament, for Barry Guy.


Moss Freed
guitar, electric
Union Division
band / ensemble / orchestra
Laura Jurd
Sam Eastmond
Tullis Rennie
Rachel Musson
saxophone, tenor
George Crowley
saxophone, tenor
Chris Williams
saxophone, alto
Otto Wilberg
bass, acoustic
Additional Instrumentation

Moss Freed: guitar; Laura Jurd: trumpet, cornet; Charlotte Keefe: trumpet, flugelhorn (2, 3, 7); Sam Eastmond: trumpet; Tullis Rennie: trombone (1, 4-6); Rachel Musson: tenor saxophone (1, 4-6); George Crowley: tenor saxophone, clarinet (2, 3, 7); Chris Williams: alto saxophone; Rosanna Ter-Berg: flute, piccolo (1, 4-6); Brice Catherin: voice (1, 4-6); Otto Willberg: bass; Steve Beresford: piano (2, 3, 7); Elliot Galvin: piano (1, 4-6); Will Glaser: drums; James Maddren: drums (1, 4-6); Pierre Alexandre Tremblay: electric bass, electronics.

Album information

Title: Micromotives | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Discus Music


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