ISKRA 1903 – Goldsmiths


Ah, 1972 (sigh). As this commentator was approaching Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd during the post-post-toddler age, Paul Rutherford (trombone), Derek Bailey (amplified guitar) and Barry Guy (amplified double bass) were already tracing the lines of something very different from that path. Today we can listen to this concert at London’s Goldsmiths College – enriched by eight additional minutes taped somewhere else in the same period – thanks to the patience (and resignation, in a way) of Emanem’s honcho Martin Davidson, who waited for long years in the hope of getting an all-master-tape result before finally surrendering and deciding to use the copies in his possession, not of equivalent fidelity. Let’s ideally grab Davidson’s shoulders and tell him straight in the eye “who cares about flawlessness?”, for this set is not only a historic document of three geniuses of the improvisation at work, but a potential clinic for all sorts of undogmatic musician. Even more precious now that Guy has remained alone.

Don’t pretend of ignoring what Rutherford, Bailey and Guy have done for music, because I’m not rehashing the career-in-pills journalistic stratagem needed for the authorized press to fill up two thirds of a review. Let me focus instead on a couple of aspects. For instance, my surprise in realizing how the double bass and the trombone can emit imitative tones is authentic: there are lengthy pieces of conversation here whose humanity (meaning that the instruments sound like human beings talking) is astounding, and occasionally my ears had a hard time in understanding who was actually playing what in those egalitarian discussions. And – did anyone notice the resemblance of certain guitar swells by Bailey with the melted tumidity of subsequent experiments by Hans Reichel’s pre-Daxophone era? Of course these are just a few among the hundreds of cues that this great record offers for countless interpretations – pedantic or less. Refusal of counter-intuitive cogitation, intelligent regard for an instantaneously generated spatial arrangement, total control of the conversational dynamics, respect for an audience that never gets overwhelmed but rather entangled in the constitutional mechanics of the instrumental interaction. Valiant artists looking relaxed in the most important type of research, that which didn’t (and, for a multitude of unconnected musicians, still doesn’t) warrant too many helpings of bread and butter.

Fine art to revere for decades to come.

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