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KENNY WHEELER trumpet & flugelhorn
EVAN PARKER soprano saxophone
DEREK BAILEY amplified guitar
DAVE HOLLAND double bass
JOHN STEVENS percussion

1 - KARYOBIN – part 1 - 7:59
2 - KARYOBIN – part 2 - 5:34
3 - KARYOBIN – part 3 - 6:24
4 - KARYOBIN – part 4 - 6:23
5 - KARYOBIN – part 5 - 12:37
6 - KARYOBIN – part 6 - 9:52

Analogue studio recordings made in London
by Eddie Kramer - 1968 February 18
Remixed and remastered from the original tapes by Adam Skeaping (2014)
Total time 49:20

Originally issued in 1968 as Island (ILPS9079


Excerpts from sleeve notes:

Original sleeve notes by Victor Schonfield (1968)

The SME's first recording in March 1966, three months after the group was formed, was an assured example of the most advanced free jazz of the time. As early as September that year, however, the group broke away from outside influence, and developed the first of a number of colourful and original sounds depending solely on collective improvisation. By July 1967 this had led to an awareness of the ideal of 'group music'. In dedicating itself to this ideal, the SME created nothing less than a revolutionary form of improvisation of which its own style is merely one of innumerable possible examples, a form which challenges other musics as well as defining the next stage in the story of jazz itself.

John Stevens describes group music as "the idea of a musician being part of a larger whole rather than a separate attraction", and this demands more from the improviser than just allowing other solos to take place at the same time as his own, or than turning from expressing himself to conducting a dialogue with his colleagues. He must try to become fully aware at all times of what the others are doing, so that his own playing takes on the added dimension of a group personality. Just as this music breaks new ground by being a purely ensemble music, each player having equal responsibility for the sound at every moment, so it does by being purely spontaneous. This recording has been given a title, but one which expresses simply Stevens' feelings when he listened to the music afterwards. It consists of sections with clearly-defined beginnings and endings and changes of texture, but every move was decided only at the instant you hear it taking place. It maintains a warm and distinctive group sound throughout a variety of moods, but the first notes here are the first ones this particular personnel had ever tried to improvise as one man.

Their success was no accident however, but resulted from long experience of similar challenges. All the musicians who have learnt to play true group music to date (they number less than a score) belong to the pool of players around the SME or its sister-group Amalgam. Stevens, a founder member of the SME who became its leader, is the chief spokesman for group music, and the others were his most frequent colleagues at the time of recording: Holland had been playing with him for three months; Bailey for twelve months; Parker (his only full-time partner) for eighteen months; and Wheeler (who is also probably the most distinguished orthodox jazz trumpeter in Britain) ever since the group was formed.

Group music must inevitably have a profound influence on the way music is made, but its significance for Stevens transcends the medium itself. "Music is a chance for self-development. It’s another little life, in which it's easier to develop the art of giving, an art which makes you more joyous the more you practice it. The thing that matters most in group music is the relationship between those taking part. The closer the relationship, the greater the spiritual warmth it generates, and if the musicians manage to give wholly to each other and to the situation they're in then the sound of the music takes care of itself. Good and bad become simply a question of how much the musicians are giving - that's the music's form."

The history of KARYOBIN by Evan Parker (2017)

The Spontaneous Music Ensemble by the time KARYOBIN was recorded had effectively become a varying personnel under John Stevens’ leadership. The recording, which was titled later, was special because it was made in response to an offer from Chris Blackwell to make an LP for his then very new label Island.

At the time the offer came to make the recording, the working personnel had reduced to just a duo of John Stevens and me. John and I quickly agreed that this offer allowed a perfect opportunity to invite Kenny Wheeler, Derek Bailey and Dave Holland to make a quintet.

This specific combination of musicians never played a live concert together but all continued subsequently to collaborate in various combinations either for concerts or recordings or both.

John Stevens had a good contact in Eddie Kramer. At that time Eddie Kramer was assistant engineer at Olympic Studios. After official hours studio time was available to him for projects of his own.

Kramer acted not only as recording engineer but also as co-producer with the musicians. He also took over dealing with Chris Blackwell/Island. It was he who in his co-producer role delivered the master tapes - two 10 1/2" reels at 15ips, one reel per side of the LP – to Island and oversaw the mastering and production arrangements.

There was one meeting with Chris Blackwell at his office, then above a shop on Oxford Street, to discuss the formation of a sub-label to be called Hexagram which would specialise in the new free improvisation musics that were emerging in London.

Probably due to the success of the more commercial artists that Island was recording - Traffic, Bob Marley et al - this idea was never developed any further. This sub-label Hexagram issued one LP, KARYOBIN. The hexagram chosen as the logo was Kuai – Breakthrough (Resoluteness), formed of the trigrams The Joyous over The Creative. A bold statement of intent.

My friend David Chaston was commissioned to make the sleeve design and lay-out. He is alive and well and living in California and has been since the early 70s. He thought Derek’s name was Dennis and this mistake got past the proof-reading to be a source of confusion for a while.

A great friend of the music in those early days was Jak Kilby who was starting out as a photographer and was always ready to help. The photo on the original sleeve was assembled at the Little Theatre Club a few days after the recording. This photo shoot was not at a performance, in fact this specific combination of players never played together again. Some black and white photographs were taken with a camera that I took to the date.

On release the record enjoyed some critical success but sold very few copies I am sure. If there were any sales and royalty statements my assumption is that they went to Eddie Kramer who by then was very busy with Jimi Hendrix.

Twenty-five years passed until the late Trevor Mainwaring approached me wanting to release a CD version of KARYOBIN on his label Chronoscope. He was delegated to negotiate with Eddie Kramer who had long been established in New York and enjoying the reputation as the engineer who recorded the first Jimi Hendrix records. I contacted the other musicians, and they agreed that I be empowered to act on their behalf over the new license to Trevor Mainwaring. He had arrived at a financial agreement with Eddie Kramer who proposed either a ten year license from him after which control of the masters would revert to him or, for a slightly larger sum, an outright buy-out.

I encouraged Trevor Mainwaring to take the buy-out on the group's behalf. He paid Eddie Kramer which in turn became an advance to the five parties involved. In other words we, the musicians, were advanced the money to buy the tapes outright. We in turn then agreed that Trevor Mainwaring would have the rights to issue CDs for a period of ten years after which the licence would expire and ownership in the recordings would revert to the musicians and their estates.

Trevor Mainwaring then took delivery of the tapes and they were remastered by Dave Bernez at Townhouse, using the best digital technology available at that time, under my supervision.

On the death of Trevor Mainwaring and the expiry of the license period, I approached his widow Lisa Smith-Klossner for the return of the master tapes. These unique master tapes are in my possession.

The new 'limited edition' version released by Universal in Japan must have been made from an Island LP – a so-called 'needle drop'.

Today only Dave Holland and I survive of the original quintet. In recent times he and I have been discussing the possible ways in which the music could be re-issued and we are of course in contact with the families of Kenny Wheeler, Derek Bailey and John Stevens.

With Dave Holland's permission I have had the master tapes re-mastered for CD by Adam Skeaping. There is much more detail and a better balance here now.

KARYOBIN was my first issued recording. The music and the musicians have been my life and I am happy that, thanks to the genius of Adam Skeaping, the music can now be heard in more detail than ever before.

An Opportunity to Learn by Dave Holland (2017)

The experience of playing with the musicians on this recording and the approach to improvised music that we explored together during this period of my life has played an important role in shaping the way I think about music.

The late night performances at The Little Theatre Club in London gave me an opportunity to learn so much about the dynamics of playing open form music. We would just begin playing without any preconceived plan and build the development of the music as we went, relying on intense listening, sometimes initiating and sometimes supporting and trying to feel the creative ebb and flow of the music as a group.

This recording captures the spirit we shared of spontaneously discovering the music and I’m happy that the reissue of KARYOBIN once again makes available to the listener this example of an important phase of our musical journey.

Some further notes by Martin Davidson (2017)

In 1968, KARYOBIN became the second Spontaneous Music Ensemble record to be issued. It announced (to the world that existed outside the now long-vanished London venue known as the Little Theatre Club) that there was another way to facilitate group improvisation besides the Free-Jazz-without-tunes hierarchical model, or the layered approach of AMM. This paradigm became the third of the three approaches that have influenced virtually all subsequent free improvisation.

The first SME record, CHALLENGE (issued in 1966 and now on EMANEM 5029), was a Free-Jazz-with-tunes affair with a few hints of what was to come. Two intermediate collections recorded between CHALLENGE and KARYOBIN were issued for the first time in the 1990s: WITHDRAWAL (EMANEM 5040) documents an interesting transitional stage, somewhat similar to contemporary achievements by other groups in other places, while SUMMER 1967 (EMANEM 4005) shows John Stevens and Evan Parker at the beginnings of what became known as the SME method. It also marked the earliest recordings of the SME drum set that Stevens designed and built to be at the same volume as other (mainly unamplified) instruments – a standard jazz drum kit being too loud for such improvisation (something that Terry Day had also realised around that time).

When I interviewed Evan Parker in 1997 for the magazine Opprobrium and asked him if he found playing with the SME restrictive at all, he replied: "I didn’t feel particularly restrained. I felt a lot of what John was talking about, and the kind of method, such as there was one, was based on several quite simple rules, which are that if you can’t hear somebody else you are playing too loud, and if what you are doing does not, at regular intervals, make reference to what you are hearing other people do, you might as well not be playing in the group. I’ve put it in my own language, but those were maybe the two most important lessons that John wanted people to learn when they played with SME. And so there was what you could call a compositional aesthetic which required musicians to work with those two kinds of rules or ideals in mind."

When the then rare opportunity to make and issue a record came, Stevens and Parker decided to expand their duo into a quintet, inviting three musicians who had often worked with them in various combinations. The resultant instrumentation on KARYOBIN is that of a jazz group, yet the music sounds totally unlike jazz. It could be argued that it was a new form of jazz, but John Stevens pointed out that the influence of Anton Webern (particularly the Quartett opus 22) was at least as important as that of the Ornette Coleman Quartet and the 1961/2 Jimmy Giuffre Trio (EMANEM 5208). All manner of musics have been put into the 'jazz' pigeon-hole over the decades, but such conveniences have tended to make the word meaningless, so I prefer to consider it to be free improvisation.

The original LP was the only one issued on the Hexagram sub-label of Island, set up to feature music by Stevens, Parker and Derek Bailey. That release made it look as though the music was recorded as a continuous whole. However, the master tapes are separated into five sections by leader tape, implying that the music was not continuous. (Parts 3 and 4 are one section.) Apart from Wheeler, who had been a leading light on the London jazz scene for about 15 years, none of the participants were then known to more than a handful of free improvisation fans, so it was not considered important to put the musicians’ names on the front cover. Reputations quickly changed, so I have modified the layout slightly to include the individual names.

All five of the musicians play most of the time – there are no pre-determined feature spots for any of them. However, there are periods when one or more performers do drop out. The most extended of these is the sotto voce saxophone/bass duet in the middle of the last part – one of several early precursors of the Reductionist movement.

The recording was mixed direct to 2-track tape, as was normal in those days. Unfortunately, the bass and percussion were not captured as well as the other three instruments. The master tapes used to make the first CD reissue on Chronoscope did have the lower frequencies boosted, making the bass more audible. However, this gave the impression that the drums were even quieter than before. Adam Skeaping has miraculously found a way to correct the balance for this latest reissue. I subsequently removed any unwanted clicks and thumps.The importance of this 2017 CD edition of KARYOBIN is that this truly magnificent and highly influential music can be heard in much better sound than ever before. (The recent Japanese CD reissue was taken from a somewhat noisy LP.)

One mystery about this music is the title. KA-RYO-BIN (with the A pronounced more like a soft U, the Y a consonant, and the O long) is the name of a piece, depicting imaginary birds in Paradise, performed on a 1960s LP (Toshiba TH-9020) of Gagaku (Japanese court music). The music on this CD sounds nothing like Gagaku, whereas another contemporaneous John Stevens semi-composed piece, with the Germanic name Familie, does show a strong influence of Gagaku. (Different 1968 versions can be heard on EMANEM 5043 and 4134).

A few weeks after the KARYOBIN recording, a similar group, with Trevor Watts instead of Wheeler, played a couple of gigs in Berlin. This marked the return of Watts to the SME after an absence of about a year, during which time the music had changed considerably. During a brief visit of Dave Holland some three years later, Stevens put together what could be described as a reunion with Watts in place of Parker under the title SO WHAT DO YOU THINK? I turned down the opportunity to reissue this, as I find the percussion to dominate both the music and the mix.

In 1974, Stevens put together another similar quintet with Bailey, Parker, Watts and Kent Carter to perform a concert which was originally issued on LP as EIGHT-FIVE MINUTES, reissued on CD as QUINTESSENCE and currently awaiting reissue. This was described by some writers and listeners as one of the greatest examples of free improvisation, an accolade that has also been applied to the pioneering KARYOBIN.


Excerpts from reviews:

"The sound of KARYOBIN is really much better than on the previous two CD releases. Shall replace my Chronoscope CD with the new edition."

ERNST NEBHUTH - (private email) 2017

"The SME sound great in the new incarnation of KARYOBIN - a huge improvement, it seems to me."

RICHARD LEIGH - (private email) 2017

"The new edition of Karyobin is remarkable - Dave Holland feels slightly quieter, I suppose, but more detailed at the same time, and there's so much more impact and detail from everyone else. (I was particularly struck by how much more you can hear of what Derek is playing.) And I speak as someone who thought the Chronoscope CD always sounded pretty good!"

DOMINIC LASH - (private email) 2021

"KARYOBIN comes from a time in improvised music that was visionary, optimistic and little documented. The SME was at the time a duet consisting of Stevens and saxophonist Evan Parker. The two discussed the format the LP should assume and decided on a quintet, inviting trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, guitarist Derek Bailey and bassist Dave Holland, all of whom had played with the group, but who together constituted an ensemble that would (like Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives and Sevens) exist only in the recording studio. One of its distinguishing marks is its brilliant lightness, with Parker playing soprano saxophone exclusively and Bailey frequently contributing high-pitched explosions of burbling guitar notes. Once heard, it's music that will dance in your mind for days.

The brilliance of much English free improvisation consists of the response rate and the depth of development that its finest practitioners developed and the music of this edition of the SME moves at varied tempos with extraordinary clarity and invention, with a coherence and vision that is everywhere in the music of the group's members, including Wheeler and Holland, who would spend much of their careers far from free improvisation. From the first of the six segments, there's a kind of telepathy at work, voices swirling together in brief bursts separated by silences. That sense of collective composition is apparent everywhere, reaching its apotheosis with the longest segment, the 13-minute Part 5, from its opening lyrical effusions to passages of rapid pointillism.

This music has appeared on CD before, in a 1993 reissue on Chronoscope, but this version is a vastly improved mix, revealing the level of detailed interaction in the music as well as its sonic richness. This is among the essential building blocks of improvised music, a worthy extension of Ornette Coleman's FREE JAZZ and the 1961-2 recordings by the Jimmy Giuffre 3."


"In 1968, when this seminal album was recorded, free improvisation represented a new planet of musical activity, its revolutionary products released on some unlikely seeming labels. KARYOBIN was remastered for CD by Chronoscope in 1993. Now, on its 50th anniversary, sound engineer Adam Skeaping has worked on the balance. Chronoscope boosted the lower frequencies, making the bass more audible, but the drums even quieter. Those problems have been overcome.

The music might call to mind Schoenberg's famous reference to 'air from another planet', but there's another story to be told - as with most revolutions, at the distance of half a century, continuities as well as contrasts with earlier practice are apparent. The jazz affiliations of the participants are well - known. In summer 1967, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble consisted of John Stevens and Evan Parker. They invited Kenny Wheeler, Derek Bailey and Dave Holland for SME's second issued record date. Parker is on soprano saxophone throughout. The combination never played together live, but subsequently collaborated in various line-ups.

Though they hadn't played together regularly, the ensemble's remarkable interactive empathy illustrates John Stevens' 'compositional aesthetic' - as Evan Parker calls it. In 1997, Parker formulated Stevens' aesthetic in two 'quite simple rules': 'If you can't hear somebody else you are playing too loud, and if what you are doing does not, at regular intervals, make reference to what you are hearing other people do, you might as well not be playing in the group.' It's a succinct summary of the aesthetics of spontaneous artistic creation, which reaches its purest, most intense realisation in the music represented by KARYOBIN.

I'd suggest that the most successful improvisations, in the coherence of their form, sound like compositions. That's surely true here. It's a fully collective improvisation - mostly, all five musicians are playing, the most notable exception being the subdued saxophone/bass duet in the final part. Stevens' solo drums sometimes seem to take a guiding (or suggesting) role, as at nine minutes through Part V. It's magnificent music, finally heard in its pristine state."



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