Cooking becomes significantly more complicated when you mix a lot of ingredients. This edition of the London Improvisers Orchestra features 37 musicians, and it's a prodigious combination: five clarinets, six saxophones, three cellos, four drummers, and so forth. The players here represent some of the most talented improvisers on the British scene. The LIO gets together every month at the Red Rose in London, so these players have quite a bit of shared experience. But you might as well give up trying to figure out who's playing what, unless you've got an exceptional ear and a lot of listening experience. That, of course, forces things wide open.
The music on The Hearing Continues, a generous two-disc set, includes a few free improv jams and a variety of "composed" and/or conducted pieces masterminded by members of the group. The group improvisations include two pieces for the full orchestra and two pieces for smaller subsets of the group. The large-group pieces reflect a certain restraint on the part of the players, in order to keep individual voices from being drowned out in an avalanche of sound. The saxophone sextet piece, "Dingos Creep," offers some of the most coherent playing on the record. Angular thrusts surround vibrant themes which evolve over time and occasionally vaporize into thin air. The personalities at play dictate a variety of approachesfrom melodic to throaty to whistling soundsand it's evident that these musicians are paying close attention to what's going on around them.
The "composed" pieces span a wide variety of approaches. The title of Veryan Weston and Steve Beresford's neoclassical "Concerto for Soft-Loud Key-Box" alludes to Beethoven's joke name for the piano: "schwach-stark-tasten-kasten." It's a three-part piece with a handful of sudden changes, featuring unusually forward piano work by Weston as the centerpiece. The strings shuffle around, casting textured hunks of sound into the air; meanwhile the horns zoom and focus on certain melodic phrases. With four drummers in the group, this piece has the potential to erupt into thunderous explosions at any time (though the conductor appears to enforce some sort of insulation to protect the soft and loud parts).
Philipp Wachsmann offers a fresh update to the concept of playing in the moment. His piece "Fire - In The Air" draws upon the musicians' reactions to a film of fireworks over the Thames. It's a musical document of pure reaction: the musicians respond to the video images and, to a different extent, each other. Without the film, it's hard to guess exactly what's going on, but that's the puzzle of the piece. Evan Parker's "Orphy: Us" starts with a "composed" orchestra performance. The horns maintain a specific rhythmic thrust, and the remaining instruments pursue a rounded, decorative role. The big bonus is marimba player Orphy Robinson's overdubbed work on the piece. Since Robinson could not join the group for the recording, he joined them after the fact in the studio. And his busy, open-ended playing makes the tune work.
Track Listing: Proceeding 3; Concerto for Soft-Loud Key-Box; Morton's Mobile; Fire--In the Air; Dingos Creep; How Can You Delude Yourself?; Drop the Handkerchief; Proceeding 4; Red Rose Theme; Orphy:Us; Birthday Piece; Music for Pianos, Percussion, and Harp; Pulse Piece; Prior to Freedom.