freedom of the city 2001

small groups


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Temporary Brass Trio:
IAN SMITH trumpet
GAIL BRAND trombone

A1 - SMIBRAMAR A - 12:08
A2 - SMIBRAMAR B - 3:39
A3 - SMIBRAMAR C - 5:01

JOHN EDWARDS double bass
MARK SANDERS percussion

A4 - WESEDSAN A - 8:22
A5 - WESEDSAN B - 11:28
A6 - WESEDSAN C - 7:03

MAGGIE NICOLS voice, tap dancing
CAROLINE KRAABEL alto saxophone, voice

A7 - NICKRAHUG A - 15:34
A8 - NICKRAHUG B - 2:50
A9 - NICKRAHUG C - 7:47


B1 - THO 1 - 8:53
B2 - THO 2 - 9:10

Quatuor Accorde:
TONY WREN double bass

B3 - WREWASHUGDUR 1 - 17:18
B4 - WREWASHUGDUR 2 - 5:01

JOHN BUTCHER soprano & tenor saxophones

B5 - BUTBER A - 4:53
B6 - BUTBER B - 3:49
B7 - BUTBER C - 9:18

LOL COXHILL soprano saxophone
ROGER TURNER percussion

B8 - MINRUSTUR - 5:36
B9 - COXRUT - 4:15

Digital concert recordings made in London
at the Conway Hall by Paul Brogden - 2001 May 4 & May 5
Total time 149:59

All previously unissued


Excerpts from sleeve notes:

The FREEDOM OF THE CITY festival was set up as an annual event (starting in 2001), in order to showcase the phenomenal London improvised music scene. There has been a significant body of London-based free improvisers for over 35 years, and there must now be somewhere between one and two hundred musicians involved. With the current emphasis on the global, it is easy to overlook the local, if not miss it altogether. The festival provides a focal point for London to celebrate one of its finest and most influential artistic legacies - improvisation in music.

The instigator of this festival, Evan Parker, who spends much of his time performing in other countries, describes London as "the richest improvised scene in the world. The community of musicians based here is the largest, longest established - and arguably the most diverse - of any of the like communities which have sprung up since free improvisation evolved into an autonomous musical genre in the mid 1960s. In this world-wide culture, London is widely understood and appreciated as a wellspring of the tradition and as a source of significant new developments. Indeed, musicians come here from all over the world seeking to make contact, plug in to the creative energy and to contribute their own ideas towards the development of the music."

Yet much of the media and establishment simply ignores this most vital scene, or considers it an aberration of jazz, rather than treat it with the importance it deserves. For example, concert organisers all over the world are in touch with the British Council. Yet it seems the overall demand for London based improvised music massively exceeds the Council's currently allotted budget for this most important field.

Perhaps the musical strength of the London improvising scene is due to what Fred Frith has called "virtuoso listening" - the ability to instantly respond to the other members of a group in such a way that the end result is an entity rather than a motley collection of somewhat unrelated individuals. This ability can now be found in other centres, but it seem to have developed first in London, thanks to the pioneering work of John Stevens and others. This is not to say that all London-based improvisers sound the same or use the same strategies, but some modus operandi and understandings have developed over the decades.

This double CD features the small groups that I asked to perform at the FREEDOM OF THE CITY 2001 festival. (Evan Parker and Eddie Prevost also invited groups, some of whose performances can be heard elsewhere.) With such a large scene, it was extremely difficult to whittle down the numbers to fit into a seven concert festival, and inevitably certain musicians who I would have liked to present had to be left out this time around. (A few were working out of town that weekend.) So this varied album can be treated as a sampler of some of the scene.



Excerpts from reviews:

"The SMALL GROUPS sessions were convened by Emanem proprietor Martin Davidson, an urban cartographer for the enquiring ear. A well-matched trio of trumpeter Ian Smith, trombonist Gail Brand and Oren Marshall kick off with confidence, exploring brass options from the declamatory and dignified to the grossly flatulent, from squeals to low moans. The next three tracks present the well-established trio of pianist Veryan Weston, drummer Mark Sanders and bassist Jon Edwards. Weston has a singular knack of never sounding definitive; each statement, however vigorous, seems provisional, implying other routes the music might take, placing brackets around the tough decisiveness of Sanders and Edwards. Three further tracks bring together singer (and tapdancer) Maggie Nicols, altoist (and vocalist) Caroline Kraabel and Zurich violist Charlotte Hug. The voice sets a flexible and wide ranging agenda; sax and viola enhance and embellish.

The second disc opens with a pair of piano improvisations by Pat Thomas, the first a chunk of jagged granite, the second mysterioso cut through with hints of stridency. Two tracks feature Charlotte Hug with violinist Phil Durrant, cellist Mark Wastell and bassist Tony Wren (a quartet which recorded the excellent CD ANGEL GATE. It's intensive listening music, packed with eloquent details and delicate intersections. Three compelling duets couple John Butcher's visceral yet sensitised saxophone playing with Steve Beresford's fabulously off-centre cliché-free electronics. Lol Coxhill on soprano, trombonist Paul Rutherford, guitarist John Russell, percussionist Roger Turner and vocalist Phil Minton bring proceedings to an unhurried close. Well, freedom can be comfortable too."


"Those who think that 'free' improvisation all sound the same, or that their 'five-year-old could play that' should listen to these CDs carefully. This is music of variety and personality, and shows how the second generation of improvisers have reinvented the innovations of their elders. Compare the solo set by pianist Pat Thomas and the quintet headed by veterans Phil Minton, Lol Coxhill and Paul Rutherford: the Minton-Coxhill-Rutherford-Russell-Turner tracks deal with the fabric of sound in the abstract, suggesting the 'heat' of a jazz improvisation but without any of the jazz. Pat Thomas' approach could hardly be more different. Thomas belongs to a younger generation for who 'free' improvisation is less of a social statement, more a repertoire of gestures and a filter through which to distil other influences. His solo begins with massive dancing clusters but they eventually lift to reveal a decidedly boppy chord sequence that contaminates the sonic purity with a hint of post-modern irony. Thomas offers a critique on dogma and suggests that 'free' improvisation today is the freedom to draw on whatever you want, whenever you want to.

In fact I found Thomas' performance was the highlight of the collection, but the trumpeter Ian Smith is equally inspiring. Smith's recent Emanem disc DAYBREAK is my disc of the year so far, and this performance with Gail Brand and Oren Marshall confirms that he's an original voice. Like Thomas, Smith's improvised lines dart between styles but have an entirely personal sense of unity. Brand and Marshall also provided the core of DAYBREAK and this trio is surely going to become recognised as a truly significant presence.

Maggie Nicols' set is gripping. Her vocalisations are bolstered by Caroline Kraabel and Charlotte Hug and the music is pure drama in sound. Nicols moves between innocent, girly whimpers to the gruff foul-mouthed screams of a cockney barrow-boy and joins a bizarre vocal duet with Kraabel - superbly unpredictable and witty stuff."


"This double CD features many of the performers who have made the Emanem label the market leader in improvised music, and with nine different groupings it's rather like an improv variety show. And there is plenty of variety; several long-established groupings and at least one brand new one. The Freedom of the City festival was particularly set up to showcase London's improvised music, and this release makes an excellent sampler of the diversity and richness of the capital's improv scene and of the improv genre as a whole.

The first CD here features three contrasting trios. The Temporary Brass Trio of Ian Smith on trumpet, Gail Brand on trombone and Oren Marshall on tuba open proceedings with some beautiful playing. Unlike much brass improv, which can too readily fall back on prolonged staccato interludes when inspiration fails, the threesome favour a blend of pure, sustained notes to create a mood. However, they are also not averse to the occasional bout of collective farting that their instruments lend themselves to. Very droll.

At times, the long established trio of Veryan Weston on piano and the ace teaming of John Edwards on bass and Mark Sanders on percussion can sound like a conventional piano trio. More commonly, all three players solo simultaneously, to thrilling effect. Maggie Nicols, Caroline Kraabel and Charlotte Hug were playing together for the second time, the first publicly. Their performance confirms the impression given by their own CD TRANSITIONS of dramatic music that benefits from being seen live.

The second CD opens with Pat Thomas, eschewing electronics and samples to play solo acoustic piano on two very contrasting pieces, one discordant and strident, the other more melodic and tranquil. Next, the string quartet Quatuor Accorde deliver up two improvisations, full of their very distinctive quiet, small-scale sounds and rapid reactions to each other. They define their own territory, far removed from the classical string quartet, but also some way from conventional ideas of improv.

The semi-regular pairing of Steve Beresford on electronics and John Butcher on saxes provide my favourite music of the entire album, Beresford's ever-unpredictable sounds acting as the perfect foil to the more straightforward sax. The finale features five eminences gris of improv - Phil Minton, Paul Rutherford, Lol Coxhill, John Russell and Roger Turner in various combinations, culminating in a quintet piece that encapsulates the genre and makes a fitting close.

Evan Parker, the instigator of the Freedom in the City festival, has said that London has 'the richest improvised music scene in the world. Musicians come here from all over the world seeking to make contact, plug in to the creative energy and to contribute their own ideas towards the development of the music.' He is right, and this album amply demonstrates why. Recommended."



Past experience has indicated that Pat Thomas was mostly involved in electronics. Here is splatter splash solo piano often easing into out-of-tempo easing into out-of-tempo rhapsodic melodies. He has been superficially compared to Cecil Taylor, one could imagine that, but I think not.


Marvellous interactive music with John Butcher's internal saxophone language meshing superbly with Steve Beresford's electronics and toys. Feeding each other continuously, the occasional left turn but with imagination and bravado they find their way around this complex terrain. Close listening and daring are their secret.


The Temporary Brass Trio, from the younger generation, was formed by trumpeter Ian Smith with trombonist Gail Brand and tubist Oren Marshall. The first long section has the air of a family gathering, so much to tell each other; tuba mumble splutter, trumpet prattling away, the trombone flexible with a developed arsenal of techniques, on to the final more formal composure. Certainly melodic.

Piano/bass/drums opening fleet, with detailed subtle rhythmic energy, this trio of Veryan Weston, John Edwards and Mark Sanders has formidable interaction, as close to a sense of swing as music gets, far away from tick-tock time. Sinuous oblique senses creating such variations of drama. Dexterous close listening.

Veteran improviser Maggie Nicols has contributed greatly to the development of the voice in improvised music, and with saxophonist Caroline Kraabel and violist Charlotte Hug has created an exquisite contemporary song and dance act, delving into partially hidden language thick with coded testaments. Music filled with a metabolistic energy taking on eerie ghost-scapes in the slower sections.


Although the likes of Ligeti and Schnittke created a composed language for string quartets, their music often has a stifled academic aura. Quatuor Accorde, assembled by bassist Tony Wren, with violinist Phil Durrant, violist Charlotte Hug and cellist Mark Wastell, takes string music to another level, personal acoustic music producing a startling array of techniques and dynamics. A tad edgy.


This actually starts as a trio with Roger Turner, John Russell and Phil Minton, historically three duets amalgamated. Spring has sprung, the almost silence gives way to the twitter buzz of birds and insects; and then there is the bumptious crow! The duet of Lol Coxhill and Paul Rutherford a couple of chatty old mates, almost in agreement. All together now! The trio sets the tone, sporadically joined by the duo to open up the music into a slightly strangulated whole."


"The trio of Ian Smith (trumpet), Gail Brand (trombone) and Oren Marshall (tuba) was featured, along with a couple of senior improvisers, on Smith's CD DAYBREAK. Here they present an interesting set, sparse and textural. It lacks a little bit of assurance but the unusual instrumentation makes up for it. The trio of Veryan Weston, John Edwards and Mark Sanders is simply excellent, all three exploding in Wesedsan B}. The performance by Maggie Nicols, Caroline Kraabel and Charlotte Hug was their first public apparition as a trio. They recorded their debut TRANSITIONS a month later, but they were already finely attuned to each other. Pat Thomas' solo piano set doesn't match what can be found on his CD NUR, mostly because of poorer sound quality - a surprising isolated case. The violent chords in Tho 1 heavily contrast with the more meditative mood of his earlier effort. Tony Wren's Quatuor Accorde shines throughout the 17 minute Wrewashugdur 1. John Butcher and Steve Beresford deliver a playful set of sax and electronics. Finally, the all-star (?!) quintet of Phil Minton, Paul Rutherford, Lol Coxhill, John Russell and Roger Turner lives up to expectations (without exceeding them). FREEDOM OF THE CITY 2001: SMALL GROUPS contains some very nice moments of free improv, plus it can serve as a loose sampler of Emanem's roaster."


"The compilation of small ensembles is almost uniformly interesting, with some truly dazzling moments documented. Among the high lights is the absolutely superb brass trio of Smith, Brand and Marshall, who play some of the most interesting stuff in this idiom I've heard this year. Marshall is really extending the language for tuba, but the other two are equally daring and inventive. Veryan Weston's reconvened piano trio with Edwards and Sanders (they recorded the splendid MERCURY CONCERT, and play frequently with a fourth member, Evan Parker) is quite rambunctious, barrelling forward with energy and invention. It's fantastic stuff, sounding at times related to jazz and at times closer to Xenakis or Boulez. The trio of Nicols, Kraabel and Hug is much sparser in terms of dynamics and individual languages. I always dig Nicols and was impressed by my first exposure to Hug's wild viola playing.

The second disc begins with solo piano from Pat Thomas. While quite technically accomplished, I was less than enthused by these pieces (I dig Tomas' electronics much more), which seemed a patchwork of free music conventions. The group Quatuor Accorde (Durrant, Hug, Wastell and Wren) is nearly as strong as the opening brass trio, creating a lovely assortment of textures and strategies that hangs together beautifully. Beresford's electronic interaction with Butcher is, if anything, a bit more anarchic than that of Butcher's usual electronic conspirator, Phil Durrant. The result is a challenging and satisfying addition to this genre. The final grouping is amongst the most idiosyncratic, though they're not often all playing at once. When you have the squeaking soprano of Coxhill mixed with the garrulous trombone of Rutherford, things have to be pretty good."



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