Paul and Phil flew in from England on May 14. By the time Dominic and Herb arrived, at 2 p.m. the next day, Paul and Phil had already been setting up their equipment for four hours. By 5 p.m. the equipment was all in place and the quartet all headed for naps, leaving The Spirit Room strewn with instruments, wires, electronic components, and all manner of junk. It seemed to me that, if properly edited, the six-plus hours of setting up this arsenal of sound makers might make an effective piece of performance art.
Phil and Paul are both members of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra and have worked together on a number of other sessions, including a small group with Herb Robertson (Herb also had a guest tenure with the L JCO). Dominic and Herb have worked and recorded as a trio (CIMP #110 and CJR #1065), and Dominic has also recorded on CIMP (#106) as part of the Mark Whitecage Trio, while Paul was previously recorded by CIMP (#101) as a member of the Evan Parker-Barry Guy-Paul Lytton Trio. So, for the most part, we had a group which was familiar with the ambiance of The Spirit Room, respectful of their colleagues and conditions, but not so comfortable as to take the edge off the element of surprise from their extemporaneous music.
Most of the music here comes from the second day of recording as, after a hearty meal and relaxed conversation, it got rather late and the effects of travel-lag, digestion, and a full day's activity cut short the evening's recording a bit after midnight.
During the evening, Paul developed a migraine headache which various medicines, massages, and bathing did little to relieve by the time the morning session began. Even so, the group opened with the same strength it had reached at the end of the previous night's session. Even more striking were the ensemble harmonies that they exhibited; harmonies in direct juxtaposition to the increasing pain in Paul's head. As a result, after less than one hour of recording and after five numbers, the session again came to a halt. After some food and too much idle time, Paul emerged from sleep seemingly pain-free and refreshed (by now I was taking aspirins). At a little past 3 p.m., we were recording again. At this point, the group went into ("Diagonals") a lengthy, evolving, sectional piece which proved a showcase for all the individuals and for group improvisation.
Experimentation continued through the rest of the session with remarkably successful results: random sound coalescing into an organic creative mass with focus, purpose, direction; a headless sum of the parts emerging as a directed whole. It happens over and over here in this cornucopia of surprising invention, "Gong", where everybody played percussively on their instrument, being an excellent example.
There's no doubt this is difficult music. New approaches always are. The genre has been around since the 60s, but it's still uncharted. It is inherent in the music's very nature to defy that which both adds to its difficulty and brings it freshness and surprise. At this point it has not entered into text: either you can or you can't engage in it. Either it works or it doesn't. It's not meant to be arcane and only the pretensions of posers want to perpetuate its myths. The secret is to close your eyes and give yourself over to the music. It's not going to go where you want necessarily, but allow yourself to go with it. If done without prejudice, the trip will be as revealing, to the extent that it is or isn't, for you as it was for the musicians making it. On these trips the passenger(s) can be just as surprised and inspired by, and understanding of, the unfolding (musical) landscape as the driver(s). It's a trip full of revelation. Indulge and embrace.
Robert D. Rusch