I found out this morning about a forthcoming gig at The Vortex in Dalston which is a benefit for the club (hence the slightly high price for tickets, I assume), and will feature the peerless duo of Evan Parker and veteran English double bassist Dave Holland. Holland will surely need no introduction to fans of either modern jazz or free improvisation, his impressive recording history beginning with Miles Davis’s Filles de Kilimanjaro, as far back as 1968. His various trios, quartets, quintets and big bands recorded some of the very best freebop of the eighties and nineties and beyond, his skills as a writer, conductor and arranger complementing those of one of our greatest bass stylists, with his unmistakably fluent, nimble and sonorous sound. Start in the deep end with his solo album, Emerald Tears, from 1978. Then perhaps sample his free improv duo with fellow low end master Barre Phillips on ECM 1011 (a very early ECM, from 1971), the Little Theater live gig with Derek Bailey (again from 1971, ECM 1013), the Company quartet with Bailey, Parker and George Lewis (Fables, Incus 36, 1980) and the Circle double (with Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea and Barry Altchul), Paris Concert (ECM 1018/9). The latter was yet another gem from Holland’s annus mirabilis 1971, when he also managed to join the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME) to record a album, So, What Do You Think?, that can be compared in quality to the more celebrated Karyobin.
Karyobin is perhaps English free improv’s most mythical recording, partly due no doubt, to its sheer unavailablity over the past 50 years or so - the only album to be released on the Island subsidiary Hexagram (the I Ching being all the rage in 1968), it pretty much sank out of sight almost immediately but began to soar upwards in terms of collectability and, accordingly, in the prices being asked for second hand copies. I picked up the Chronoscope Records reissue back in 1993, which those in the know have always said was an inferior mix, especially as regards the rhythm section. Last year, Enanem Records maestro, Martin Davidson, finally released the Adam Skeaping-remastered Karyobin, which has met with acclaim in free improv circles (Evan Parker having eventually come to own the original masters). After some umm-ing and ah-ing as to whether I could justify buying a record that I already own, the news of the forthcoming Parker/Holland gig jump-started me into action, and I have ordered the CD through the Emanem website.
’ First world problems’ or what?
Still, Davidson’s hard work vis-a-vis the SME back catalogue has paid dividends in terms of making all of its recordings easily available (after decades of neglect). Well done that man. But what about So, What Do You Think? This particular recording has now become the hen’s tooth of this genre, and it would be a shame if it remained hidden as a result of Davidson’s reservations about the drum presence on the masters (which are far too intrusive as far as Davidson is concerned).
All this, though, makes me think of Kayobin and the upcoming Vortex event as a bit of a momento mori - Parker and Holland are the only ones left of the SME who recorded this album. John Stevens has been dead for over two decades, Derek Bailey for over one, and we lost Wheeler three years back. Let us accordingly give thanks that so many of the master musicians of that era are still with us, and are playing as well as they ever have done.