BUY here


KENNY WHEELER trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion
PAUL RUTHERFORD trombone, percussion
TREVOR WATTS oboe, alto saxophone, flute & voice, percussion
EVAN PARKER soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, percussion
DEREK BAILEY amplified guitar (on 5-11 only)
BARRY GUY double bass, piano
JOHN STEVENS drums & cymbals, percussion

8 - SEEING SOUNDS & HEARING COLOURS - INTRODUCTION "Puddles, Raindrops & Circles" - 4:02

All analogue studio recordings made in London by EDDIE KRAMER
1-4: 1966 SEPTEMBER
5-11: 1967 MARCH
Total time 78:41

Originally issued in 1997 as Emanem 4020.

All compositions by John Stevens


Excerpts from sleeve notes:

Here is a missing link between the first two Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME) recordings to be published. The music on CHALLENGE (recorded 1966 March and reissued on Emanem 5029) is mainly free jazz, with composed themes framing improvisations which are mostly accompanied by the rhythm section. On the other hand, KARYOBIN (recorded 1968 February, originally on Island and now with its ownership in dispute) is radically different - a distinctive, translucent group improvisation with virtually no traces of jazz left. (Some earlier recordings of this highly influential SME or "atomistic" approach were eventually issued in 1995 as SUMMER 1967 on Emanem 4005.) Some aspects of this music, such as using many instruments to produce varied 'colours', are similar to those reached around the same time by the AACM in Chicago. It should be emphasised, however, that neither group of musicians was aware of each other’s existence at the time.

This CD, however, does not give the whole interim story - thirty years later one can only listen to the aspects that were recorded. The SME was then a collective grouping with John Stevens and Trevor Watts being the prime movers (and composers). Regular performances, mostly at the Little Theatre Club in London, featured some or all of these seven musicians (plus a few others) in various combinations, sometimes using composed material. All the while, new approaches were being tried, but many did not make it to tape.

"WITHDRAWAL was composed and recorded as the soundtrack to a 35 minute film of the same name, produced and directed by George Paul Solomos. The film was adapted from a 90-page book by David Chapman, based on the true story of a young male addict and his experiences in a mental institution. The group read the book in preparation of the soundtrack which, unusually, was intended to accompany the action throughout the film from start to finish." *

The film was hardly begun when it was aborted by a funding crisis and a dispute with the British Film Institute. However, two (slightly imperfect) mono tapes of music, intended for use as the soundtrack, survived. Special mention must be made of Kenny Wheeler's very fine playing in what is almost a concerto on PART 1, with Paul Rutherford's trombone and Trevor Watts' oboe providing most imaginative foils. PART 2 contains particularly excellent playing by Watts (on alto saxophone) and Wheeler. Barry Guy's role is limited to providing a flexible drone in both parts. These 1966 pieces are extracts from longer performances – tracks 1-3 were edited together at the time for possible release, while the edited-out start of PART 2 featured the drummer laying down a rock rhythm which everyone else ignored.

These recordings are the earliest released recordings of the then recent SME recruits, Barry Guy and Evan Parker – and they will probably remain the earliest. It must be said that not much of Parker is heard here – he says he felt overawed in such company! The other four musicians had all been on the CHALLENGE LP, whilst Wheeler (who migrated in 1952 from Toronto to London where he subsequntly remained) had appeared on numerous jazz records during the previous decade.

For the next three months Stevens was resident in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, with one or two other SME musicians joining him for shorter periods. The group still continued during this period under the direction of Watts, and there was one (as yet unissued) recording session - the only SME recording without Stevens. Watts also invited Derek Bailey to join them at the Little Theatre Club so, when Stevens returned, the group comprised seven musicians who all went on to have very distinguished careers in free improvisation and/or other areas of music.

It was decided to record an LP to be called WITHDRAWAL that would include a reworking of some of the material used for the soundtrack, plus a new suite composed by Stevens while he was away. The remainder of this CD (tracks 5-11) is the music that was chosen for that LP, but not issued until 1997 – all of these pieces are complete performances.

This session is one of the earliest recordings of Bailey playing free music. He appears to play excellently thoughout, but is unfortunately rather under-recorded.

The revisiting of the WITHDRAWAL material is quite different from the soundtrack recordings. For instance, Guy no longer has the restricted droning role he had before. The most obvious item in common is the glockenspiel motif played intermittently on the soundtrack by Stevens, and now played by Parker (who does not even get to play a saxophone on the two major tracks).

SEQUENCE 1 features some very fine trombone and trumpet work, and a prime example of what Victor Schonfield calls "start/stop" drumming. Stevens still used a fairly orthodox jazz drums and cymbals kit - the small SME kit (first recorded on SUMMER 1967) was some months off. SEQUENCE 2 is particularly notable for Watts' flute playing (over a rare example of Guy playing piano), while other tracks feature his equally strong oboe playing, A year or two later, he decided to concentrate exclusively on the soprano and alto saxophones, and abandoned his other wind instruments. SEQUENCE 3 is a sparse composed theme over a busy backdrop (based on C4 written for the mid-1966 Jeff Clyne Quartet SPRINGBOARD date).

"SEEING SOUNDS AND HEARING COLOURS was a suite composed and directed by Stevens with specific musical textures, timbres and 'colours' in mind. He said the composition had been influenced by Webern's FIVE PIECES FOR ORCHESTRA, and that he visualised the score one morning (lines and shapes) while in Amsterdam. It reveals the group at an historically significant transitional point, experimenting with instrumentation and composition, before taking the plunge with free improvisation, but the group were not wholly satisfied with these experiments and Stevens later felt he was 'getting side-tracked from the natural, organic approach towards improvisation'. The suite was dedicated to artist Geoff Rigden." *

The INTRODUCTION featuring oboe and bowed cymbal was inspired by a scene depicting raindrops falling into pools of water in a natural history film about New Zealand. MOVEMENT 1 starts with a flourish that ends with a long oboe note leading into a collective improvisation. MOVEMENT 2 is an improvisation built around the note C; the idea of improvising around a single note is similar to some music by Giacinto Scelsi, of whom the SME was then unaware. The final MOVEMENT 3 begins with three chords preceding a group improvisation that is terminated by the material from the start of MOVEMENT 1 in reverse.

As well as containing historically important transitional music, this CD can be also enjoyed, fifty years later, as being excellent in its own right by any standards.

MARTIN DAVIDSON (1997 revised 2015)
* Quotes in italics from Paul Wilson's discography of John Stevens


Excerpts from reviews:

"The record WITHDRAWAL was released on Emanem in 1997. I know, it's not new, but it just landed in my CD player and I was completely taken over. These recordings dating back to 1966-1967 are superb : soft, delicate, emotion-driven, entrancing. To cry over. A must, as much for the historical relevance of these recordings as for the sheer beauty of the music. My strongest recommendation *****."


"Sometimes, unearthed documents can leave you cold, even though the intellect appreciates the historical gap being filled. With WITHDRAWAL, history doesn¹t matter. This is gold, pure artistic beauty.

Actually, the whole CD contains fantastic free music, almost completely detached from jazz, very atmospheric, delicate, and highly organic with a strong sense of discovery. Historical significance notwithstanding, WITHDRAWAL is simply a great album, still very relevant and 'new' today."


"Yet more Spontaneous music unearthed from the seemingly bottomless Emanem goldmine archives, and very much the icing on the cake of the label's ambitious and laudable programme of SME documentation. The SUMMER 1967 CD (Emanem 4005) just about caused me to pop a blood vessel in an inconvenient place, and this one really had me climbing the walls, showcasing as it does at an achingly early point the work of a group of improvising musicians who would go on to exert an unquantifiably massive influence on the way free music as we know it would come to develop. WITHDRAWAL drips history, from the classic period photos in the booklet right on down to the music.

Given that all involved were still at a - relatively - nascent/formative stage in their careers, one could be forgiven for thinking that an archival issue of this type might come out somewhat tentative, but such is absolutely not the case, and with the level of telepathic interplay on display here, it's easy to see how the SME would rapidly become one of the most brilliantly pioneering free music entities of all time. Playing by all throughout is totally assured. In experimental transition between composition and improvisation, the group plays itself inside out, individual members weave in and around each other, voicing and juxtaposing a multitude of colours and textures - particularly on the breathtaking Withdrawal - in a visually dazzling tapestry sequence. Magnificent, faultless stuff, actually similar to what the various members of the AACM were doing at the same time - though both collectives were completely oblivious to each other's existences.

The early sound of the SME can now be heard in all its history-rewriting significance and musically blossoming splendour. WITHDRAWAL is a staggering, crucial document, and an absolute must if you've crossed paths with any of these men. So profoundly and joyously does this music move and delight that I'm stumped to name any other that's so 'essential'."


"Pick up the SME's amazing WITHDRAWAL CD for another ear-opener, a great history lesson, and some brilliant photographs from the sessions. A genuinely harrowing early free-screech classic, with some beautiful and unusual combinations of instruments in the palette, such as flugelhorn, oboe, vibraphone and glockenspiel all blending in the mournful mix."


"I think that when this recording was made John Stevens had an idea that the music would develop by exploring new sounds - understandable, as those were exciting times for new sounds in general. It was a phase which didn't last long, as he came to realise that the future lay primarily in group interaction rather than sonic novelties. The music includes a lot of percussion playing by the members of the group.

Withdrawal is music for a film and features Kenny Wheeler extensively. He plays superbly and in view of his long involvement with the SME it's a shame that so little of this was recorded. There is marvellous oboe playing by Trevor Watts. Prodded by John Stevens' spasmodic propulsion, Wheeler and Paul Rutherford play an intricate interweaving passage against Watts' vibes playing and Derek Bailey's brief references to Jim Hall."


"There's a slow-motion, hallucinatory quality to the [Soundtrack] music, arising, in particular, from Guy's deep arco drones and Wheeler's hazy trumpet tone. Watts contributes some fascinating near-ethnic sounds on oboe which become increasingly frenzied as the separate lines work towards occasional tangled crescendos. Stevens' simple, disorienting glockenspiel wouldn't be out of place in a Hitchcockian psychodrama. The few jazz inflexions that remain are most noticeable in the playing of Wheeler and Rutherford, the former here emerging as the most persuasive soloist.

Seeing Sounds & Hearing Colours demonstrates a more ambitious range and control of group dynamics, with large and small gestures confidently balanced and combined, space used to telling effect, and a surer sense of structural development and mood-creation as individuals' non-idiomatic vocabularies become much richer (notably Stevens and Watts) within this collective context. Over the course of about six months, we've heard the SME develop into a seminal improvising unit: so much so, that this release now occupies that cornerstone position in British non-idiomatic free improvisation once held by KARYOBIN."


"The Emanem label is to be congratulated for releasing WITHDRAWAL, an example of what the SME was up to as early as the middle sixties. It is also noteworthy for being the first recordings ever to have included the participation of Evan Parker and Barry Guy, two gentlemen who have made more than a little glorious noise over the last twenty years. More important than either of these nice historical features (and the excellent liner notes and photos), however is the music. Here too, WITHDRAWAL is a winner: it's not just important, it's very good. The late John Stevens was an extremely talented percussionist, composer and leader, and most of the two suites found on this disc amply demonstrate his substantial gifts.

The sound quality of both the mono Withdrawal and the stereo Seeing Sounds is bright and (except for Bailey, who's a bit distant) fairly clear.; The metallic percussion, in particular, is nicely miked. This disc is well worth the price, not just as evidence of something or other, but as the very thing itself."


"Everybody looks so young in the photos in the booklet. The way they play, I suspect only Stevens and, in his alto sax passages, Trevor Watts would be at all recognisable in blindfold tests today. Evan Parker pipes tentative notes here and there, and some guitar chords by Bailey are audible; Barry Guy supplies bowed bass drones; Kenny Wheeler frequently becomes the foreground figure, simply by playing dry melodic lines amid the surrounding pointillism, while Rutherford plays in the background. The music's continuity comes from Stevens, by default: though his role is largely accompaniment, he plays throughout the disc. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Stevens conceived of playing drums like an orchestrator, with an orchestrator's feeling for density, textures, sounds."


"These are recordings of the greatest significance, demonstrating the rapid evolution of the group's music from soloist with accompaniment patterns to increasingly collective dialogue."


"The two Withdrawal sessions are where they got together to do the soundtrack for a film about a young addict and his experiences in a mental institution. Barry Guy's double bass provides a wild and weaving ground to the melodic figuring of Kenny Wheeler's trumpet and Trevor Watts's oboe. The second session has Derek Bailey in it but I cannot say that he is prominently featured but Watts's flute playing is superb and is well complimented by John Stevens's drumming.

The third part is a suite, composed and directed by Stevens, called Seeing Sounds and Hearing Colours. It begins sparse and atonal with multiphonics from the woodwinds and bowed cymbals. Paul Rutherford's trombone becomes prevalent. Then it transitions into sombre long tones that cover as far up and down the frequency spectrum as possible. The third movement has percussion and strings doing a free jazz thing while the woodwinds occasionally interject these single notes in unison. Beautiful. "


"A matter of a few months later [after Challenge Emanem 5029], creating music for a 35-minute film made by George Paul Solomos, [the SME] seem to have moved into new and more abstract territory. Part 1 is very much a feature for Kenny Wheeler, who had been sceptical about becoming involved in free music. It is far from dry, this startling sound, but it is already a long way removed from even a distant memory of bebop or swing. Guy provides dark, shifting drones; Parker is not yet quite the sky-scraping genius of later years, and it is the still undervalued Rutherford and Watts who dominate the ensemble. Bailey performed on some of the later tracks only, having been invited to join SME after its inception. Remarkable as the music is, the photographs (by Evan Parker and Jak Kilby) are a delight. "

RICHARD COOK & BRIAN MORTON - The Penguin Guide to JAZZ RECORDINGS, 9th edition, 2008

That each musician would go onto spend several decades at the forefront of British improvisation underlines that this early incarnation of Spontaneous Music Ensemble was a particularly special meeting of ears. Documenting a soundtrack made for an unbegun film about drug addiction, WITHDRAWAL was recorded just a few months after SME's first album CHALLENGE. It was first issued by Emanem in the 1990s; now this new edition appears almost exactly 50 years after it was first recorded. The music constitutes an important stepping stone between the joyful jazzy energy of CHALLENGE and the new approach of spare, pointillistic exchanges that they developed through late 1960s albums such as KARYOBIN. But at this stage in their development, SME were exploring slowly evolving textures and layers.

The sound is thick and brooding, with Stevens' drums cavernous, and Barry Guy's bowed double bass drone roving through the undergrowth. The Withdrawal soundtrack itself, however, serves as a spectacular platform for Kenny Wheeler. In a lengthy lament, the trumpeter probes and explores every moment anew, as if he has discovered a brand new continent. On the second part he's joined by Trevor Watts's alto sax, and the sense of constant, pregnant anticipation feels a little like those moments in Albert Ayler's music before they strike up the marching band.

SME at this stage were playing free but not quite free jazz or free improv per se, and that slight contrast with Ayler is instructive. On WITHDRAWAL, rather than trying to home in on some core spiritual revelation, they feel like they're constantly heading outwards, like a footballer off the ball looking for pockets of space, which makes for some amazing passages of sustained tension. WITHDRAWAL is a welcome reappearance of a version of SME when they were full of the possibilities of youth.


Links to other reviews:

RAUL DA GAMA - Jazz da Gama 2016


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