Out of stock



LARRY STABBINS soprano & tenor saxophones
TONY WREN double bass
MARK SANDERS percussion

1 - A SOFT DAY - 6:53
2 - GAME OF TWO HALVES - 17:06
3 - WHERE ARE THE SNOWS... - 10:16
4 - ROUGH CROSSING - 13:22
5 - BLUE DARK - 11:03

Digital studio recordings made in London
by Steve Lowe - 2001 July 11
Total time 75:22

All previously unissued


Excerpts from sleeve notes:

Back in the late 60s, I was probably as interested in contemporary composed music as in advanced styles of jazz, and had heard of Howard Riley as a practitioner of both. In my second year at Durham University I was secretary of the DU Jazz Club and of the DU New Music Society and I invited Howard to bring his trio (with Barry Guy and Alan Jackson) to play. Howard remembers the gig but didn't recall that I was behind it, as he obviously didn't know who I was at the time.

In the mid-70s Howard began to appear at the LMC. He had a trio with Barry Guy and Phil Wachsmann (last available on EMANEM 4070)) and it came about that he did a gig at the LMC with Chamberpot. I had little further contact with him, except as an audience, until last year, when I met him at Goldsmiths. He teaches there, and I was rehearsing in the next room with Ensemble rrrrrrr..... That chance encounter made me think how much I'd enjoy working with him. A band began to compose itself in my mind.

Larry and I first met through the old LMC and by the late 70s had formed a quintet, Mama Lapato, which in many ways was as much of a departure from what I was doing with groups like Chamberpot and the London Bass Trio as the present quartet is from, say, Quatuor Accorde. When I thought of including Larry in this present quartet I didn't realise that he and Howard had often collaborated, both in the Tony Oxley quintet and in the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, before Larry went on to win a modicum of fame and fortune with Working Week.

I discussed with Howard a short-list of percussionists whose playing I admired, and Mark was his recommendation, because they had worked together, in Howard's quartet with Elton Dean. He is without doubt the busiest of us all at the moment, and we're very lucky to have him in the group. This quartet was my first working experience with Mark, although I have since played with him also in other contexts.

FOUR IN THE AFTERNOON represents only the fourth meeting of the quartet (three London gigs preceded it, two of them at the Vortex). I personally feel this group is everything I could have hoped it would be, times about ten.

TONY WREN (2001)

In the last few years, Tony Wren has become active again on the London improvising scene, organising gigs and groups as well as playing bass. The quartet on this CD is one of several groups he has convened, and is a complete contrast to his string quartet Quatuor Accorde (which can be heard on EMANEM 4050). One thing they do have in common, though, is that they are both improvising quartets - there is no prior discussion about sequences of events, and no pre-composed material.

At the Gateway session, the group recorded a little bit too much to fit on a CD, so one piece has had it's middle shortened, and another had a few minutes cut off from its start. Apart from that, all the music from the recording session is presented in the order it was performed. The overall structure sounds like something that had been composed with much forethought. However it is just the instant creation of four very fine, seasoned improvisers.



Excerpts from reviews:

"This is a killer quartet: Tony Wren on double bass; Howard Riley on piano; Larry Stabbins on sax and Mark Sanders on percussion. These guys create some of the greatest spontaneous music I have ever heard. They have the musical skills and technique to achieve a great result. It is amazing to listen to Stabbins' sax runs played over Riley's piano arrangements. I think this is one of the ensembles that I feel are more interconnected in order to achieve great results. Sanders is a killer percussionist and he is responsible of adding a lot of twisted rhythms to the musical compositions contained on this CD, while Wren adds a lot of bottom end and arrangements to the music. This is one of the best improvisational CDs I have ever heard.

Favourite tracks: Game of Two halves; Rough Crossing and Blue Dark."


"FOUR IN THE AFTERNOON features a group of four pedigree musicians led by bassist Tony Wren. Free improvisation is the name of their game and their disc offers 75 minutes of inspired music recorded in just one day.

Words cannot adequately describe the variety and range of imagination on display in these seven tracks. Evidently with no prior discussion about the sequence of musical events and no pre-composed material, these four seasoned improvisers have created remarkably rounded and 'consistent' structures from an entirely free concept. They sustain with skill and imagination the most extended track, A Game of Two Halves, featuring some breathtaking playing early on by Howard Riley and Mark Sanders. When activity cools down somewhat about halfway through, Tony Wren hits the spotlight and Larry Stabbins later gradually infiltrates the texture with some striking tenor sax material.

Highlights of the other tracks include some impressive interaction between Stabbins (on soprano saxophone), Wren and Sanders at the beginning of Where are the Snows, Wren's colourful contribution to Rough Crossing, the atmospheric opening of Blue Dark, the sensitive contributions of Riley and Sanders in Embarrassment of Witches, and the effective combination of Wren and Stabbins at the beginning of Transcension.

All told, this is an album of inspired improvisation which, despite the spontaneity of its creation, has musical shape, structure and above all imagination."


"Martin Davidson's Emanem label has played a critical role in reissuing a slew of lost masterpieces of British improvisation. But equally as important, Emanem has served to document the ongoing careers of some of the seminal players. The leader of this session, bassist Tony Wren, is a perfect example. Wren was an early member of the London Musicians' Collective in the 70s, and an integral member of the free improvising scene in London as part of groups like Chamberpot, the London Bass Trio and Mama Lapato (some of which was documented on long out-of-print LPs on the Bead label). Like the leader, reed-player Stabbins has been an active participant in the European free improv scene for over three decades, with a c.v. that includes stints with musicians like Keith Tippett, Peter Brötzmann and Tony Oxley, as well as membership in the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra. Yet for all of their activity, both these musicians have been sorely under-documented. So it is a particular treat to hear these two in the context of this auspicious setting. Of course any ensemble with Howard Riley at the piano is worth checking out. The pianist has honed a balance of compositional structure and floating lyricism amidst open freedom, providing a spell-binding fulcrum for spontaneous improvisation.

From the first hushed interplay between Wren and drummer Mark Sanders, this quartet clicks. In their hands, delineations between free improvisation and jazz fall by the wayside. This is truly a collective effort and the four players develop a magic that captivates with an understated intensity. Riley's chords spill over the churning energy of Wren's bass and the clattering propulsion of Sanders' drums while Stabbins darts off with forceful jabs and ecstatic free flights. But they are equally as commanding when they drop down to a hushed elegance, with Stabbins' poignant soprano snaking over the crystalline melodic freedom of Riley's piano, the rich, strummed undercurrent of Wren's bass, and the open, rolling textures of Sanders' splashing cymbals and rumbling toms. The music builds with an exquisite tension by the collective, with plenty of space for each of the players to stretch out within the collective spontaneous constructions. It is great to hear four musicians of this calibre delve into a world of bracing freedom and tantalising beauty. This is music that only comes from the depth of experience of each of the members."


"Each of the album's seven pieces is remarkably cohesive and quite distinctive in its execution and realisation. The opening A Soft Day begins with long tones on tenor from Stabbins, an unusual move that serves to focus the listener's attention on the intricate interplay between the other musicians: Sanders develops cymbal patterns and intermittent scraped accents, while Riley throws in jumbling motifs and Wren rumbles happily along underneath, moving things forward compellingly before fading to a conclusion. Game of Two Halves starts with an upbeat Stabbins leading the way on tenor again as his bandmates skitter along behind him, with Riley eventually taking over the melodic responsibility. Wren and Sanders quietly bring the first 'half' to conclusion with Sanders bowing a pattern that Stabbins picks up on and transforms into a motif. Once the tenor pattern is set, Wren and Sanders jump in vigorously to move the piece rapidly forward, and by the time Riley enters the piece is off to the races in an invigorating display of spontaneous propulsion. Eventually everyone drops out but the pianist, but with no loss of momentum. On the final magnificent Transcension, Wren and Sanders start off developing a rhythmic base which Riley complements with rumbling chords before Stabbins' tenor adds a complementary pattern of overtones that successfully adds to the inexorable momentum before the piece eventually fades to silence. Every cut has something by which to distinguish it from the others - this is one to play to any acquaintance who grouses that improvised music 'all sounds the same' - the listening and reacting abilities of the participants, who had only played together three times prior to the recording, are uncanny. This is highly recommended and accomplished music that no adventurous listener should be without."


"Firstly, I have to declare an interest. Mark Sanders is the drummer in my quartet too. My point is that this recording confirms why he is in the band and in many others as well. His drive, energy and inventiveness are the solid ground on which the others stand. An album of seven pieces of improvised music, the quartet dips, dives and bolts between the sublime and ominous, to all-out kicking it up and 'nose-to-the-windscreen' muscle. The final piece, Transcension, is a good example, starting with an itchy, flurrying duo between Wren and Sanders, Riley expertly adds to the tension further, with Stabbins emerging like a 'Trane, bringing the piece to its stately conclusion. The élan of the piece is heightened with Sanders not giving anyone the chance to bail out, much like Elvin did. Forget dinner jazz and all that tame nonsense, go and stuff yourself silly with this passionate, graceful and compelling music."


"At first, the idea of Howard Riley playing a freely improvised session was troublesome since he is a remarkable composer. Nevertheless, his approach to music is consistent. He thinks compositionally and his playing comes off as firm and not lacking in direction. Simply put, Riley always knows what he is doing. Stabbins, who is equally adept at long, melancholy tones as violent honks, is a good foil to Riley, the two effectively filling each other's spaces. Wren continues the path of elder British bass statesman Barry Guy as a confident bower but does not jump into the forefront. He is content to play what he thinks will complement the others and let you be impressed when you take the time to focus on him. The same can be said for Sanders, who never pushes the beat further than it should be pushed. There is a sense that all four musicians, though very much in control of their music, are really discovering it as a unit while playing, a team approach that lacks the obtrusive violence of some free sessions.

One of the strongest points about the disc is its visitation to all points on the musical compass. The slower portions have an elegance about them, a maturity and grace oft lacking in the smash-mouth world of the avant garde. And when it is time to let loose, it is done with precision, no fear of the moment breaking down. The improvisations throughout maintain their energy level, be it soft or aggressive. This is a mark of musicians with definite ideas about a session. The second and third tracks, frenetic and reflective respectively, exemplify this concept across almost 30 minutes of abstract beauty.

The finest moment comes out in the closing track, Transcension. The piece begins with the slightest mallet work and upright bowing. In a manner similar to the Australian slow-improv trio The Necks, the minimal theme is gradually explored, Riley coming in with mild flourishes, the momentum building at a deliberate pace. Stabbins does not even play until half way through and then with reserve. Slowly the trapping are cast off and the piece, after the mountainous rumblings increase and the villagers are struck dumb with terror, erupts with a volcanic fury that is all the more effective for its subtle beginnings."


"The music achieves that most dubious compliment for improv - at times it sounds pre-arranged. That is an indication of how good the four musicians are individually and how well they react and respond to each other. Individually, Riley and Stabbins particularly stand out. Throughout, Riley is in inspired form, his playing underpinning ensemble passages and his solos often being astounding rapid-fire flurries (no surprise to those of you familiar with Riley). Stabbins has a long jazz and improv pedigree, but may be the least known member of this quartet, despite his time with soul-pop band Working Week that brought his fifteen minutes of fame. Be that as it may, his playing here is varied and, yes, beautiful. His slow, controlled tenor sax at the beginning of Blue Dark is very atmospheric, and carefully structured. (It also makes me think of Ben Webster - not a common experience with improv sax!) Collectively, every play of this CD reveals new details to admire and enjoy. This will be music to return to time and again."


"Sometimes, it is the combination of players that makes the difference. Tony Wren recently began performing again in London as a player and organiser. He brought this group together for spontaneous improvisations that capture the English spirit of exemplary, though somewhat humourless musicianship. As the sole wind, Larry Stabbins is the dominant voice, either on soprano or tenor saxophone, though each member of the quartet contributes substantially. Stabbins might be less known than some of his countrymen such as Evan Parker, Elton Dean and Paul Dunmall, but he drinks from the same well. He gets a chance to engage in a diversity of styles in FOUR IN THE AFTERNOON, from the more contemplative long tones of A Soft Day, to the gentle gleanings of Dark Blue, to the gloriously grating Transcension. Whether he jabs with pointillistic aplomb on Game of Two Halves or impresses with his soprano technique on Embarrassment of Riches, Stabbins is a major league player. Each of the pieces has its own character, somewhat different from the others, exploring slightly different emotions. Thankfully, Howard Riley seems to be showing up more these days on disc, and his intensely soulful solos, such as on Rough Crossing, are a wonder. Tony Wren and Mark Sanders provide good support with Wren, in particular, improvising compellingly. This is a solid, if not overwhelming, slice of some mightly fine playing."


"When listening to FOUR IN THE AFTERNOON one often thinks of Mujician. The two groups perform with equal passion and following similar inspiration. Of course much could be said of the musical relationship between Howard Riley and Keith Tippett - from their albums together to the way they integrate their jazz background into their approach to free improv rather than choke it. But one can easily argue saxophonists Larry Stabbins and Paul Dunmall, despite the fact that they both play tenor and soprano saxophones, couldn't be less alike. The same goes for drummer Mark Sanders, more textural and expansive than his counterpart, and bassist Wren, more soft-spoken. And yet, inhabited by these well-defined personalities, FOUR IN THE AFTERNOON holds something of the same. When Riley explores a romantic jazz theme in Where Are the Snows..., shivers run up and down the listener¹s spine. The climax halfway in Game of Two Halves also provides a magical moment; so does Sanders' light but highly complicated playing at the end of Blue Dark. This is a beautiful album of free improv."


"An orthodox jazz line-up of tenor sax, piano, bass and drums, and the results are conventional in that slow and uptempo tracks seem to alternate. But that's it. There was no prior discussion about the structure of events, and no precomposed material. Bassist Tony Wren, active again on the London improv scene after a long sabbatical, is the convenor of the group. For those familiar with saxophonist Larry Stabbins' work with Working Week, it's a surprise to find him in this context, though his improv CV is long. Howard Riley's quest for order is clear, and when attention is on him, melody is never too far away, most clearly on Where are the Snows…. A compelling release shows the Emanem label is still on a roll."


"This 2001 session was a return to the improvising scene by bassist Tony Wren. For those who are tuned into the British scene, his return was celebrated. For those of us stateside, who only get bits and pieces of information and performances via recordings, please rejoice in this quartet date. The significance of this session stems from the maturity and sophistication of the music making. Listeners not aware that this is pure improvisation, with no prior discussion of the sequences created, would pronounce much of this to be either noted or pre-planned. With assurances from label chief Martin Davidson as to the spontaneity, you can only marvel at this recording.

Music heard here starts out with quiet ideas only to build in intensity, before release. The energy passages remain rooted in jazz, as does the entire vocabulary. That makes the music accessible, especially on disc (as opposed to catching it live). While Wren seems to stay in the background throughout, his amiable bass guides throughout. Saxophonist Larry Stabbins is the point man here, working both the bottom end and the whistling top to great effect. Pianist Howard Riley is a patient collaborator as is drummer Mark Sanders. This is a superb recording of very accessible free jazz."


"When you listen to free improvisation it's easy to detect clichés and patterns when the musicians involved are not of high calibre and - more important - they don't share a common vision. In the case of FOUR IN THE AFTERNOON you can be sure the music quality is exceeding any positive expectation, as the four men involved strive for a perfect balance between left and right mind in a flow of incessant creativity. The bass of Tony Wren is more a 'presence' than a protagonist, even in the few sections where its timbral shades are prominent; its almost obscure weaving is maybe the most important base in the overall improvisational development. Howard Riley's intricate lines and wonderfully fresh harmonic sketches, together with Larry Stabbins' perfectly balanced blowing, constitute the forwards of the team, being their role necessary to open even the most misbelieving ears; their creative joy, never self-indulgent, is a pleasure to listen to. Mark Sanders' drumming has nothing to envy to no one else, his unique touch propelling the group to the best free-near-to jazz music high tops you can get today. Four professors!"



Return to Emanem home page or go to CD releases or musicians