Ben Watson’s Derek Bailey discography at the end of his biography of the Sheffield giant seemed fairly exhaustive, when it first came out in 2004 (although it is now considerably expanded by subsequent releases). Brain Olewnick did a similar ambitious job with Keith Rowe’s recorded work(him being British free improv’s other landmark guitarist. As far as I knew, these very different stylists never played together, although Fred Frith has done a good job of melding their styles in his playing at various times. Bailey passed at Xmas time 2005, and Rowe rarely plays on these shores nowadays, having been based in France (Nantes) since 1992. Frith is, however, due to undertake a 3-day residency at Cafe Oto at the end of this month.
I was thus truly both surprised and pleased to find, on pages 184-5, of Olewnick’s biog (now on a second reading), a description of a significant recording. from as early as 1969. featuring both Bailey and Rowe. At this point in time, Incus Records had yet to be born (1970 saw to this), and Rowe was still playing in AMM 1,0, which had recently made the epochal The Crypt live sessions, to which this recording, called Gracility , can best be compared (yes, it’s that good). The track ‘Gracility’ itself features Bailey and Rowe, with Gavin Bryers on electric bass and its composer, Laurie Scott Baker, on double bass. It extends to the AMM -like length of 71 minutes, and forms part of a 2-CD set, along with an early (1975) Evan Parker solo soprano sax feature, a 1970 piece by the Scratch Orchestra, and a 1972 trio of Baker, John Tilbury and Jamie Muir (a very unusual grouping again, especially given the contrast of Tilbury and Muir). All in all, a most unusual and fascinating combination of very early British free improv/composition, which only saw the light of day in 2009, on Music Now (MNCD012). It’s an essential addition to the collections of folk who love this period.
To quote Olewnick: “Though improvised, there is one restraint - “The amps are set on the edge of feedback, but the playing is very gentle. The text calls for feedback to be avoided, a bit like trying to contain a genie in a bottle!” (from the liner notes by Baker)” This sounds a bit like a John Stevens instruction from ‘Search and Reflect’still , but it needs saying that the result is not as quiescent as might be expected -”When they do let loose, and they do several times, the resulting sound storm is quite as violent as anything on The Crypt” (Olwenick again), Rowe’s sound appears to be the most dominant, although it is very hard to distinguish who is playing what (another very AMM-like feature). Although Olewnick opines that “his (Rowe’s) playing sounds rather different than it did with AMM, more transparent and lucent”, the meta-music group remains the most obvious point of reference.
It’s an only-fairly-recently opened bottle, but the contents still sound fresh, and made even more enjoyable by previously not knowing of its existence, Slainte!