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Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Quintessence

John Eyles By

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After releasing this music on two LPs and then on two CDs, Emanem now re-release it on a double CD. In the process, the performances are put into a more sensible order. The vast bulk of their 1974 ICA concert (seventy-five out of the eight-five minutes) is now together on one CD. This concert featured the "superstar" line-up of John Stevens, Evan Parker, Trevor Watts, Derek Bailey and Kent Carter, not the usual SME line up of the time.

"Forty Minutes" is frequently cited as one of the best free improvised group performances ever, and it is not difficult to hear the reason. Each of the five players is instantly recognizable and distinguishable from the others, and each is playing near the top of his form. However, the level of group empathy and interaction is such that one could imagine it was the product of long periods of rehearsal. Extraordinarily, this was the only time that the five ever played together.

Stevens' drums are placed right in the centre of the stereo mix, making everything else seem to revolve around him. But this is not true musically. While some of his devices are in evidence—for instance, there is an obvious "sustained piece" towards the end of the track—this comes across as a group without an obvious leader, a group of five equals. The remainder of the concert, "Thirty Five Minutes" and "Ten Minutes," maintains the same high standard, making the entirety a very stimulating experience, one that has stood the test of time and continues to deliver.

The album is completed by duo and trio pieces recorded at the Little Theatre Club in October 1973. While these do not reach the heights of the ICA concert, they are far more than fillers.

"Rambunctious 1," by Stevens, Watts and Carter, successfully spans the jazz-improv border. The bass and drums retain the status of equal partners in the trio, whilst the saxophone constructs passages more like conventional solos. The track has an appealing intimacy, as a mike occasionally picks up throwaway comments of appreciation and shouts of enthusiasm (possibly made by Stevens)

"Daa-Oom" (in both duo and trio versions) sets Stevens' yodelling and yelling voice against Watts' soprano sax, with each mirroring the other and occasionally attempting to outdo each other both in volume and coarseness of tone. "Corsop" features a similar duo, this time for cornet and saxophone. It also contains a contrasting section with playing at barely audible levels.

For those who already own this music, the repackaged and reformatted version represents a distinct improvement. For those who don't this is a welcome opportunity to experience the music for the first time, the way it was originally presented.

Track Listing: Forty Minutes (part 1); Forty Minutes (part 2); Thirty-five Minutes (part 1); Thirty-five Minutes (part 2); Ten Minutes; Rambunctious 1; Rambunctious 2; Daa-oom; Corsop; Daa-oom (duo version).

Personnel: John Stevens: percussion, cornet, voice; Evan Parker: soprano saxophone (1-5); Trevor Watts: soprano saxophone; Derek Bailey: amplified guitar, guitar (1-5); Kent Carter: bass (1-8), cello (1-5).

Title: Quintessence | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Emanem


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