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Barry Guy

Zwischen Konstruktion und freier Improvisation – Rosmarie A. Meier und Patrik Landolt

The Perfect Match – Jane Dorner

Free Agent – Nick Kimberley

Barry Guy: Freedom in Restraint – Kees Stevens

A Guy Apart – Michael Dervan

Erkundungen im Grenzgebiet – Christoph Wagner

Improvising the Score – Bill Shoemaker

BGNO

Seeds of Sound – Declan O'Driscoll

Behind Barry Guy's New Orchestra – Greg Buium

Ungestümer Strukturalist – Frank von Niederhäusern

Review of Inscape–Tableaux – Ken Waxman

Duos

Hitting the Strings – Graph

Neue Klänge in Kilkenny

LJCO

Brave New World – Joanne Talbot

Interview with Barry Guy – Malcolm Miller

Letting Freedom Ring – Ed Hazell

Ode sleeve notes – Barry Guy, Bert Noglik and John Corbett

Barry Guy: A most ingenious paradox – Kenneth Ansell

Free Spirit – Will Montgomery

Tomorrow is now – Barry McRae

Barry Guy: The London Jazz Composers' Orchestra – Bill Smith

Trios

TRIO Guy/Crispell/Lytton

TRIO Guy/Gustaffson/Strid

TRIO Parker/Guy/Lytton

 

Zwischen Konstruktion und freier Improvisation

Rosmarie A. Meier und Patrik Landolt

«Nachdem ich die Schule verlassen hatte, arbeitete ich bei einem Architekten, der gotische Kirchen restaurierte. In England haben wir ein Ausbildungssystem, wo man sich einem Lehrmeister anschliessen kann. Man lernt bei ihm und tritt in seine Fussstapfen. Ich war also eine Art Assistent oder Gehilfe bei diesem Architekten. Mein Lehrmeister war ein ausgezeichneter Zeichner und kannte sich in der Kunst eher gut aus. Ich wollte damals eigentlich eine Kunstschule besuchen. Aber die Schule, die ich absolviert hatte, bot mir dazu die Möglichkeit nicht. Ich hatte auch das Wissen nicht, wie man so etwas anpacken könnte. Es war damals üblich, dass man nach der Schule Geld verdienen ging. Die meisten gingen in die Fabriken, von denen es in der Gegend zahlreiche gab. Ich hatte also Glück, dass ich zu diesem Architekten kam.

In dieser Zeit lernte ich Leute kennen, die sich mit Musik und Komposition beschäftigten. Einige studierten an der Universität Mathematik, sie kannten die verschiedenen Korrelationen von Musik und Mathematik. Wir taten damals sehr intellektuell, debattierten stundenlang, hielten uns in den Pubs auf und tranken. Das war etwa 1966. Es war eine sehr intensive Atmosphäre, es brodelte: die Flower-Power-Zeit, Vietnamkrieg; es schien damals, als ob die ganze Welt in einem Gärungsprozess steckte. Vielleicht tönt es nostalgisch, wenn ich auf die sechziger Jahre zurückblicke, oder beschönigend, wenn ich sage, wie aufregend die Zeit damals war. Aber wenn man das erlebt hat und diese Erfahrungen gemacht hat, dann weiss man, wie prägend dieses Klima war.

Meine Eltern waren überhaupt nicht musikalisch. Aber sie hatten viel übrig für Musik. Als ich einen Kontrabass wollte, um Jazz zu spielen, sagten die Eltern sofort: O.k., wir kaufen dir einen Bass. Meiner Zwillingsschwester kauften sie ein Klavier. Mein Vater war ein kaufmännischer Angestellter und arbeitete im Teehandel. In den Jahren, als in London die Docks verschwanden, verlor er die Stelle und war längere Zeit ohne Arbeit. Danach fand er einen Job in der Buchabteilung der BBC. Leider ist er mehr oder weniger gerade am Tag seiner Pensionierung gestorben. Aber zurück zu der Zeit, als wir begannen, Musik zu spielen. In einem Pub lernte ich Paul Rutherford kennen. Jemand sagte mir, dass er ein hervorragender Posaunist sei. In meinem Kompositionsunterricht schrieb ich dann ein Stück mit einer Passage für Posaune und Saxofon. Paul Rutherford lud den Saxophonisten Trevor Watts ein, um das Stück zu spielen. Später erwähnte jemand unsere Namen bei John Stevens vom Little Theatre Club. John Stevens lud mich einmal in den Little Theatre Club ein, und so trat ich dann dem Spontaneous Music Ensemble bei.

Es folgte eine unglaublich intensive Periode, wo erstaunliche musikalische Dinge passierten. Wir experimentierten sehr viel und machten neue Entdeckungen. Ich habe von den Musikern im Little Theatre Club viel gelernt. Wir wollten zum Beispiel mit unserer Musik nicht nur ständig Impulse des amerikanischen Jazz aufnehmen und wandten uns der europäischen Gegenwartsmusik zu. Wir wollten die Ketten brechen und uns von dieser sklavischen Haltung befreien, immer wieder die neuste John-Coltrane-Platte zu imitieren. Wir steuerten alle auf etwas noch Unbekanntes zu. In einem gemeinsamen Prozess arbeiteten wir darauf hin. Wir versuchten die Details zu klären, die verschiedenen musikalischen Disziplinen zu verknüpfen. Es ging auch darum, Formen eines musikalischen Diskurses zu finden, um mit den andern zusammen koexistieren zu können. Indem wir die traditionellen Kommunikationsmuster zertrümmerten, wollten wir ja eine intensivere Kommunikation erreichen. Wir wollten nicht in einer abstrakten, unehrlichen Weise miteinander umgehen. Wir wollten möglichst intensiv und dicht musizieren.

Ich hatte damals einen Freund, dem ich viel verdanke. Er war ein sehr engagierter Mensch, setzte sich aktiv gegen den Vietnamkrieg ein. Er war ein Vietnam-Experte, so einflussreich, dass selbst die britische Regierung ihn einlud, um sich bei ihm zu informieren. Später ist er unter mysteriösen Umständen umgekommen. Er hatte ein unglaubliches Charisma, das sehr viele Linke anzog. Das Erstaunliche war, dass er auch noch ein guter Kenner der zeitgenössischen Musik war. Wenn er Leute einlud, eine Party gab, wurde Musik gespielt; und zwar nicht nur Rock'n'Roll, sondern Jazz und zeitgenössische Musik. Ich hörte bei ihm zu Hause zum erstenmal in meinem Leben «Le Sacre du Printemps» von Igor Strawinsky, und ich hörte zum erstenmal «Threnos, Den Opfern von Hiroshima» von Krzysztof Penderecki. Von heute aus gesehen, ist es unglaublich, dass diese Musik an einer politischen Veranstaltung gespielt wurde. Aber es passte zum politischen Klima. Die meisten Leute waren int eressiert an dieser Musik.

Ich begann mich dann vermehrt mit zeitgenössischer Musik auseinanderzusetzen, hörte Zwölftonmusik, Anton Webern, Alban Berg, dann die Neuentwicklungen der späten fünfziger Jahre, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, Iannis Xenaks … Die Arbeit beim Architekten und mein musikalisches Interesse kamen sich in die Quere. Ich benutzte meine ganze Freizeit, um Musik zu machen und Musik zu hören. Es zeichneten sich damals zwei wichtige Entwicklungen ab: Im Little Theatre Club entstand die britische Free Music. Da herrschte eine phantastische experimentelle Atmosphäre. Auf der anderen Seite begann ich die Welt der klassischen Musik zu entdecken. Ich war radikal und wollte genau herausfinden, was es mit dieser neuen E-Musik auf sich hatte. Ich wurde sehr aktiv, begann Konzerte zu organisieren, suchte nach Musikern, die diese Musik spielen konnten, und spielte auch selber. Ich war wie besessen, denn ich fühlte, dass ich spät dran war. Zum Glück lernte ich den Kompositionslehrer Buxton Orr kennen, der an mir Gefallen fand. Buxton Orr hat übrigens später das London Jazz Composers' Orchestra dirigiert. Orr entdeckte in mir eine musikalische Ader, und obwohl meine Ausbildung allen akademischen Erfordernissen entgegenliefen, sagte er: Diese Person muss an die Musikhochschule. Und er verschaffte mir einen Studienplatz. Da bekam ich die Chance, auch akademische Studien zu betreiben.

Das waren vier tolle Jahre. Es war wie ein grosses Fest. Natürlich kannte ich Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart, aber ich hatte mich früher nicht ernsthaft mit Musik beschäftigt. Jetzt öffneten sich plötzlich all diese Möglichkeiten. Ich konnte mich mit der alten Musik auseinandersetzen, hörte Monteverdi, Tartini, alle diese hervorragenden Violinisten und Komponisten des Barock. Ich schwamm plötzlich in einem endlosen Meer musikalischer Möglichkeiten. Es war wirklich spannend und euphorisierend.

Ich hetzte in dieser Zeit von einem Ort zum anderen, um neue Erfahrungen zu machen, um aufzuholen. Jedesmal, wenn ich die Musikhochschule verliess, ging ich zum Little Theatre Club, spielte mit John Stevens, die Gruppe Amalgam von Trevor Watts wurde gegründet, später entstand das Trio Iskra 1903 mit Rutherford, Derek Bailey und mir.

Die Szene um den Little Theatre Club wurde von der etablierten Jazzszene als verrückt und gefährlich taxiert, weil wir zu viele Schranken herunterzureissen drohten. Denn wir kümmerten uns nicht um die traditionellen Standards, wir kümmerten uns nicht um Harmonie, Melodie und Rhythmus. Wer aber genau hinhört, wird feststellen, dass auch wir mit Rhythmus und Melodie arbeiteten, dies aber in einem anderen Sinn als der traditionelle Jazz. Wir waren unbeliebt, es herrschte die allgemeine Meinung, dass wir destruktiv seien, dass wir den Jazz kaputtmachen wollten. Aber wir hatten ein starkes kollektives Bewusstsein, das dem Druck der öffentlichen Meinung standhielt. Dazu gründeten wir auch eine Selbsthilfeorganisation, die Musicians Cooperative. Wir legten mit soviel Punch los, dass uns niemand etwas anhaben konnte.

In diesen Jahren entstanden auch Verbindungen mit Musikerinnen und Musikern anderer Länder. Wir entwickelten eine kosmopolitische oder internationalistische Vision von Musik. Ich erinnere mich sehr gut an den Moment, als ich zum erstenmal den deutschen Saxophonisten Peter Brötzmann hörte. Ich konnte es nicht fassen, dass mit einem Saxophon ein solcher Lärm gemacht werden kann. Ich stand vor meinem Bass und hörte den ganzen Abend von meinem Instrument keinen Ton. Man hörte nur dieses Röhren, dieses Brrrrrrrr, was unerhört faszinierend war. Ich dachte: Die Deutschen spielen ziemlich anders als wir Engländer. Die deutschen Musiker nannten unsere Musik «washing machine music». Sie wollten damit ausdrücken, dass sich unsere Musik endlos drehte. Unsere Musik hatte einen fliessenden, fast transparenten Charakter. Wir spielten nicht diesen harten Jazz wie die Deutschen, den wir «tank music» nannten.

1972 gründeten wir das London Jazz Composers' Orchestra. Rückblickend kann man heute die Entwicklung des Orchesters in drei Perioden einteilen. Die erste dauerte von 1972 bis 1976. In dieser Zeit ging es mir hauptsächlich darum, einen Weg von Koexistenz zwischen frei improvisierter Musik und Komposition zu finden. Ich suchte nach Möglichkeiten, die gegensätzlichen Momente von Freiheit und Kontrolle miteinander zu verbinden. Mit der Komposition «Ode» fand ich eine erste Lösung.

Die Free Music verfügt über eine immense Energie. Dieses Ausscheren und Weit-über-sich-Hinausgehen setzt Energie frei. Energie ist eines der zentralen Merkmale der Free Music. Für das Publikum geht es oft zu schnell, so schnell, dass die Leute gar nicht mehr hinhören können. In der klassischen Musik habe ich oft den Eindruck, dass die Musik immer langsamer und langsamer wird. Eine Ausnahme ist Xenakis. Er ist in der zeitgenössischen Musik einer der wenigen Komponisten, der ungeheure Energien freisetzen kann. Auch Boulez hat in seinen späten Jahren ein Stück geschrieben mit dem Titel «Responsorium», das sehr frei und energetisch klingt. Ich glaube, dieses Stück ist eines der wichtigsten Stücke dieses Jahrhunderts im Bereich der Komposition.

Ich versuchte meinerseits, mit den Kompositionen die Abläufe stärker zu kontrollieren, um die Energie, über die die Musiker verfügen, zu bündeln. Damit erhoffte ich, die Free Music noch kräftiger zu machen. Aber, wie sich herausstellte, war es der falsche Weg. Die Musiker rebellierten, da die Partituren immer komplexer wurden. Sie sagten: Wie können wir diese anspruchsvollen Noten lesen und plötzlich reinspringen in die total freie Improvisation, und das alles in einem ungeheuren Tempo. Wir entschieden uns dann im gegenseitigen Einvernehmen zur Trennung vom Dirigenten Buxton Orr.

Danach folgte eine längere Pause. Ich hatte überhaupt keine Ahnung mehr, in welche Richtung ich mit dem Orchester arbeiten sollte. Dazu kam, dass wir über keine Auftrittsmöglichkeiten und kein Geld verfügten. 1978 lud uns Jost Gebers, der Initiator der Berliner Free Music Production, ein, an seinem FMP-Workshop während fünf Tagen zu proben und aufzutreten. Das war der eigentliche Neuanfang der zweiten Periode. Quasi als Reaktion auf die komplexen Partituren und die Rebellion der Musiker sollten nun die Spieler mehr Verantwortung übernehmen. Die Erfahrungen der ersten Jahre öffneten die Tore in Richtung frei improvisierter Musik. Die Big Band als Free-Music-Orchester. Ich schrieb ein paar Partituren, welche die Musiker animieren sollten, die Abläufe weitgehend selbständig zu gestalten. Ich wollte aber immer noch den überblick haben über das, was musikalisch passiert. So fixierte ich gewisse Muste ur, um musikalische Kombinationen zu planen und die Zufälle zu limitieren.

Der nächste Schritt – und vorläufig der letzte – bestand in einer Umgestaltung des Orchesters. Neue Musiker kamen rein, andere verliessen die Band. Die Probetage im Herbst 1987 im Kulturzentrum Rote Fabrik in Zürich gaben uns die Möglichkeit, einen dritten Weg zu suchen. Die Kompositionen, «Polyhymnia» und vor allem «Harmos» sowie das später geschriebene Stück «Double Trouble», repräsentieren für mich ein neues Verhältnis zu den Musikern und zur Musik. Unsere langjährige Orchesterarbeit bedeutet einen immensen Zuwachs an Erfahrung und Reife. Wir haben viel gelernt. Wir wissen nun, wie wir die Dinge zusammenfügen müssen.

Als ich «Harmos» schrieb, entstanden einige sehr kraftvolle, ausdrucksstarke Melodien. In erster Linie wollte ich ein Stück für den Saxophonisten Trevor Watts schreiben. Ich suchte eine Melodie, die diesen wunderbaren Bogen spannt, den Trevor Watts spielt. Wenn ich ein Stück schreibe, stelle ich mir die Musiker vor. Es ist ein Charakteristikum meiner Kompositionen, dass ich versuche, eine musikalische Sprache zu finden, die auf die Spieler passt. Gleichzeitig versuche ich eine Komposition zu bauen, die kohärent ist. Eine Passage, die nur zu Evan Parker passt, und eine andere, die für Trevor Watts geschrieben ist, müssen durch die Konstruktion verbunden werden, so dass die beiden in einer einsichtigen Beziehung zueinander stehen. Um all die Materialien zu verknüpfen, brauche ich Zeit. Deshalb schreibe ich immer so lange Stücke.

Wie zur Zeit des Little Theatre Clubs arbeite ich auch heute in verschiedenen musikalischen Bereichen. Es bedeutet mir viel, auch klassische Musik zu spielen. Das hat nicht nur ökonomische Gründe. Vielmehr kann ich Neues entdecken, neue musikalische Ausdrucksformen, neue Klangwelten.

Ich weiss, es gibt wenige Musiker, die kontinuierlich sowohl im Bereich des Jazz wie der klassischen Musik arbeiten. Es gibt Leute, die meinen, die eine Spielpraxis schliesse die andere aus. Ich mache jedoch die Erfahrung, dass sie einander nicht stören, weil beide Richtungen vollkommen unterschiedlich sind. Wenn ich klassische Musik interpretiere, dann interpretiere ich. Spiele ich improvisierte Musik, dann improvisiere ich. Ich habe beim Improvisieren noch nie den Zwang verspürt, ein bisschen Mozart oder ein bisschen Bach zu integrieren. Diese Mixturen mag ich nicht. Ich habe da vielleicht eine etwas puristische Musikauffassung.

Mein Ansehen im Bereich der klassischen Musik erlangte ich durch langjährige Arbeit in verschiedenen Kammermusikensembles. Christopher Hogwood, der Leiter der Academy of Ancient Music, bat mich dann vor etwa zehn Jahren, Mitglied seines renommierten | Ensembles zu werden.

Wenn wir mit der Academy auf die Bühne gehen, ist es, als ob man für uns einen Teppich ausrollen würde. Wir haben ein riesiges Publikum. Das hat damit zu tun, dass Hogwood ein hervorragender Kenner und Interpret alter Musik ist und wir inzwischen zahlreiche Platten produziert haben. Gleichzeitig ist das Renommee dieser Musik sehr gross. Wenn ich an die Europatournee denke, die wir kürzlich beendet haben, dann ist es natürlich ein schönes Erlebnis, erfolgreich zu sein und immer vor vollen Sälen spielen zu können.

Ganz zu Unrecht fehlt leider der improvisierten Musik dieses hohe Ansehen und dieses zahlreiche Publikum. Eine wesentliche Diffenrenz zwischen beiden Musikbereichen liegt darin, dass die öffentlichkeit sie vollkommen unterschiedlich bewertet. Die klassische Musik wurde über Hunderte von Jahren aufgebaut, gesponsert und unterstützt.

Improvisierte Musik ist jung, sie ist noch stark in die aktuelle Situation involviert, so dass es noch Jahre brauchen wird, bis ein grösseres Publikum diese Musik verstehen kann. Zudem: Diese Musik kennenzulernen ist Arbeit. Eine wunderschöne Arbeit. Aber man muss sich darauf einlassen und kann nicht einfach konsumieren. Wenn man sieht, über welche Vermittlungsapparate die klassische Musik verfügt und wie bescheiden die improvisierte Musik daherkommt, dann ist es ja ein grosser Erfolg, wenn das London Jazz Composers' Orchestra letztes Jahr in Zürich und Basel vor mehreren hundert sehr aufmerksamen Leuten auftreten konnte.

Quelle: Patrik Landolt, Ruedi Wyss: Die lachenden Aussenseiter. Musikerinnen und Musiker zwischen Jazz, Rock und Neuer Musik. Die 80er und 90er Jahre. Ein Buch der WochenZeitung im Rotpunktverlag, Zürich 1994.

Information zum Buch: http://www.intaktrec.ch/store.htm

The Perfect Match

Jane Dorner

In March, bassist-composer Barry Guy's new five-stringed bass made its concert debut at St. Paul's Cathedral, London, in the world premiere of John Tavener's The Last Discourse. Though wired with a Schertler pickup in case of need, in the event the instrument proved to have such ample acoustic resonance and to so naturally demonstrate its soloistic qualities that Tavener decided against electronic amplification.

For UK luthier Roger Dawson, the premiere was a public baptism for an instrument that was three years in progress, the result of a tailor-made commission for Guy. Dawson – who works out of an atelier in Greenwich, a leafy south London suburb – viewed it as an ideal commission since his client had very clear ideas concerning the sonorities he wanted to achieve. Guy knew – almost to within millimetres and grammes – the size, weight and feel with which he would be happy. He wanted an 'athletic' instrument, a marathon runner of a bass. Its prime requirements were endurance combined with a physical immediacy and responsiveness to the sort of pyrotechnical playing a jazz musician and improviser of Guy's pedigree requires. Lightness – in terms both of weight and touch – were born in mind at every stage of the making.

Throughout history, instruments have required adjusting to cope with advancing musical technique and innovation. When Boccherini in the 18th century wrote virtuoso passages in thumb position, something had to be done about the 30–31cm string length cellos of his day which were simply too big for the player to comfortably cope with flights in the higher registers.

Musically speaking, the stimulus for virtuoso double bass playing has been slower to develop than for the violin or cello. But with innovative demands from original players, all that is changing. The result of player-maker collaborations can be a creation that combines art with functionality, beauty with resonance and craftsmanship with playability. And the Guy-Dawson partnership has produced an instrument that may well take its history forward into new dimensions. The fifth string on the new instrument is a high C rather than the more usual bottom C or B (the latter common in the Berlin Philharmonic bass section). To match Guy's specifications of weight and feel, the scroll area was kept as light as possible with separate machine heads to keep the weight down. The plates are shaved to within the maximum safe thinness – around 9mm in the middle and as thin as 4mm round the edges.

Dawson, however, warns that a maker must never sacrifice structural strength to immediate big sound: 'If you try to produce an instant-sounding bass by making the plates too thin, then there is a danger that in five or ten years time it will dry out and stop functioning well,' he explains. 'So I always work within the norm. The way I learned was to get within the textbook correct measurements and then proceed by feel. Your eye and hand are the best judges of sound, and the tap tones on the front are more instinctive than a measurement gauge,' he insists.

Dawson is one of a growing band of dedicated double bass makers and repairers. He started in the trade at the age of 15 when he joined the well-known firm of Withers in 1963 when the shop was under the proprietorship of Stanley Withers. Dawson – apprenticed under Mr. A. 'Jimmy' Jones who previously worked at Harts – was addressed as 'boy', the respectful level to which master craftsmen rose in those days. Dawson stayed until 1969 when he joined Guiviers. In 1977 he moved to Thwaites of Watford for two years, by which time he had decided to specialise in bass making a repairing. 'I felt an affinity with the larger instruments,' Dawson recalls, 'and the beauty of the double bass is that you never see two basses the same. They all have a highly individual character.'

In due course, Dawson set up his own workshop in the south London district of Rotherhithe before moving to nearby Greenwich. He's been there ever since. Many players only know his as a repairer, an aspect of his craft for which he is much in demand. 'It's very satisfying to make an instrument sound better,' he says. Nevertheless, through repairs and restoration occupy a large part of his time, the Guy-Dawson instrument is his twenty-second bass. Simple mathematics suggest that, with such an output, having this one bass on the go for three years doesn't make logical sense.

'Well, of course it didn't take three years to build, but there were various things that held it up – other repairs, some health problems and so on,' he elaborates. 'But the real delay was trying to get the right wood for it. I ordered the spruce for the top and maple for the back and sides from Bosnia and, political troubles aside, it is now very difficult to get a fine figured piece for the back. The major hold-up on this instrument was that I had to send back two pieces of maple before I could even start work. The first was so riddled with woodworm, I couldn't get it out of the workshop fast enough. The second had a windshake in it and was not suitable. And then I had to wait because the German buyers who get the wood from Bosnia tend to cut up big trees for fiddles as they can make more money that way. Nowadays you have to be willing to spend more than £2,000–£3,000 on wood for a bass.'

While the finished instrument – composite of swell back with the flat-back bend at the top – is inspired by Panormo, the detailing and outline are Dawson's own design. The centre bouts are slightly deeper than Panormo's and the top bouts are slightly narrowed with sloping shoulders for maximum comfort. The instrument has nice big cusps on the corners, which Dawson likes while recognising the need to draw a line between what looks elegant and what is practical to play.

Since Dawson has been looking after Guy's basses throughout the latter's playing career, the marriage of practicality and aesthetics presented no problems. The ancestry of the new instrument developed out of three others. Guy had a French bass (Gand, 1894) which had a resonance he wanted to replicate. Dawson made him a copy of a Gasparo de Salo violone, which provided a rich fund of bass information on which to draw. At the same time, Guy was using a chamber bass for baroque music and enjoying the tessitura capabilities it had.

'I think he was surprised that a modern instrument could sound so resonant,' comments Dawson, 'and it was out of that discovery that the five-stringed bass grew.'

'It just seemed to me that a modern instrument ought to be able to combine the best of those three instruments so that I would only need to carry one around with me,' Guy points out. 'By extending the range upwards, I thought I would be able to achieve the chamber qualities while replicating the resonance of the Gand. I wanted the same swell back and neck dimension that had the same look and feel.' The neck is thicker, inevitably, but is basically tailored to match so that the player can move seamlessly from one instrument to another.

As a jazz bassist [Double Bassist No.1, p.10], Guy had several requirements that were unique to a new type of playing he was inventing for himself and a new set of sounds that his own compositions and jazz improvisation made desirable.

The speed of reaction of notes is particularly important in improvisation,' Guy emphasises, 'where you are responding in microseconds to your partners and your anticipation skills need to be complemented by the flexibility of the instrument. I particularly wanted a long sustained pizzicato. The E-string resonates for a glorious 22 seconds – I've timed it.'

Another requirement was that the instrument should respond well to Guy's range of sound extensions – sticks, beaters and brushes threaded over and under the strings at various points along the fingerboard (rather like a guitar capo) which changes the relationship of the strings and gives a new and exciting range of sound possibilities. The fifth string acts as a 'spare' open string at the top or the bottom. The bridge (made by Dawson) has adjusters in the feet so Guy can vary the string height according to the humidity of a local climate. 'It is wonderfully responsive to all my needs,' says Guy, 'I love the sound it makes and I love the warm colour and glow of the varnish. And it's also wonderfully responsive with the bow, very even throughout.'

It's clear that the product of the marriage between player and maker is an outsized and well loved infant. Guy caresses and nurses the bass in his arms as he speaks, wanting it to grow up and bear the marks of life but at the same time being protective of the as yet unblemished dark varnish. Dawson is unfussed, though.

'People create a mystique about varnish,' he says. 'I found something years ago that works – a basic spirit varnish with a proprietory pigment of oak or light oak – and I just get on with it. Why experiment with oil varnishes that dry to slowly that workshop dust is bound to stick to it? The way I was taught to varnish was to get a brown-yellow ground on straight away. It's very exciting applying that first coat because at first it comes out all tiger-striped. But gradually it settles down and over about six coats, rubbed down between whiles, it acquires an attractive variegated texture. To be frank, varnish is there to protect the wood. I think natural wear and tear enhances the look of the varnish; there's no need to be precious about it.'

And Dawson's further ambitions? If he is so drawn to the large members of the violin family, does he want to make a giant octobass? 'I have thought of it, actually,' he confesses, 'but one has to be practical. Who would play it?' – confirming that player demand is what furthers the development of an instrument.

The Dawson five-stringed-bass

String length

1055mm

Back length

1130mm

Bouts (top)

530mm

Bouts (bottom – at widest point)

695mm

Neck length (from bottom of button to underside of nut)

400mm

Head length (from underside of nut to top of scroll)

300mm

Rib depth

222mm

Sound holes (at nicks)

22mm

Table length

1095mm

Peg Box (maximum width at top nut)

70mm

Inner peg box – maximum

45mm

Inner peg box – minimum

25mm

Double Bassist – No. 6 Summer 1998, reproduced with permission of Orpheus Publications Ltd.

 

 

Free Agent

Nick Kimberley

How do you bridge the opposing worlds of free jazz and New Music? Ask bassist Barry Guy.

We have a musical culture capable of redeeming the irredeemable, yet as far as I know no one has ever managed to deify the English trad jazz bands of the 1950s and 60s. If nothing else, trad can be credited with fostering the talent of bassist Barry Guy, currently one of the most prodigious and mercurial figures in both the European Improv and New Music scenes. As Guy recalls: "At school we had a military band and there was also a trad band. I started on trumpet in the military band, slipped down to valve trombone. When I joined the trad band I moved from trombone to one-string bass, the tea-chest bass, which my colleagues thought a bit simplistic, so my parents bought me a four-string bass. The other people in the band told me what to play: 'Put this finger there, that finger there.' I had a piece of cardboard behind the strings to show me where all the notes were."

Great oaks from tiny acorns: in 1994 alone, Guy's output has been overwhelming, with the albums After the Rain, Portraits (recorded with the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra, which Guy founded in 1970), Imaginary Values, an improvising trio with Evan Parker and Paul Lytton, and Study/Witch Gong Game 11/10 by the NOW Orchestra containing some of the most compulsive music to be heard all year.

Guy's formidable skill no doubt owes a lot to having to make one string do all the work. This being the 60's – Guy was born in 1947 – there was interplay between different musical styles. Guy took formal music lessons at Goldsmiths College where, he recalls, "We had to write a composition at the end of each term. I wanted to write a cadenza for trombone and alto sax, so we brought in Trevor Watts and Paul Rutherford to play it. As a result I was invited to join The Spontaneous Music Ensemble. At that time, in the late 1960s, there was a strange night life going on between the Little Theatre Club and the Old Place: the foundations of the free music scene where being laid, important liaisons forged, positions formulated."

There is neat irony in the fact that composing brought Guy into contact with the free music scene. Positions may be less rigidly held than once they were, but for many on both sides of the divide the two procedures are incompatible. improvisors suggest that score-led performers have lost their musical imagination, interpretative musicians may echo Pierre Boulez: "Improvisation is a personal psychodrama." Barry Guy happily embraced both disciplines: "I didn't find any conflict between composition and improvisation. One is intense discipline at the table, one is intense discipline in the live situation."

Through the 70s and 80s, Guy continued to work as improvisor, interpretative musician and composer. Boulez himself conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra's 1974 premiere of Guy's D; later works have been played by Kronos, London Sinfonietta, City of London SInfonia, Gemini, and he has provided pieces for London Contemporary Dance Theatre.

When composing, Guy prefers to know who he's writing for: "Most of what I've written has been commissioned by players who want to enlarge the repertoire of their instrument. In 1984 I wrote Circular for the oboist Robin Cantor who wanted something different from the work of Heinz Holliger, with whom he'd studied. I went through Holliger's music, checking all the Holligerisms I shouldn't include, and wrote the piece from there. It was like making a suit: you make the piece around the personality."

Recently, Guy has composed pieces which provide notation as well as space for improvisation. The first of these was Bird Gong Game, written in 1992 for the painter Alan Davie, also a talented pianist. "Alan asked me for a piece: he didn't want to read any music, he wanted to improvise, yet he also wanted a straight ensemble. I thought, 'How do I write a piece where I have absolutely no idea what he's going to play, nor how long he might want to play, but still get an ensemble in there which is totally flexible?'"

Guy found a solution in Davie's painting, which provided a series of symbols suggestive of sounds or musical procedures. Guy incorporated these in the score, as well as transferring them to cards which the conductor – Guy himself – could hold up to the ensemble musicians, individually or together, indicating which section of the score they could go to, or instructing them to improvise with or against the soloist. He has adapted the technique to works for the NEW Orchestra and for the Rova Saxophone Quartet, producing not only striking music but also scores of great visual beauty.

Guy admits, "Generally I keep improvisation and composition separate but there are some classically trained players willing to enter into the spirit of the thing. Where it doesn't work is if you say, 'OK group, play free'. You have to create the space, provide suggestions as to how people move in that space. With the performances of Bird Gong Game with Gemini, I offered the option of going with or against the soloist. I've never found they go against – they leap on the soloist like a pack of dogs so that when, for example, Evan Parker sets up his circular breathing thing with some rapid soprano sax work, and the oboe, clarinet, flute emulate that, getting inside his sound, you get some lovely textures."

Barry Guy: Freedom in Restraint

Kees Stevens

English improvisers like Derek Bailey, Evan Parker and Paul Rutherford were welcome guests among a small circle in the Netherlands around 1970, even though they performed now and again. The Dutch audience and the Dutch press were, despite the rise of European improvised music, still too heavily orientated towards American jazz. Han Bennink's fire-and-brimstone sermons on how nothing good was coming out of America anymore were conscientiously made note of, but it was out of the question that European music, Dutch included, was truly embraced by the public at large. One musician is missing from the row of English guests: Barry Guy.

After high school Guy went to work in an architect's office which was engaged in the restoration of Gothic buildings, while studying double bass and taking composition lessons at Goldsmiths College. At the same time he played swing music in the style of Benny Goodman and bebop in trumpet player Dave Holdsworth's sextet. His first contact with improvising musicians came about through his compositions. When he wrote a piece featuring a trombone, somebody suggested to him that he use Paul Rutherford. Through Rutherford he got to know saxophonist Trevor Watts and percussionist John Stevens, who in turn invited Guy to the Little Theatre Club, the place where it was happening in London in the sixties.

In the Little Theatre Club Guy met Howard Riley for the first time. After a stay by Riley in the United States at the end of the sixties, Guy set up a trio with Riley which initially made music which could be traced back to Bill Evans' trio concept. In an interview with Rudy Koopmans in Jazzwereld (Jazzworld), May 1970, Arjen Gorter describes it as follows:

All the right ingredients: an intellectualistic fine-fingered pianist, a busy-bee drummer and that kid Guy who shifts through in a terrific way, in huge leaps.

It was the first time, to the best of my knowledge, that Guy's name appeared in the Dutch press. That trio recorded 5 albums with varying percussionists, among whom Tony Oxley and John Stevens. With Oxley, who broadened the sound spectrum of his percussion with electronics, playing in tempo was largely brushed aside. In the 1979 trio with Stevens and Guy the ensemble blossomed out. The intense collaboration in the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, one of the leading initiatives in the area of English improvised music, also yields rich rewards in this trio. But we are getting ahead of history.

Guy studied double bass as well as composition at the Guildhall School of Music at the end of the sixties. It was there he first learned about Igor Stravinsky's music, notable Le Sacre du Printemps, and Lamentation for the victims of Hiroshima by the Polish composer Krysztof Penderecki. From there he delved back into history. After completing his course Guy remained working as a practising musician and improviser. He was active as bass player in Christopher Hogwood's Academy of Ancient Music for twelve years, an ensemble which had the role of pioneer in the field of early music. Among other things he was a member of the Monteverdi Orchestra, the London Bach Orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and the London Sinfonietta. He was also active as composer. Under none other than Pierre Boulez his composition D had its premiere with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1974. Compositions followed later for the Kronos Quartet, the London Sinfonietta, City of London Sinfonia and Gemini. He also wrote ballet music for the London Contemporary Dance Theatre which was played live during the performances.

These activities in the 'classical' world which often took him to America whilst his colleague improvisers were displaying themselves on the mainland, were time-consuming. That is the reason why Guy was so rarely heard as improviser in the seventies. That was also why he was unable to give his full attention to the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra (LJCO). Barry Guy set up that orchestra in 1970, following the example of the Michael Mantler's Jazz Composers' Orchestra from New York. In the LJCO, next to such prominent free improvisers as Trevor Watts, Paul Rutherford, Evan Parker, Tony Oxley, Paul Lytton and Derek Bailey, are gathered, among others, the saxophonists Mike Osborne, Bernhard Living and Alan Wakeman and the trombonists Mike Gibbs and Paul Nieman. I give this list in order to indicate the cross-links in the London jazz scene. For example Osborne worked together with Rutherford and Parker in Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, while Living, Gibbs, Nieman and Wakeman were associated with Mike Westbrook. Rutherford has also played frequently with Westbrook. Within the circle of free improvisers there were also various cross-links. I limit myself here with a reference to Guy's role in Amalgam with Watts and Stevens, S.M.E., in Oxley's own groups and in the legendary trio Iskra 1903 with Rutherford and Bailey.

Guy's compositions for the LJCO should absolutely not be connected with 'The Third Stream music'. He even calls his compositions anti-Third Stream. The LJCO gives him the opportunity to seek a balance between improvisation and written material. Since his first composition for the LJCO Guy has always taken the improvisatory capacity of his orchestra members into account. In his Ode for Jazz Orchestra, in which he was inspired by Olivier Messiaen's Chronochromie, he places duos, trios, and quartets before the orchestra. In part six of Ode, in which Bailey is central as soloist, Iskra 1903 and the Howard Riley Trio turn up in such a way.

There are three periods to distinguish in the 25 year-old history of the LJCO. At the beginning the music scores were very detailed. They also worked with a conductor, Buxton Orr, Guy's composition teacher. Due to the constant refinement on the compositional side and radical abstraction, Guy alienated musicians from himself. For example Bailey left the orchestra because he absolutely could not feel at home with such an approach. In the second period he invited his fellow musicians to write pieces for the orchestra. Kenny Wheeler, Rutherford, Riley and Oxley delivered contributions. The orchestra also played a piece by conductor Orr, whilst in the repertoire of that period there was also a piece which Penderecki had written for the Globe Unity Orchestra. That repertoire offered a broad spectrum of complete,written scores, through the looser ones from Rutherford to the more graphic ones of Tony Oxley. Furthermore, the 'orchestra's composers' saw the business from the other side.

The decision to drop the conductor marked the third phase of the orchestra. According to Guy an orchestra with a conductor causes you to write for an orchestra with a conductor, and he wanted to get away from that. He advocated a looser approach, in which a few directions are sufficient and the musicians are responsible for taking initiative. He was very aware that a working method of that sort could not be achieved in a few years, but the construction of the orchestra has barely changed in the last ten years, so that everybody knows what they can expect from each other. There are still meticulously notated passages. That;'s how he, for example, will work out riffs, but in contrast to the orchestra's first period, the result heard is more supple, more natural.

By restricting his classical activities – he left Hogwood's ensemble because the emphasis lay more on making records than making music- he was able to pay more attention to his improvisatory sides.

Since 1987 the LJCO has found a permanent home at Intakt records in Zurich. Intakt is releasing, to celebrate the 25th anniversary, Ode and Stringer, an FMP/SAJ record from 1980, together with a new performance of Study, as a CD box. The LJCO is no 'working band'; the members are too occupied with their own groups, but the orchestra is project orientated. A part of these projects will be performed at the Taktlos Festival in Zurich, which again is closely associated with Intakt Records. That explains the relationship of the LJCO to Intakt Records.

After the double album Zurich concerts, in which the orchestra performed Guy's Polyhymnia next to pieces by Anthony Braxton, Taktlos changed over to the CD format: Harmos, Double Trouble, Theoria with Irene Schweizer as leading part and Portraits, which appeared last year. It is difficult to express a preference for one of these albums. Guy keeps on reaching his goal: a combination of structures and his fellow musician's freely taken initiatives. I cannot refrain from naming the saxophone section: Watts and Parker were there from the beginning, but the saxophonists Simon Picard, Peter McPhail and Paul Dunmall, all of whom came in the eighties, appear one by one to be incredibly inventive wind players. In Portraits the Evan Parker part is called Triple, a reference to one of he most interesting combinations of the last ten years: the Parker Guy Lytton Trio.

Apart from the LJCO, Guy hardly worked together with Parker and Lytton in the seventies. As we have seen, Guy was part of Iskra 1903. The percussionless construction gave a great clarity to the music. Stylistically the group fits into what is termed the English research into sound. That is an image of English improvised music which some still see before them, but such persons are evidently not aware of a trio such as Amalgam. Here Guy, Stevens and Watts make music in which the achievements of Ornette Coleman are linked with an individual expressiveness, playing in tempo alternates effortlessly with free rhythmic passages. Out of this music an insouciance and inspiration speaks which knows no equal. That is also a facet of the versatile English improvised music.

Barry Guy has always been the bass player for Evan Parker. He invited Guy to the improviser's Symposium during the Pisa Festival in 1980. The following year the gentlemen performed in Berlin combined as duo, a performance captured by Free Music Production. Performances with the addition of Lytton are scarce in the early eighties, especially in Holland. I remember a concert in Amsterdam from 1983 with George Lewis, trombone and electronics, as guest. Guy and Lytton also availed themselves with electronics; Guy possessed an extensive amount of pedals with which he could influence the sound, while Lytton operated his do-it-yourself apparatus. That use of electronics did not produce the powerful lines running through the music which distinguishes the trio now, but the tension running through was completely present. The trio went almost completely acoustic halfway through the eighties. Parker and Guy have since brought their solo playing to the highest form of perfection. by his means the acoustic possibilities have grown so that within the context of this trio the electronics could be abandoned. Parkers use of multiphonics makes it seem as if sometimes three wind players are at it, while Guy is by means of his extended techniques effortlessly able to double his lines. The trio can alternate explosive passages, in which the dry, cracking percussion from Lytton gives an extra dimension, with a pastoral peace of delicate flageolet-tones. Every note gets an intense physical charge. It is a miraculous threesome. Unimaginable, if you have never heard it.

A characteristic pronouncement by Barry Guy about his bass playing is that he attempts '...to make the instrument extremely small'. That is not a statement about his music, but it is about his way of playing. Guy seems to want again and again to get the whole instrument to resound in one go. A beautiful way to achieve this is a bow between the strings which he sweeps up in one tug. While this is vibrating away, he is busy somewhere else. He can get thin flageolet-ones from his strings with a brush. Using his bow he manages a fine, full sound which transforms into a biting tone. A graceful pizzicato can be transposed over the entire length of the strings in one lightning movement. Such a movement is characteristic of Guy's playing. It is the result of a thirty-year old conscious engagement with the instrument: between Guy's musical ideas and the resulting sound there are no barriers.

Fizzles is his latest solo CD; this was released on Guy's own label Maya Recordings. The title Fizzles is derived from a series of short prose pieces by Samuel Beckett from 1976. According to Guy Fizzles represents a moment in Beckett's writing '(...) where a more pronounced minimalism was in sight'. On the CD Fizzles is the collective name for five miniatures which he dedicates to Beckett. Minimalism and Guy seem an unlikely combination, but Fizzles sheds a whole different light on the exuberance which marks Guy's playing. In this way there appears to be a surprising similarity in a stripped grating noise by Guy and the stripped-to-the-bone prose by Beckett. Research into musical-rhythmic similarities would demand a separate article.

Barry Guy is highly conscious of the differences between composed and improvised music. Freedom in composed music is no way as great as in improvised music. With the LJCO he has found a fine balance between composition and freedom. In pure improvised music is every freedom, through this freedom becomes as he himself says '(...) tempered by vocabulary, wisdom, experience and the other players'. Such an attitude reveals a true musician. And that's what Barry Guy is, to the tips of his fingers which bind his mind to his double bass.

A Guy Apart

Michael Dervan

Article appeared in Irish Times on Thursday, November 13, 1997

The double bass is most familiar in one of two guises, as either the solid, none-too-agile lowest member of the symphony orchestra's string family or through the freer, nimbler, plucked bass lines of jazz. The profile of Kilkenny-resident, British bassist and composer Barry Guy, 50 this year, is however, in other areas. On the orchestral scene he has worked in chamber orchestras and early music bands. He's also one of the finest interpreters of the most demanding solo pieces produced by contemporary composers. In jazz he's renowned for his work in free improvisation. And his compositional output ranges from works for conventional orchestras and ensembles (he received the Royal Philharmonic Society's Award for Chamber Music Composition for 1991-'92) to pieces for the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, of which he is founder and artistic director.
It all started, he says, with the descant recorder in primary school and in the school military band in secondary school. Here he tried everything from trumpet to tuba and beyond, settling on valve trombone. More interesting than the band itself, however, seems to have been the Dixieland band that was formed within it. " 'the naughty boys' band,' we used to call it. They wanted a little bit of bass line, not on the trombone but on something that thumped, so I took up the tea-chest bass, you know, one pole and a line, a reflection of the skiffle thing that was happening at the time."

The little group turned out to be quite successful, getting gigs in working men's clubs (Labour not Conservative) and this led to the purchase of a real double bass, with the luxury of four strings, and major problems of where to put the fingers (solved by marking cardboard and putting it under the strings!).

Later, as the Peter Robinson Hot Four, Guy and his friends used to go to jazz clubs and play the interval, sometimes heading off after the show for late-night jam sessions with well-known blues and jazz performers. It helped that the place they headed off to was an off-licence. In spite of all of this, Barry Guy's main interest was not music at all but 'drawing art' and when he left school he spent three years in an architect's office "working with three elderly gentlemen who taught me how to draw churches, do Georgian restoration and the like". At the same time, though, "there was a saxophone player in the band who knew a lot about the American avant-garde, John Cage, David Tudor, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg. I don't know where he accumulated this knowledge. He persuaded me to go along to take composition classes he was taking at Goldsmith's College. It set in motion a quest for research, finding new things."
Eventually, he decided to study music on a full-time basis. He recalls his audition at the Guildhall. When asked to continue a given fragment in Mozartian style, he launched into "a screaming improvisation" which impressed one of the professors, Buxton Orr, enough to guarantee him a place. "Since I'd been working for three years, I felt it was a great privilege to be allowed to study music full-time. A lot of people came straight from school and I found them wasting their time more than anything, because it was an extension of school."

At college, "everyday was a great discovery". He was, he says, "almost like a vacuum cleaner" sucking in everything from Monteverdi to Stravinsky and Xenakis. And at the same time, he had moved out of swing into bebop and modern jazz and was involved in the early experimentalism of the Little Theatre Club in St. Martin's Lane, "the workshop for the new, free music".

The impetus here was to move away from Afro-American jazz, "to find some European way of playing improvised music. We had to discard some of the old models, to break down the old buildings, to build something fresh. It was like going into a dark tunnel with no real way out, necessarily. But we knew it had to be done in order to find a new type of discipline. Once you drop a lot of the conventional and routine things of the song form, like regular recurring harmonies, certain rhythmic aspects, the melodic aspect, we wanted to find new ways of defining how we play. It was exciting and scary at the same time. "In this scenario, the first sound would be the moments of creativity. Where that note or sound arrived or how it arrived in space, the qualities of that sound, the intentions of the player that made the first sound, all of these things were a type of evaluation that had to be dealt with at the time.

"It's incremental, the way that the whole language is built up. And for me that's why I'm so interested in this aspect. It's a form of communication which is pure between people. I always call it an intensely socialist type of music, because you're having to play this music without composition. What you're dealing with is human beings. You're actually getting right to the heart of how people communicate with each other. There's always the sense of finding something new about somebody."

He counters the let-it-all-hang-out, soul-baring view of the free improvisation with a caution that "there is an intellectual process". He quotes Cartier-Bresson to the effect that the thinking should be done before and after taking a photograph, not while taking the photograph. "A lot of the way we interact in this type of music has to be intuitive but, at the same time, it has to have a huge back-ground knowledge to make the thing work. If you go on stage and let it all hang out, that's sloppy discipline, like talking to your therapist or something.

"What is interesting for me in free improvised music is that you're creating a cogent argument, a music which makes sense to the intellect as well as the heart. It's this amazing fine balance of human endeavour. If you do it right and infuse it with energy and commitment, I think the music can come over as being as solid and as convincing as a piece of composition. But it's different, because you're not dealing with composition in the normal sense of the word. You're dealing with creation, creation at the moment. I don't see that as a lesser music than writing something down on paper. After all, I'm a composer as well as a performer. It just means that two musics happen in different spaces, in different time spans.

Erkundungen im Grenzgebiet

Improvisator, Interpret und Komponist – die drei Leben des englischen Bassisten Barry Guy

von Christoph Wagner

Manchmal führen nur Umwege ans Ziel. Das gilt zumindest für den englischen Bassisten und Komponisten Barry Guy, dessen Karriere alles andere als geradlinig verlief. Guy gehört zur seltenen Spezie musikalischer Grenzgänger, die sich mit gleicher Sicherheit in verschiedenen musikalischen Gattungen bewegen. Der 1947 in London geborene Musiker hat sich zuerst als Freejazz-Improvisator einen Namen gemacht, bevor er sich als Interpret Alter Musik profilierte, um danach als Komponist zeitgenössischer Musik Anerkennung zu finden. In seinem neusten Projekt, einer Kooperation mit seiner Lebensgefährtin Maya Homburger, einer renommierten Violinistin der internationalen Early Music-Szene, wagt Guy erstmals den Brückenschlag zwischen Alter Musik und Neuer Musik, Komposition und Improvisation, Freejazzbaß und Barockvioline.

Daß Barry Guy überhaupt die Musikerlaufbahn einschlug, war eher Zufall. Ursprünglich hatte er anderes vor. Nach dem Schulabschluß beschäftigte er sich intensiv mit moderner Malerei und mittelalterlicher Architektur. Drei Jahre arbeitete er im Büro eines Restaurators gotischer Kathedralen und trug sich mit dem Gedanken, die Kunstakademie zu besuchen. Erst als diese Pläne scheiterten, rückte die Musik wieder ins Zentrum seines Lebens.

Schon im Blasorchester der Schule war er in den Bannkreis des Jazz geraten. Mit ein paar „bösen Buben“ formierte er eine Dixieband, mit der er in Skiffle-Manier mit Zuberbaß in Arbeiterclubs und Pubs auftrat. Das warf genug Geld ab, um sich einen richtigen Kontrabaß zu kaufen, mit dem sich Guy bald Richtung Bebop davonmachte.

Die rebellische Attitude des modernen Jazz paßte in die Zeit. An den Universitäten gärte es. Die Studenten probten den Aufstand. Es wurde gegen den Vietnamkrieg demonstriert. Hippies und Kommunarden schreckten ehrbare Bürger auf. Traditionelle Werte wurden verworfen. Durch die Gesellschaft wehte ein frischer Wind.

Die Künste blieben davon nicht unberührt. Im Little Theatre Club in der Londoner St. Martin´s Lane trafen sich die jungen Wilden der englischen Jazzszene, die einer gemeinsamen Vision folgten: Sie wollte über Hergebrachtes hinaus! „Die etablierte Jazzszene glaubte, wir seien verrückt, weil wir alle Schranken niederrißen,“ erinnert sich Guy. “Wir spielten nicht mehr die bekannten Jazzstandards, sondern verabschiedeten uns von Harmonie, Melodie und Ryhthmus. Man war allgemein der Meinung, daß wir den Jazz kaputt machen wollten.“ Im Little Theatre Club fanden regelmäßig Sessions statt, organisiert vom Schlagzeuger John Stevens, der Barry Guy einlud, im Spontaneous Music Ensemble mitzuwirken.

Inspirationen strömten damals von vielen Seiten ein. Barry Guy hatte sich am renommierten Guildhall College in London im den Fächern Komposition und Kontrabaß eingeschrieben und jeder Studientag wurde zu einer Entdeckungsreise. Guy verspürte Nachholbedarf und sog alles auf wie ein Schwamm - ob Monteverdi, Strawinsky oder Xenakis. „Ich schwamm plötzlich in einem endlosen Meer musikalischer Möglichkeiten“, beschreibt er die neue Situation rückblickend. „Es war wirklich spannend und euphorisierend.“

Rückwirkungen blieben nicht aus. Mehr und mehr versuchte man sich im Little Theatre Club von den amerikanischen Jazz-Vorbildern zu lösen. Ideen und Konzepte der Neue Musik kamen dabei sehr gelegen. Guy begann sich intensiv mit Zwölftonmusik und seriellen Kompositionstechniken zu beschäftigen. Zudem organisierte er Konzerte mit Neuer Musik und führte selbst Werke der Avantgarde auf.

Aus dem Kreis des Little Theatre Club schälten sich nach und nach verschiedene Ensembles heraus und meistens war Barry Guy als Hausbassist mit von der Partie. Er wurde Mitglied im Trio des Pianisten Howard Riley, spielte mit Trevor Watts´ Amalgam und in der „Open Music“-Formation von Bob Downes. Sein Radius begann sich mehr und mehr zu weiten. Er nahm an Bandprojekten des Schlagzeugers Tony Oxley teil, um selbst im Juni 1970 mit Paul Rutherford (Posaune) und Derek Bailey (Gitarre) das Trio Iskra 1903 aus der Taufe zu heben, benannt nach Lenins Exilzeitschrift „Iskra“ (=Funke), was sowohl politisch wie musikalisch als Programm zu verstehen war.

Zielstrebig erweiterte Barry Guy seine Ausdruckspalette. Er bearbeitete die Baßsaiten nicht nur mit unterschiedlichen Bögen, sondern schlug sie mit verschiedenen Stöcken und Stäben an, ließ sie knarren, quietschen, scheppern und gegen das Griffbrett knallen. Eine eigene musikalische Handschrift nahm langsam Gestalt an, die durch eine fiebrige Unruhe, dynamische Ausbrüche und kaskadenhafte Tongirlanden gekennzeichnet war.

Die Gründung des London Jazz Composers Orchestra 1972, die Barry Guy maßgeblich betrieben hatte, stimulierte die Phantasie. Experimentelle Kompositionsverfahren und freie Improvisation sollten in dieser Großformation, die aus der Creme der Londoner Jazzavantgarde bestand, unter einen Hut gebracht werden. „Energie ist eine der zentralen Kategorien der Free Music. Ich versuchte mit den Kompositionen, die Abläufe stärker zu kontrollieren, um die Energie, über die die Musiker verfügen, zu bündeln. Damit hoffte ich, die Free Music noch kräftiger zu machen,“ verdeutlicht Barry Guy seine Intentionen.

Das Gegenteil trat ein. Einige der Musiker fühlten sich als Pendler zwischen zwei Welten überfordert und ließen sich nicht ans Gängelband festgelegter Parts und ausnotierten Passagen legen, was als Affront gegen das Freejazz-Ethos der totalen Freiheit verstanden wurde. Nach vier Jahren wurde das Projekt zeitweise auf Eis gelegt, um erst 1980 mit verbessertem Konzept und teilweise anderer Besetzung wieder zu neuem Leben erweckt zu werden.

Barry Guy hatte allerdings die Auszeit genutzt und sich als Komponist zeitgenössischer Werke einen Namen gemacht. 1974 wurde seine Komposition „D“ von Pierre Boulez und dem BBC Symphony Orchestra uraufgeführt. Im gleichen Jahr entstand auch das Orchsterwerk „Flagwalk“ , danach „Eos“, das 1977 bei den Donaueschinger Musiktagen, gespielt vom Radiosymphonieorchester des Südwestfunks unter Ernest Bour, seine Premiere erlebte.

Seitdem ist das Werkverzeichnis von Barry Guy auf über 40 Kompositionen angewachsen, deren Spektrum von Kammer- über Theater- bis zu Filmmusik reicht, wobei die prominentesten Auftraggeber die Gruppe Fretwork, das Kronos Quartet und die Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields waren, für deren Cello-Ensemble 1991 das Stück „Look Up!“ entstand.

Weil ihm auf die Dauer die Existenz als Freejazzproletarier und Gelegenheitskomponist zu unsicher war, verschaffte sich Barry Guy in den 80er Jahren ein drittes Standbein. Er bewarb sich um die Stelle des Bassisten in Christopher Hogwoods Academy of Ancient Music, einer der profiliertesten Early Music-Formationen auf der Insel, und bekam den Job. Zahlreiche Tourneen und Schallplattenaufnahmen absolvierte er mit Bravour, wodurch sein Name in Early Music-Kreisen langsam einen guten Klang bekam. Er avancierte zum gesuchten Spezialisten für die tieferen Register, ob mit The English Consort oder The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Das Hinabtauchen in die Musikgeschichte entwickelte eine eigene Faszination. Was anfangs aus finanziellen Erwägungen begann, wurde zu einem festen Bestandteil seiner musikalischen Existenz. „Es bedeutet mir viel, auch klassische Musik zu spielen,“ bekräftigt Barry Guy. „Das hat nicht nur ökonomische Gründe. Für mich beinhaltet es, daß ich Neues entdecken kann, neue musikalische Ausdrucksformen, neue Klangwelten.“

Über einen Mangel an Arbeit brauchte sich Guy nun nicht mehr zu beklagen. Er mutierte zum musikalischen Hans Dampf, der bis zu drei Sessions pro Tag absolvierte. Morgens Beethoven-Orchesterprobe, mittags Monteverdi-Plattenaufnahmen, abends vielleicht ein Freemusic-Gig mit Evan Parker und Paul Lytton. Dafür war blitzschnelles Umschalten erforderlich. Untergründige Verbindungslinie wurden sichtbar. „In der Barockmusik gibt es ebenfalls improvisatorische Möglichkeiten in den Sonaten für Cembalo bzw. Violine, oder was Ausschmückungen und Verzierungen anbelangt.“

Trotz dieser Paralellen macht es für Guy wenig Sinn, die Barockmusik zum Jazz des 18. Jahrhunderts umzumodeln - im Gegenteil. Seine Intentionen zielen vielmehr darauf ab, Stilgrenzen nicht zu verwischen und Unterschiede zu kultivieren. „Manche Leute meinen ja, die eine Spielpraxis schließe die andere aus,“ erklärt Guy. „Ich habe dagegen die Erfahrung gemacht, daß sie einander nicht stören. Wenn ich klassische Musik interpretieren, dann interpretiere ich. Spiele ich improvisierte Musik, dann improvisiere ich. Ich hab´ beim Improvisieren noch nie den Zwang verspürt, ein bißchen Mozart oder Bach zu integrieren. Diese Mixturen mag ich nicht. Ich hab´ da eine puristische Musikauffassung.“

Die Erforschung historischer Aufführungspraktiken hat den Klang revolutioniert. Neben der Wahl der richtigen Saiten, des Bogens und der Stimmung rückte die Frage nach dem adäquaten Instrument in den Mittelpunkt. Über die Jahre hat sich Guy ein Arsenal von sieben Kontrabäße zugelegt, die aus verschiedenen Stilepochen stammen und alle ihren speziellen Ton besitzen. Für die authentische Spielpraxis der Early Music steht ihm ein Instrument aus der Werkstatt von Gasparo da Salo von 1560 zur Verfügung, von dem es nur noch ein paar wenige Exemplare gibt. Seine feinnervigen Freejazzimprovisationen klingen dagegen besser auf einem Modell vom Ende des vorigen Jahrhunderts. „Die Spannung der Saiten war im 16. Jahrhundert viel geringer. Damals besaß der Baß sechs Saiten und der Steg lag um einiges tiefer, was zusammen einen vollkommen andere Ton ergibt,“ bringt er die Diskrepanz auf den Punkt.

Auf einer Tournee mit der Academy of Ancient Music lernte Barry Guy 1988 seine Lebensgefährtin Maya Homburger kennen, eine Züricherin, die acht Jahre mit der Camerata Bern musiziert hatte, bevor sie Mitte der 80er Jahre nach England übersiedelte, um Barockvioline bei Trevor Pinnocks The English Consort und den English Barock Solists von John Eliot Gardiner zu spielen, mit dem sie als Solistin zahlreiche Hauptwerke der Barockliteratur aufnahm.

Die Partnerschaft Guy/Homburger führte in den letzten Jahren zu einigen spannenden Kollaborationen, die mit den Möglichkeiten der Kombination von Alter und Neuer Musik experimentierten. Mehrere Kompositionen für Barockvioline und Kontrabaß entstanden, wobei Barry Guy selbst ein paar Stücke beisteuerte. „Für uns war es eine ganz natürliche Entwicklung,“ erklärt Maya Homburger . „Da ich als Barockgeigerin laufend Bach, Telemann und Biber übe, ist Barry, seit wir zusammen leben, laufend dieser Musik ausgesetzt. Daraus hat sich ergeben, daß wir beide Stile einmal zusammen in einem Konzert präsentierten. Barry hat ein Ohr für diese Klänge entwickelt und wie sie am besten in zeitgenössische Kompositionen einzubauen sind.“

Im Gegensatz zur Hektik und Sperrigkeit seiner Baßimprovisationen, zielt Guy darauf ab, die Stärken der Barockvioline voll zu Geltung zu bringen. Seine Kompositionen heben die Ausgewogenheit und die Schönheit des Klangs von Maya Homburgers Meisterinstrument hervor, das 1740 in der Werkstatt von Antonio della Costa in Treviso entstanden ist und sich bis heute in seinem Originalzustand befindet. „Barry hat seine Stücke rhetorisch so konzipiert, daß sie der Barockgeige wie auf den Leib geschnitten sind,“ sagt Homburger. Das war kein Kinderspiel, macht doch die unterschiedliche Stimmung der beiden Instrumente das Komponieren zu einer kniffligen Angelegenheit. Da die Barockgeige einen halben Ton tiefer gestimmt ist, mußte Musik entworfen werden, bei der sich nicht eine der beiden Stimmen fortwährend in einer ungewöhnlichen Tonart befindet.

Erkenntnisgewinn gab es auf beiden Seiten. Auch Maya Homburger hat von der Zusammenarbeit profitiert. „Ich hab´ mehr von Barry und seine Freejazz-Kollegen über die Interpretation barocker Musik gelernt, als je zuvor in meinem Leben. Seit ich mit Barry zusammen lebe, spiele ich diese Stücke von Jahr zu Jahr freier. So nähern sich die beiden Bereiche einander an.“

Aktuelle Neuerscheinung:

– Barry Guy/Maya Homburger: Ceremony. ECM New Series 1643/453847-2

Auswahldiskographie Barry Guy:

– Spontaneous Music Ensemble (mit Barry Guy): Withdrawal (1966–67). Emanem 4020 CD.

– Barry Guy, Even Parker, Paul Lytton: At the Vortex (1996). Emanam 4022 CD.

– Barry Guy/London Jazz Composers' Orchestra: Portraits. Intakt CD
035/1994

– Iskra 1903 (Barry Guy/Paul Rutherford/Phillip Wachsmann): NCKPA. Maya Recordings MCD 9502.

Auswahldiskographie Maya Homburger:

– G.P.H. Telemann: XII Fantasie Per Il Violina Senza Basso 1735. Maya Recordings MCD 9302. (Carrickmourne, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland)

– J.S. Bach: 6 Sonatas For Violin & Harpsichord (Malcolm Proud). Maya Recordings MCD 9503 (2 CDs).

Improvising the Score

Bill Shoemaker

(a version of this article appeared in Jazz Times April 2001)

Barry Guy and Maya Homburger have been moving bit by bit into their new home in County Kilkenny, Ireland, taking much longer than they ever expected. The process has been repeatedly delayed by their respective touring schedules. Guy is a bassist and composer whose credentials run the gamut from early music to improvised music; Homburger is a Baroque violin specialist who has branched out into what the British call contemporary music, and beyond. Luckily, their schedules have increasingly meshed since forming the duo featured on <<Ceremony>> (ECM New Series), a luminous program of solo and duo readings of works by Guy and 17th Century composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber. Still, it was only during a recent lull before delving into a series of projects – concerts with conductor John Eliot Gardiner's Bach Pilgrimage and commissions for Nova Scotia's Upstream Ensemble and the Munich-based International Composers and Improvisers Forum – that Guy was finally able to retrieve some books from storage. Serendipitously, he came across Elias Canetti's <<Crowds And Power>>; having formed the Barry Guy New Orchestra in 2000 after 28 years at the helm of the groundbreaking London Jazz Composers Orchestra, Canetti's treatise prompted Guy to reevaluate some of the fundamental premises of his work.

"It made me realize that I have a crowd of musicians to contend with," Guy said of the 10-piece BGNO, which includes such acclaimed improvisers as pianist Marilyn Crispell and saxophonists Evan Parker and Mats Gustafsson. For Guy, rereading Canetti "also brought back the old specter of command and implementation, and fascism and freedom, as it relates to composers and improvisers." Such issues were front and center in the polemical English improvised music scene of the '60s and '70s, when Guy worked with Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Iskra 1903, and pianist Howard Riley's trio (all of which are represented by Emanem CDs). In a way, Guy's LJCO Intakt recordings comprise a teflon-like argument for the legitimacy of the composer in improvised music, as his works are casebook studies in the integration of improvisation and predetermined materials, and the empowerment of improvisers to substantively shape the work.

Since "it could be said that I am exercising some kind of politically incorrect power over them by writing a score, however loose," Guy tested the relative freedoms of his scores against the minimally scripted performances of Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, of which Guy is a charter member. "Prior to a performance, Evan hands us what I would call a mini-score, which is not much more than a list of events, so we have a clear idea of who comes in where, who goes out where, and where there are crescendos and overlaps," Guy explained, detailing his longtime colleague's methods (Guy first played with Parker in a '67 edition of SME; but, it is through their ongoing trio with percussionist Paul Lytton that the two are most commonly associated). "While the implementation of his score is much less specified, the basic tenet of Evan's scores and mine are the same: these are the structures to be followed over the course of the performance," Guy concluded.

"Given that there's an element of command even in (Butch Morris') Conduction method of using gestures and body movements," surmised Guy, whose contemporary music compositions have been performed by the ECM-affiliated Hilliard Ensemble and the iconic conductor-composer Pierre Boulez, "I suppose that the most a composer can do is develop an organic process with an ensemble so that there is a seamlessness between materials the composer brings to the situation, and the language the composer and the ensemble articulates together through improvisation." That was Guy's agenda for debuting BGNO as part of the 2000 Mostly Modern series at The Bank of Ireland Arts Centre in Dublin. Over a four-day period, Guy programmed lunchtime and evening concerts featuring BGNO members in solo, duo, and trio settings, while holding open afternoon orchestra rehearsals. The culmination was the premiere of Guy's album-length composition, <<Inscape – Tableaux>> (the Intakt CD is from a subsequent studio recording).

"I didn't have to play in every concert, so I was able to listen to the various improvisation-based languages being used within the band, and use the process to build the piece from constituent parts," Guy related. "One of the impulses of putting together the band was to bring together acquaintances I've made in duo and trio situations – within the band, you have the Parker/Guy/Lytton trio, my trio with Mats Gustafsson and (drummer) Raymond Strid, and the trio with Marilyn Crispell and Lytton, which is intense and ongoing," he explained. "The process of having these concerts and rehearsals together in such a concentrated way caused these various languages we have articulated over the years to converge as we built the piece, which I thought was very apropos of the word 'Inscape', which means an unique inner quality or essence of an object shown in a work of art."

Almost immediately, Guy confronted the differences between LJCO and BGNO. "There were obvious trade offs," Guy explained. "With the LJCO , I had amazing sonorities available in terms of orchestration, and to go down to ten pieces has given me some headaches in some ways; but, in many respects, the music really takes off in ways and feeds upon its own energy with ten pieces." Yet, the biggest difference was Guy's ability to delegate conducting chores among members of BGNO. "Since I want to concentrate on playing the bass as much as possible, I set up strategies so that I don't end up flailing my arms about all the time," said Guy, who conducted all but the earliest LJCO recordings. "So, I'm passing some vital things over to the players. In the beginning of <<Inscape – Tableaux>>, the placement of the brass unisons is determined by the musicians. They get it together on their own. There is one section of the piece where the band is split down the middle – five and five – and Mats directs one half while I direct the other. That's something I couldn't have really done with the LJCO. Five and five are manageable numbers in a graphic area."

For Guy, graphic notation is an important tool for the composer walking the tightrope of empowering musicians while retaining some sort of personal imprint on the composition. Pulling out a book by Scottish painter, Alan Davies, whose work he refers to in his graphic pieces, Guy quoted, "'I work with the conviction that art is something basically natural, an activity motivated by a faith in the actuality of existence, which is outside and beyond knowing.'" "For me," Guy continued, "that sums up quite a lot of what I'm trying to get at. There's the conviction of actually doing it, that it is natural, and that it is out of my control beyond a certain point." Guy acknowledges that it is the composer's role to catalyze music into that otherness to which Davies refers, but only if there is "a real chemistry within an ensemble. I must say that chemistry is not just this magical spark; it is the ability to solve problems, because there are always a number of predictable and unpredictable problems that arise in creating a piece like <<Inscape – Tableaux>>. That's what I like about this band – they go beyond the score and make things happen. They take the parts I write to that otherness, that newness. That is how the power is shared more evenly, I think."

Usually, the phrase "collective statement" is applied to music which has no clear compositional guidelines. Yet <<Inscape – Tableaux>> is a thoroughly collective statement, despite being liberally peppered with the compositional signatures Guy has employed since LJCO's landmark 1972 recording, <<Ode>> (Intakt) – intrusions of advanced jazz-informed, jabbing staccato figures, wisps of bluesiness, and glints of English pastoral lyricism. However, these materials do not function not as a static superstructure, but as flexible vertebrae, moving with the unfolding of improvisation-based events. Subsequently, each member of BGNO – including trumpeter Herb Robertson, trombonist Johannes Bauer, tuba player Per Ake Holmlander, and reed player Hans Koch – repeatedly shapes the piece.

Luckily, Guy's bass is heard to much better effect on <<Inscape – Tableaux>> than on LJCO's discs; not only did the dual chores of conducting and playing limit his options, but there was also one or two other bassists of the caliber of Dave Holland and Barre Phillips on the gig. Throughout the program, Guy's lightning runs, surreal bursts of textures (which are often achieved through means that have to be seen to be believed), and time-stopping glimpses of beauty, confirm his complete command of the instrument and his status as a starkly original artist. Still, the full range of Guy's bass playing cannot be comprehensively conveyed through a single recording, which makes the imminent release of <<insert title>> (Intakt) with Crispell and Lytton all the more timely. Longtime listeners will savor their reworkings of such LJCO works as Harmos and Double Trouble II, as well as compare their reading of Guy's lovely ballad Odyssey, which is woven into <<Inscape – Tableaux>>.

'It's very intriguing, the way Marilyn, Paul, and I work as a trio, Guy reflected. 'There's something very special about the way Marilyn voices the piano. Marilyn likes to work harmonically and motivically, with a lot of long scale development. She builds lines that can really take your head off with their complexities, and then do something very delicate.' Guy also likes the interaction between Crispell and Lytton, a percussionist who 'can play tiny little sounds for seems to be ages and then suddenly roar. You can never be quite sure of what he's thinking. Both Marilyn and Paul have the capacity for creating these really dramatic contrasts, which is something I have been very involved with in both my writing for LJCO and BGNO.'

'For this album, I didn't want to do the obvious thing – have a head, do the improvisations, and go back to the head again,' Guy continued. 'On the piece I originally wrote for LJCO – Harmos – we began to improvise with the goal of reaching the tune, but not knowing exactly how we'd get there. I like the idea of reaching a moment where it seems to be the right decision to move into the tune.' For Guy, this method 'introduces a certain mystery, because nobody knows when exactly it will happen. It's a more organic process than everybody nodding their heads at the same time to go into the tune. It's feathered, which is a quality I tried to give the tunes themselves, to sound improvisational. Marilyn is wonderful at this, making it seamless from she goes from a song to an improvisation, or back again. I think the reason she can do this, and all of the other amazing things she does, is that whatever her soul is telling her, she lets it out.'

As for his own approach, Guy acknowledged that 'compared to the early days with Howard, there's a world of difference in what I'm doing with the instrument. Old age has given me some understanding. I'm more expressive, the chops are better, the fluency is better, and I've opened up the coloration.' Guy credited his new five-string bass, which 'has opened up a new dimension to my playing. It's so resonant that it invites you to play a hanging note, and it's good with the bow, as well. Having this new instrument is one of those moments in life where a door opens up and you go, "Wow!"'

Gearbox:

Barry Guy's five-string bass was made in 1997 by London instrument maker Roger Dawson. It is equipped with Thomastick strings and a Schertler pickup. Guy owns two amplifiers: a custom-made Yseult and a Walter Woods.

Listening Pleasures:

Igor Strawinsky: Rite of Spring, Ritual Dance:
Pierre Boulez, Cleveland Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon)

Charles Mingus: Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (Impulse!)

Iannis Xenakis: Pithoprakta and Metastaseis: Maurice le Roux, Orchestre de l'O.R.T.F. (le chant du Monde)

Albert Ayler: Spiritual Unity (ESP Disk)

Claudio Monteverdi: Vespers of 1610: John Eliot Gardiner, English Baroque Soloists (Archiv)

J.S.Bach: Six sonatas for violin and harpsichord: Maya Homburger (violin) Malcolm Proud (harpsichord) (Maya Recordings)

John Coltrane: The Heavyweight Champion – The Complete Altantic Recordings (Rhino)

Anton Webern: Complete Works: Pierre Boulez et al (Deutsche Grammophon)

Bill Evans: The Complete Riverside Recordings (Riverside)

Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch (Blue Note)

Seeds of Sound

Declan O'Driscoll

Music is sound. Sound is mystery. Unseen but felt (it can make you do the strangest things). Improvisers play music for the mind (from their fecund, instantly responsive minds) and for the body too and the spirit (wherever it may reside). The emotional impact of their music – it's felt feeling – is too often ignored, but it's there in the giving and in the receiving. It is quite moving to see, and hear, musicians transforming the weight of their being into truth-bearing sound; reaching for a level of expression they understand to be crucial. There is no other reason for doing it, for being there.

When the Barry Guy New Orchestra played for the first time, at a concert in Dublin, more than a few of those present – in a capacity-straining, adulatory, munificent audience – felt almost overwhelmed by what they heard when Inscape – Tableaux was given it's premier performance. A fervent complexity, an immediate communication. A beautiful sound that relocated the locus of beauty (or what is considered to be beautiful). "Much that is beautiful must be discarded/So that we may resemble a taller/Impression of ourselves."*

Nothing about the composition, nor the many improvisations latticed through it paid regard to fashion. The distancing defences of post-modernism – it's pasteurised lack of resolve – were ignored, thwarted by the simple statement of unselfconscious seriousness and an absolute commitment to the importance of the continuous now. "That their merely being there/means something."* It spoke of vitality, it blossomed. Seeds of sound germinated and grew before us, revealing the colour and shape of their inherent energy.

The music that night suggested so many possibilities. It's astonishing blast still resonates. When it ended we were suddenly bewildered, left shaking our heads; trying to think of words that might catch the music's echo. We moved around the room, uttering the word 'amazing' to faces we knew as our pulse rates gradually regained their normal beat.

*Quotations from poems by John Ashbery.

Behind Barry Guy's New Orchestra

By Greg Buium CODA Magazine, March-April 2002

When the Barry Guy New Orchestra reassembled in Vancouver last June for just its fourth concert, its first in over a year, the improvised music set couldn't believe their luck. It was, by any standard measure, a coup. Considering the ten-piece group's lineup, an exceptional gathering of European and American improvisers, and the sheer size of its signature piece, Guy's seven-part composition, Inscape – Tableaux, finding a festival for its first (and only) North American appearance wasn't easy.

"We've got so many amazing players in this band we can present almost anything," Guy told me in the middle of the group's four-day whirlwind through town. "It's very hard to persuade a festival organizer to utilize the potential of the group. To say, 'Well, look: Other than the big band we actually have the [Evan] Parker Trio, we have the Guy /[Mats] Gustafsson trio. Or you can have the Marilyn Crispell Trio. And more.'"

But the Vancouver International Jazz Festival didn't need much convincing. Breaking off into a variety of duos, trios, and quartets, the orchestra blanketed the festival's first few days. In some respects, the BGNO (as Guy is given to calling it) simply recreated its first performances in Dublin last year. To debut the new group Guy set-up four days of music, plotting out a compelling network of groupings and daily rehearsals, culminating in the premiere of Inscape – Tableaux. For some of the players it was the first time they'd ever met.

"The process that took place in Dublin was actually quite important," Guy explained. "One thing I wanted to do was to acquaint us all, and the audience, with the voices in the band. Kind of lay the skeleton bare before we ever came around to playing the final piece. And it was a very interesting process not only for the audience but for ourselves because all the players always listened to everybody else. So we were informing ourselves of the way the players interacted in different groupings."

It was a masterstroke – and, for Barry Guy, something not unfamiliar. For nearly thirty years with the London Jazz Composers Orchestra (LJCO) he's tackled the often problematic relationship between composition and improvisation, a lifetime trying to make improvised music work in large group settings. "Guy's LJCO recordings," Bill Shoemaker recently suggested, "comprise a Teflon-like argument for the legitimacy of the composer in improvised music, as his works are casebook studies in the integration of improvisation and predetermined materials and the empowerment of improvisers to substantively shape the work." Indeed, the BGNO fits snugly into this tradition. Built on the questions (and problems) posed in the LJCO, Barry Guy's New Orchestra was born out of its predecessor's unwieldy economics.

"The genesis of the new group, I suppose, came out of the fact, the horrible reality, that getting work for the London Jazz Composers Orchestra was actually getting more and more difficult," Guy recalled. "The LJCO was always a large animal to deal with, to keep it moving. There was no such thing as funding. We funded it basically by selling instruments over the years. I suppose I can put my Baroque music days as the progenitor of the LJCO."

After the LJCO's last concert at the 1998 Berlin Jazz Festival (with Marilyn Crispell and Maggie Nicols as guests) – "a remarkable evening," Guy recalls, "because the band was on absolutely top form" – the prospects looked bleak. "The months passed after Berlin, we tried to get some more work, and basically the information coming back to us was that nobody has any money for big bands, unless you have government support. Patrik Landolt from Intakt wanted to do another album and he said, 'Look, why don't you think of a smaller band.' Which to me was the unthinkable because in a way that's my baby, the LJCO, with the size of it – the orchestration, the understanding how I could write for it. A ten-piece band seemed a proposition that was untenable. However, it was suggested as a financially easier option."

Landolt persisted. "He said, 'Why don't you just give a thought to who you'd want in the band.' That was the difficult thing because I had all the guys that were in the LJCO who'd I'd worked with for years. But I decided to just let that be, to push that to one side and find the reasons for putting a ten-piece band together – and who to get into it. It seemed to me that the best way of doing this was to almost get back to the first principles that I had with the LJCO: to gather around under this umbrella a group of players that I had recently been working with in small groups, in duos, trios. And also players that had played with each other in various groupings over the years.

"So the Parker Trio was the obvious starting point because I love working with Evan and I love working with Paul [Lytton]. And of course then there was the Swedish trio with Mats Gustafsson and [drummer] Raymond Strid. So there were two, for me, very interesting trios: one younger one, and the other established but dealing with trio music in a completely different way. I thought that would be quite an interesting focus, and axis point. And then I had been working with Marilyn in trio formations, either with Gerry Hemingway or Paul Lytton, so it would seem to be a necessity to get Marilyn in. And I was wanting to write some things for Marilyn anyway – some ballads, slower things – since she was interested in that area. And she had also made records with the Parker Trio and the Gustafsson Trio.

"I wanted a band that was reasonably international, which reflected my experiences over a period of years. I had done some excellent duos with Hans Koch and wanted a bass and contrabass clarinet sound in this ensemble because I realized that once you're coming down from the seventeen-piece to a ten-piece, coloration is quite important, absolutely vital to this orchestration.

"But I wanted to keep a strong brass section. [Trumpeter] Herb Robertson had played with the LJCO in America and Berlin. He came in and I thought he was an excellent player, kind of revitalized the brass section in a way. And he had made an album with Paul Lytton, so there was that connection. Then [trombonist] Johannes Bauer. I'd done quite a lot of duos with him in Germany, on and off. We kept on meeting. And I thought he had a very positive attitude to improvising and reading music. He's a very good reader, strong sound, and also a really nice guy, as well. I was also interested in the chemistry of the group. What I didn't want was a lot of superstars in the ensemble who would just get on each other's nerves. So I tried to find this arcane balance: to get not only the music to work but the people to work with each other, as well."

And tuba: Per Åke Holmlander, a Swedish player that played in Mats's big band. He was such a good player, very powerful, good improviser, really nice guy, knew the Swedes well, of course. So that was the Viking Trio, in a way (with Raymond Strid on drums), a very special dimension.

"The other thing was, I had to devise music in which I could play bass instead of conducting all the time. You see, I do some conducting in this piece but also I had to imagine a piece in which I could actually step back and let the direction of several parts of it take place within the band itself. So I had to have people who had good initiative. Mats had directed his own orchestra so there was already a fellow traveler. If I needed somebody else to go, 'OK, guys, mobilize here,' he could be relied upon to do that."

Having, as Guy characterized it, "accepted the ultimatum that this was going to be a reality," he began to write – or to at least think about writing. "For quite a while I didn't necessarily do anything on the piece," he recalls. "But there were moments, when I was walking somewhere or sitting at the drawing board working on something else, I would suddenly visualize the BGNO and how it could come together, just sound-wise, as an ensemble. There was a period of gestation: I was having to adjust to the possibilities, the sonic expectations, compared with the LJCO. But there came a point where new things started to stir, reducing the larger orchestra down to a compact aural scenario in my head, but at the same time I was realizing that because they're singular instruments a new sonority started emerging in a very subtle and nonspecific way. An idea was forming itself in my head about clarity and sharply defined gestures. For instance, 'OK, there is one trombone. But that one trombone is powerful and it can actually have a very important and decisive effect within an ensemble.' Whereas the three trombones in the LJCO were used in a strategically different way.

"It was a slow and not very scientific way of forming the sounds of the band. But as these things were happening I found myself more and more making marks on paper, like an artist with a paintbrush. Even before this all started coming into place I'd just get excited by the imagination of a particular instrumental grouping, or one player playing against a construct. And I would just make a mark, or a series of marks, not actually writing notes even. Just a very soft pencil, just digging the paper in a way. It's almost like cavemen making marks on rocks, just images to remind you exactly what you want to do. But in the context of the other things that might have been accumulating, they made sense: something to do with a density of sound, or tailing off to a lightness. I would even change pencil thicknesses sometimes to give a sense of density change."

While a number of the drawings were eventually discarded, specific ideas began to emerge. "As I went through this process they started shaking themselves out into numbers, if you like. This is where the aural imagination, which had been just thinking of grouping, started to enter the drawing facility. I would just put 'Marilyn,' or something like that, at the end of a sequence of lines. That would indicate to me a certain type of activity ending in Marilyn, or, for instance, a specific logical meeting point of certain instruments to support this moment.

"In the early part of Inscape – Tableaux I wanted the exposition to present the two powerhouse trios of Parker and Gustafsson. Before that, however, I wished to present the brass players in short vignettes that would gradually accumulate in energy to the point where they would come together and comment on the progress of the trios as they made their way to a sonically elevated level.

"Then there was this memory of hearing Marilyn and Evan doing a circular stream of activity, and that was the first release point, where the focus changes: from the grand to the specific. And then through that process, and a little short ballad section, we actually pick up pretty much where we left off with the whole band, with the background thing coming to the foreground picking up everybody on the way. This rounds off the first section.

"For me it was important after that to dramatically change the architecture, where suddenly you've got one person in an open space. There you have Marilyn. Having exposed the whole band, I just remember having the, 'This is the Marilyn moment.' It goes right down to one instrument and that's her.

"The whole tension has changed here; the focus has changed. In some ways I think of it as highly architectural but with some cinematics. I'm not a great cinema buff but it's always interesting the way films have the ability to show the bigger vista, then they pan and bring the focus to one specific detail: it could be an eye, or it could be a hand, or it could be a small gesture. But I'm interested in how you can focus the sound. You're channeling everybody into a particular way of listening.

"The other thing that I did at this initial stage was put all the names on a list and connect up who, to my knowledge, had played with whom. There were the obvious trios and parings that had featured in my musical life. But what about Johannes Bauer, for instance. There evolved this very complex, spaghetti-like diagram. And then I started looking at the diagram to realize who hadn't played with somebody in a particular situation. So not only were there the familiar groups, but also the unfamiliar, as well – which became a useful tool to evaluate structural procedures.

"What I try to do is also think of the possibilities of it going wrong as well as right – if it deviated into an area which wouldn't be appropriate. But then you have the trust of the players. I always have the complete trust in the improvisers: they instinctively know where in the creative process it should go. There's a kind of mystery in this, as well, about how these things might work. But I try to assess the probabilities of where they might go. And it can come up with massive surprises, but on the other hand, its creativity is assured."

Inscape – Tableaux may be a monument to Barry Guy's ingenuity and these improvisers' singular skills, but it will be a balancing act to keep the BGNO a viable affair. While a number of national arts councils have generously supported the band, it's been difficult just getting everyone in the same place. "In reality, of course, it's been the biggest nightmare ever," Guy explains referring to the logistics. "The old days of meeting the London Jazz Composers Orchestra at Heathrow Terminal 2 was not to happen anymore." Still, the BGNO regroups in Nickelsdorf, Austria this August. Then there's a three-city Scandinavian tour in the fall. And next spring it seems the group will be in Paris and in Mulhouse in the summer.

With the LJCO on hold, Guy is committed to making the New Orchestra an ongoing project. Not only is he hoping to produce more music, but Mats Gustafsson has plans to write for the group, as well. And after this second spell of gigs, one might expect "Inscape-Tableaux" to still find its place in the band's book. "Could be," Guy responds. "Since the piece is actually taking on a good feel, people are relaxing into the music now.... The thing that I definitely want to present to an audience is something which is organic and growing in front of you. I want the process to be joyous and energizing – to breathe."

Ungestümer Strukturalist

Barry Guy ist einer der spannendsten und fleissigsten Komponisten zwischen Freier Improvisation und Neuer Musik. DLF über den Briten, der «nebenbei» auch noch Bass spielt.

Die Frage taucht selbst im Kreise versierter Jazzfans immer wieder auf: Ist das Komponieren von Werken für Freie Improvisation nicht ein Widerspruch in sich? Keineswegs, entfalten doch gerade Musiker dieser Szene in der Regel meterlanges Notenpapier, ehe sie loslegen. Doch wer sich solche Blätter aus der Nähe ansieht, wird daraus selten schlau. Freie Improvisation funktioniert weniger mit konventioneller Notation und linearen Abläufen als mit Mustern und komplex konstruierten Strukturen.

Freejazz im Barockgewand

Barry Guy ist ein Meister solcher Strukturbauten. Die Werke des 54jährigen Ex-Architekten aus London zeichnen sich aber nicht nur durch ihre Komplexität aus, sondern insbesondere durch die Vielfalt der «Baumaterialien». Ausge gangen vom europäischen Freejazz der wilden 60ties, hat sich Guy stetig der Neuen Musik angenähert. Mehr noch: Guy liebt Barock- und Renaissance-Weisen und integriert selbst solch streng geregelte Klangelemente in sein Schaffen. Die Kombination aus ungestümer Free-Mentalität und der ins Mathematische tendierenden Präzision Neuer Musik macht das Schaffen von Barry Guy einzigartig. Welch glückliche Fügung, dass er ein Workaholic ist, der sämtliche Aspekte seiner musikalischen Weltsicht auszuloten scheint. Guy konzipiert und schreibt und spielt was das Zeug hält – ohne qualitative Reibungsverluste wohlgemerkt. Sein Album «Inscape-Tableaux» ist nicht nur von Bert Noglik (WoZ) und Christian Rentsch (Tagesanzeiger), sondern auch vom renommierten französischen Magazin «Jazzman» zum Jazzalbum des Jahres 2001 gekürt worden. Eine Sensation angesichts der marginalen Stellung Freier Improvisation im weitläufigen Jazzkosmos.

Stammgast in Zürich

Für «Inscape-Tableaux» hat Guy zehn der spannendsten Köpfe aus den USA und Europa zu seinem New Orchestra zusammengesucht; darunter auch den Bieler Saxophonisten und Klarinettisten Hans Koch. Zur Schweiz hat er naturgemäss eine enge Beziehung, lässt sich die hiesige Impro-Szene doch hören (siehe nebenstehenden Bericht). Er spielt regelmässig mit Schweizer Musikschaffenden, ist Stammgast bei der «Fabrikjazz»-Reihe in der Roten Fabrik und gibt einen guten Teil seiner Alben beim Zürcher Label «Intakt» heraus.

Und dies mit unterschiedlichsten Formationen. Barry Guy – obendrein ein meisterhafter Bassist – ertastet mit Duos und vor allem Trios, was er mit Grossformationen zur voluminösen Perfektion bringt. Mit seinem 1970 gegründeten London Jazz Composers Orchestra hat er das «Klanggefäss» Big Band schlicht neu definiert. Er schreibt aber auch für klassische Orchester wie die City of London Sinfonia oder die London Sinfonietta, sowie Kammermusik für Kronos Quartet oder Hilliard Ensemble.

Unter dem Titel «Die Verwandlung der Schwerkraft» unterhält sich DLF-Redaktor Michael Engelbrecht mit Barry Guy über Komposition, Improvisation und Fusion.

Frank von Niederhäusern

Freitag, 22.05 Uhr
JazzFacts, DLF

Service:

Aktuelles: Zahlreiche von Barry Guys Alben erscheinen beim Zürcher Label Intakt (www.intaktrec.ch), so auch:
Barry Guy New Orchestra: Inscapa-Tableaux
Barry Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton: Odyssey (beide 2001).

Inscape-Tableaux

Intakt CD 066

Just as the European Union (EU) and the Euro have begun to win over Continental rivalries and local currencies, so composer, orchestra director and bass master Barry Guy has decided to put together a new international aggregation that's showcased on this exceptional disc.

After 28 years leading the mostly British, usually 18-piece, London Jazz Composers Orchestra (LCJO), the now Ireland-based Guy has organized an all-star tentet to perform this multi-faceted composition which took two years to perfect. As multinational as the EU, the Barry Guy New Orchestra (BGNO) features only two other Englishmen, as well three Swedes, two Americans, a German and a Swiss national.

Most have worked with the bassist before – some extensively like Evan Parker and Paul Lytton. All are at the top of their form. It would be stupid to say that the colors brought forward by the LJCO's additional eight to 10 players can be equaled by BGNO's fewer musicians. But together these improvisers are so proficient on so many instruments and so cognizant of so many techniques that what they produce easily has the resonance of a larger band. Though scored, Guy's Inscape-Tableaux leaves plenty of space to take advantage of each individual's talents.

Especially noteworthy is pianist Marilyn Crispell, who as well as being integrated into the ensemble, is featured in three keyboard-centered interludes between the larger orchestral sections. Sometimes pastoral, as in the beginning of "IV" – practically a duet for her and Guy's flying fingers – sometimes powerful, Crispell seems to bring her classical chops to the fore here. Distinctively unique, her playing no more resembles that of Cecil Taylor – as some lazy commentators have suggested – than Jesse Helms' politics resemble those of Jesse Jackson's.

Trombonist Johannes Bauer's showcase comes on "V," an exploding comet of cacophony, which harkens back to the earliest days of large ensemble free jazz. Here and elsewhere his vocalized, guttural cries simultaneously suggest New Orleans tailgate and outer space. "V" also features some of Herb Robertson's best Maynard-Ferguson-meets-Cootie-Williams explosions. With only three valves, the American trumpeter is able to produce the sort of multiphonics saxophonists need many keys to generate.

Speaking of saxophonists, how can a band go wrong with a section made up of Parker's circular breathing, Mats Gustafsson's lung bursting blowouts, and on "VI," Hans Koch's top-to-bottom bass clarinet forays?

Still, this Ellington band-like aggregation of stylists shouldn't obscure that the BGNO is very much a composer's vehicle, with echoes of European New music and on "II" Charles Mingus' scores for mid-sized ensembles. Listen again to an interlude in "V" and observe the perfect clarity of Per Åke Holmlander's tuba making its way like a hippo across the Veldt as the untamed wild birds that are the horns vocally leap and frolic overhead. Like Ellington and Mingus, Guy writes with the idiosyncrasies of his players firmly in mind and the score sounds that much the better for it.

One could go on and on appending extended examples of sophisticated and eventful writing and outstanding solos, but how many more superlatives can be heaped on this groundbreaking disc of modern music? Suffice it to say that Inscape-Tableaux deserves to be heard by anyone at all interested in modern composition and the state of 21st century orchestral sound. We can also hope, that sometime in the future, this Valhalla of improvising giants will tour in this formation.

Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Inscape-Tableaux Part 1; Part II; Part III; Part IV; Part V; Part VI; Part VII

Personnel: Herb Robertson, trumpet; Johannes Bauer, trombone; Per Åke Holmlander, tuba; Evan Parker, tenor and soprano saxophones; Mats Gustafsson, tenor and baritone saxophones; Hans Koch, tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet; Marilyn Crispell, piano; Barry Guy, bass; Paul Lytton, Raymond Strid, percussion

Hitting the Strings

Graph talks to Barry Guy and Maya Homburger

The one who has been developing the musical and technical possibilities of the double-bass for several decades. The one who played in various early music groups and the one who has composed in a contemporary idiom for groups like Fretwork or the Hilliard Ensemble. There's the one who has just brought out an unusual, deeply meditative CD called 'Ceremony' in collaboration with the outstanding baroque violinist Maya Homburger. Then there's the one in the long-standing jazz trio with Evan Parker and Paul Lytton, and who has also played with Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, Marilyn Crispell, Mats Gustafsson and in numerous other formations and combinations. This is not to forget the one who leads and composes for the startlingly energetic London Jazz Composers Orchestra, nor indeed the one who has written many works for chamber orchestras, chamber groups and solo players.

A selection of these Barry Guys was interviewed by Barra O Seaghda. After a time they were joined by Maya Homburger to discuss the couple's current and future projects. They are currently based in a house near Thomastown in Kilkenny while conversion work continues on their own future residence.

Maya Homburger brings analytical clarity and intense commitment to her music as well as her other activities. Her recording with Malcolm Proud of the Bach Sonatas for violin and harpsichord is among the works she and Barry Guy have issued on their own Maya Recordings label.

Graph: You said once that you could imagine the cumbersome double bass as tiny as a grain of sand – a mind-boggling notion. Could you unboggle it?

BG: The double bass is seen as an unwieldy instrument, generally expected to thump along below the other instruments. A long time ago when I was at music college, there was a point when problems to do with its size and how to get around it and the articulations needed to make it sound were facing me. I found that playing improvised music gradually helped me to get over those barriers, some of them caused by learning the instrument from manuals. The other thing that affected me was playing with dancers – the London Contemporary Dance Theatre – on stage. It seemed to me that they could do almost impossible things. I could see the preparation for a movement, the muscles working. It had to do with the rhythm of preparation and accomplishment. The energy was all channelled into the very moment of creation.

These two things gradually came together to make me aware that the playing of the double bass was no longer something to be negotiated. The instrument didn't exist- it was a voice only, a communicator. The more I rid myself of this idea of a large unwieldy resonating box, the clearer the ideas would become. The holding and articulation of the bow, the ends of the fingertips, creativity, the sound concept – all these things finally came down to a tiny contact point, a little grain of sand. It's like black holes, which contain huge amounts of energy to be harnessed.

Graph: You employ all kinds of techniques in your playing, including the use of sticks, mallets, brushes and other objects. The effect can be quite theatrical. Are you aware of that or is it a side-issue?

BG: It is a side-issue, but on the other hand performance is performance. I've been involved in quite a lot of theatrical work, which I enjoyed very much. In 'Valentine', a piece originally written by Jacob Druckman for the Joffrey Ballet, I dressed up in a red leotard and looked sexually rather ambiguous, with lipstick and slicked-back hair. The piece had a new dimension on the concert stage. So I'm aware of the possibilities of theatre. In reality, one has to apply a certain complex technique to pull sounds out of the instrument. You're so conscious of the function of these things – they're not just add-ons.

All of this started about twenty years ago when I was playing with a drummer friend, Tony Oxley – who was apt to throw a stick at you if he didn't like what you were playing. On this occasion, he simply let it go by mistake. I saw it flying through the air, caught it and immediately hit the strings and various other bits of the instrument with it. That was my first acquisition for what I call my surgeon's kit.

Graph: I've seen you play with the sax-player Evan Parker. There was a striking contrast between you. Though his music can be incredibly gripping, his physical presence is in-turned, almost still. You're beside him –

BG: Yes, like one of those things you see in the backs of cars nodding and jogging around ... Evan's way of playing is concentrated in the lungs and fingers and tongue-articulations. To respond to your implied question of whether to move or not to move, I find I need to keep the body in motion so that energies can be precisely tuned to the situation. It's like a kestrel hovering and quivering until the sudden dive to land on the prey – the sound in my case.

Graph: As a composer, you work with your own LJCO (London Jazz Composers Orchestra) and with contemporary ensembles or orchestras. Have these always run in parallel and how do the differences work out?

BG: There was a time up to 1992 when the two areas were completely independent. If I was writing for string quartet or orchestra, there was one way of working. If I was working with improvising soloists, the music was cut around the people. That said, even with straight ensembles, I like to have full knowledge of the chemistry of the group. Organisationally or compositionally, there were strategies that could work for either area.

Since '92, a way of using graphics has crept into some of my scores, and also the idea of concentrating the musical language on one page or two at most.

This all started with my love for painting. I was commissioned by the Scottish painter Alan Davie, who is also a jazz player, to write a piece that would be one of a series of events for a big retrospective he was having in Glasgow. He wanted a piece for himself as soloist, on piano, plus ensemble – but straight, not Evan Parker and the usual suspects. And he didn't wish to read music, either. After digging deep into the possibilities, it occurred to me that, as he used a lot of sign language and ethnic symbols in his paintings, we could set up a series of these with their own hierarchy, from the notated through to the non-notated or suggested. I could set up about thirty possibilities that could be injected into his music as he played. But how could I get all this onto one page? Under each sign, I could have systems to be presented to the players – solos, layers, polyphonies ... So along with flash-cards that suggested a type of music to be negotiated, I would have a modifier, using my five fingers to guide the players to the musical subdivisions, from totally written music through to complete freedom.

That piece was called 'Bird Gong Game', after a series of Bird Gong paintings. All kinds of things have grown out of that. It's changed my composing life – I've become very interested in the way graphics and the presentation of scores affect the music.

Graph: You've played with people like Parker and Paul Lytton for decades now. Is that about trust, or reinforcing each other's creativity?

BG: It's both. By being together such a long time, you encourage unity and moving forward to explore ideas and musical refinements. Once you've got your partners, you never have failure really, just varying degrees of euphoria.

Even if there are doubts about the progression of the music, which is very rare, you know how to get yourself out of a hole if you take a wrong turn.

Playing with new partners, you can have some miraculous moments but also some dreadfully difficult negotiations. That's also to do with the way people listen. I've played with some people with no social graces – you're on the stand listening to someone hogging the whole space.

Graph: There's a phrase somewhere about playing the silences. Watching you with Parker, I see players listening as intently as they play.

BG: Of course we listen for every parameter of the ongoing music, reading the implications and strategies – silences as well as pitches. It's an incredibly wonderful process of music-making.

Graph: Regarding improvisation, do you know at the moment of playing that what you're producing will stand up to repeated listening or will be worth issuing as a recording?

BG: There's a sense of knowledge, of the way the voices have come together. You know when it's right. If I'm playing with Crispell and Hemingway, or with the Parker trio, and we're not using any written music, what you're listening to is the signatures of three people, three voices coming together. and the moment when that comes right is the most intense, enriching experience.

Graph: In the title piece of Sensology, you and the pianist Paul Plimley start very intensely and then a beautiful slow space opens up. And Bill Dixon played very slow on Vade Mecum. In general, though, is there a tendency for improvised music to go for high speeds, or does it depend on the musicians?

BG: It's very much to do with the musicians. I happen to work with a lot of high-speed musicians. With Bill Dixon, quite often he was slow and William Parker, Tony Oxley and I were fast – rattling away down below while Bill would be rhapsodising above us.

With Evan Parker, we both work really fast. I suppose the music has its own momentum, built up over many years of communication and understanding. We hear all the details as they're happening. It's not just the ears. The body, if you like, is like a huge receptor, so you feel the energies as much as hearing them. So sometimes the intention is there before the note and you don't even know about it. It's not a matter of playing and wondering what to do next.

I've often thought, though, that even when it's fast, there's a sense in which it can also be slow. Think of different strata of activity. I sometimes think of these great arcs of movement. If you swing your arm around for the big arc; then if you swing your arm just from the elbow to your fingertips, it's a smaller arc; while if you bend your hand from the wrist you've got something smaller again. What's happening at the end of a finger might be one of your fastest phrases, but all sitting on top of the huge dimension. It's not just a matter of speed going horizontally, there are implications for the whole structure. It's got to have an architecture.

Graph: Is there a political dimension to improvised music for you? I'm thinking of the way you work with a community of artists and the idea of being untrammelled ...

BG: I think there is a political dimension. There is a sense of community, of collective dynamism. Interestingly enough, it's got to do with the individual as well as the collective, because to make these advances the individual has to work hard for the needs of all. I like this music because it breaks the rules. This music in some ways irritates the status quo and questions are always being asked. On the other hand, because we've been at this so long, we've become the new establishment, whether we like it or not. But this music was never really wanted anyway. The irritation is still there, but now we're seen as the last of the dinosaurs ... The closed mind is a sad and dangerous thing.

Graph: I see there's now a Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. How do you find working in that area?

BG: I like it. The interesting thing with that ensemble is that it's all real time. In the old days, to a great extent, electronics had to be predetermined, with lots of studio manipulation. Now everything is so sophisticated and there's a new generation of brains behind them – thinking about music rather than just the technical process – so we're all working together to the same end: synthesising the acoustic and the electronic. It's an intriguing process because it has a lot of the functions of normal improvisation but there's a treatment person at the end of the line, and you're not always sure how you're going to come out. You know what you've just played, but what you hear might be completely fragmented or turned upside-down.

Graph: You have to get to know the program almost as you'd get to know another player ...

BG: Yes, you have to know what it's capable of. Obviously the programs are infinite, but in the EPEAE we discuss what we're going to do, the relative densities for instance. That's necessary because the machines can set up huge arrays of sounds and articulations. If that gets out of control, you lose what you set out to accomplish. So we might discuss elongated notes or cut-offs or different envelope-shapes. I find it very exciting.

Graph: Moving to another subject entirely – what place does Xenakis have in your musical life? You play one of his pieces at least.

BG: I've been a great admirer of Xenakis for years. I like his methods, his association with architecture – because architecture is my pet subject in a way, and I've got more books about architecture than about music. I like the way he's found of expressing music through mathematics and architecture. If you take it as he intends it, it can be revelatory. It's a very special way of composing, not to everyone's taste but very exciting. It's highly sophisticated but raw at the same time. I like that polarity.

He wrote a piece for double bass called 'Theraps'. I'd never heard anybody play it. We had a correspondence for six months or so. I met up with him after I'd been learning it for a while and played the piece for him. He thought I was joking. Then we had a rational discussion of the techniques he'd deployed in the notation. Basically, I'd taken a wrong approach. I suggested there were ways he could have expressed the music in a fundamentally clearer way, but he took no notice of that. Anyway, he sent me packing and said to come back in six months.

Then I gave a performance that he attended and he came up to me afterwards and said, 'You make the best performance of my piece ever.' When I asked for a programme note, he told me to write one myself. So then I worked hard to to understand the piece's structure and what I was getting out of it. When I sent it to him, he used it as a preface to the score. It's a fine piece of music – quite a headache, and a finger-buster, but once you've taken it on board it's a joy to play.

Graph: There are other composers whose sense of architecture appeals to you.

BG: Monteverdi is one of my all-time favourites. I find that man's sense of architecture, structure and sonority extraordinary. Remember, I spent three years working in an architect's office, not knowing very much about music. When I gave up all that and went to music college, I had no idea there was so much beautiful music in the world. I arrived at it in a strange way – not starting by learning about Mozart and Beethoven but coming from jazz, improvised music, Xenakis, Stravinsky, Penderecki, and John Cage and the 1950s American avant-garde. But to get down to seriously studying Beethoven, and then going back and discovering Gabrieli, Monteverdi and all these other wonderful early composers, and then of course travelling the other way... – it's been a wonderful journey.

[ Maya Homburger joined in at this point ]

Graph: You've just brought out an ECM CD together. When you met, I suppose early and contemporary music were completely separate areas for you?

BG: We met eleven years ago when we were both in the Academy of Ancient Music. What's been happening over the years has been that Maya, as well as pursuing her own career as a soloist and chamber-musician, has been managing my life as well – organising for the LJCO and other activities.

Graph: Did it come as a surprise to you, Maya, to find yourself both involved in contemporary music and running things?

MH: Well, before, I'd even had a prejudice against it, after some things I'd been involved in in Switzerland. But I got totally hooked on Barry's music, the LJCO and his own compositions. It had far more appeal than some so-called straight contemporary music because there was far more freedom in it, it was more idiomatic and player-oriented. It became a kind of mission to promote it.

Graph: In the music you play together, are you evolving towards improvisation?

MH: I'm still not at all a free improviser, as Barry and Evan are. It's like a language they speak and it would take me years to learn it. However, Barry has given me a lot of material but lets me handle it in a very free way. So that has freed me up a lot and ultimately will probably lead me to improvise fully. Listening to improvisers has changed my approach to baroque as well. And with Barry's music, I play it almost as if I were inventing it.

BG: The early instruments have totally different colours which I love as a composer. They're more like voices, actually.

MH: And you play them like voices. If you really go down that avenue, you play them rhetorically – which suits contemporary music as well. In a lot of contemporary music, I don't find they're searching for that rhetoric. They're playing the notes and following the instructions of the composer, who can never write out all the rhetorical or spoken aspects of the music. That's where baroque and contemporary fully meet.

BG: I have to find a way of documenting this music, a notation, that makes sense. Not over-writing – you have to trust the musicians. In our duo, I'm freer, but I can give myself some shorthand. And because Maya understands how the music is meant to go, I can write for her in quite a free way and she will come up with interesting solutions.

MH: Especially in tempo, in tempo variations, and different uses of rubato and accelerando, it becomes freer and freer, and we allow ourselves to go slightly out of sync.

It's very exciting and good for the audience as well because you can never settle back, you're constantly surprised. You could never notate it exactly. Obviously someone like Ferneyhough tries to notate this kind of thing. But we arrive at a similar result in rehearsals or concerts – out of the joy and excitement of music rather than trying to work out the time mathematically.

BG: To use a phrase of Maya's, we have musical stretching in our duos. We like to make our concerts refreshing and to give people an interesting journey.

MH: I call it musical stretching because literally the different musics hit the body in different areas and what I don't like is when people settle back for a bit of Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' or familiar repertoire or a modern concert, and everything hits them at a specific emotional or body level. What we like to do is, as with the tempo, to destabilise things slightly. I might even finish a piece of Biber and Barry comes in with an improvisation and the last two notes overlap, and the body goes, Oh, where's this going to affect me now? People might not know for three pieces in a row where it's going next. I find it energises rather than just entertains.

Graph: Talking of journeys, how did you end up here in Kilkenny?

MH: Malcolm Proud visited us in England and was very enthusiastic about Barry's music, which he'd never heard before. When Malcolm told Susan Proud about it, she invited Barry on trust to come and give a solo recital in St Canice's in 1992. The response was very good. It was a revelation to us. We met lovely people and fell in love with the place. Of course, it was during Arts Week ...

Graph: You didn't realise what it would be like in January.

BG: Yes, a variable feast of weather here – but it wasn't only the occasion of Arts Week thrilled us. We decided to bring the big band over to rehearse and the whole arrangement went really well.

MH: And the concert, too. People came from Galway and Belfast ... So we did more and more projects in Ireland after that and we were getting more and more dispirited about living in England, from a cultural point of view ...

BG: And from a political point of view as well.

MH: Now that we've come over, we're finding that some things are not at all better while others are. It was a bit of a shock, for example, to find out what needs to be done from an ecological point of view.

Graph: Will the fact that you're here pull more musicians towards Ireland?

BG: We hope so. Marilyn Crispell and Evan Parker have been here ...

MH: And Mats Gustafsson and Raymond Strid came to the Sligo Contemporary Music festival and that was a revelation to some people. We don't mind if it's a small number, so long as it really captures the audience's imagination. On the negative side, we've had some shocks regarding the contemporary scene.

BG: I thought things were looking up when After the Rain was to be played by the NSO. But when I went to the rehearsal, things were so bad that I couldn't bring myself to go to the performance. There were so many things to correct in the rhythm, pitching, musicality ...

It's a shame because it's all about rehearsal time. It was getting only an hour and a quarter or so, and even after doing several performances with the City of London Symphonia (who knew the piece inside out) we would always give it three hours. It does a dis-service to contemporary music to play pieces like this badly. If you're going to win the hearts and minds of people, you've got to present the music at its best.

MH: It's quite widespread. Before people have done the work on themselves to become quality instrumentalists, they adopt this horrible professional attitude and do things on the quick.

Graph: Have you got any projects currently?

MH: Well, we'd like to start our own festival, which – surprise! – would involve early and contemporary music. This year I've managed to put together a series of four concerts at Kilmainham – with the Hilliard, my trio, trio plus tenor and harp, and Evan Parker and Maggie Nicols ... We'll call it Now and Then. We'd also like to have people over here, with a kind of house premiere and then a series of concerts around the country. It could involve recording, or become the basis for the festival. But it takes a lot of work – sponsorship, the Arts Council ...

Graph: It takes time for people to believe you're committed.

MH: What's difficult with funding is that there seems to be this government rule where you're only told about your funding in that year. It makes booking really difficult, or a big risk. I suppose that could be changed – it's really about ease of accounting.

We'll be doing more tours in this country in the future. We hope to be able to form a Kilkenny-based group, too. We have Malcolm Proud, Siobhan Armstrong, John Elwes, Sarah Cunningham is not too far ...

Funnily enough, the fact that we're living here has been an added attraction with promoters abroad and with interviewers ... They tend to think it's very romantic and creative to be here.

BG: We've certainly made a lot of friends of artists and writers and musicians. It's a great feeling to be part of a community like that, whereas when we lived in England we didn't really feel part of anything, other than being professional musicians. It means our social life has picked up – a mixture of joys and headaches.

Neue Klänge in Kilkenny

Berührungspunkte zwischen den Verfechtern der Historischen Aufführungspraxis und den um einiges offeneren Szene der frei-improvisierten Musik gibt es kaum. Ausser bei der Geigerin Maya Homburger und dem Kontrabassisten Barry Guy. Sie loten das Spannungsfeld von alter und neuer Musik aus – konsequent wie sonst kaum jemand.

Reinmar Wagner:

Es ist ein seltsames Hören, aber ein spannendes, immer wieder neues, wenn «Ceremony», die erste gemeinsame Platte von Maya Homburger und Barry Guy im CD-Player liegt: Im Präludium zur ersten «Rosenkranzsonate» von Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber grummelt und säuselt ein Kontrabass mit, statt dass das Continuo etwa mit Orgel, Cembalo oder Laute bestritten würde. Im nächsten Stück emanzipiert sich die Geige mit Bibers Akkordbrechungen zu harmonisch völlig entlegenen Tönen. Und im dann ist da wieder dieser Kontrabass, der nun deutlich aufmüpfiger seine Präsenz markiert. Darauf spielt die Geige gegen ihre eigenen, teils elektronisch verfremdeten Tonkonserven an, und am Ende, da sind wir wieder bei Biber: Barry Guys Komposition «Breathing Earth» mündet in den Schluss der anfangs exponierten «Rosenkranzsonate».

Bis auf das Biber-Entree sind alles Kompositionen von Barry Guy, die im Lauf der letzten paar Jahre durch die Inspiration von Maya Homburgers Barockgeige entstanden sind. Ein typisches ECM-Konzept-Album, das musikalische Sinn- und Gehalt-Bezüge quer durch die Stücke zieht und daraus ein eigenes Ganzes macht.

Eine zweite ECM-CD brachte das ungleiche Paar – das auch privat ein Paar ist – zusammen mit dem Tenor John Potter, einer der Stimmen des Hilliard-Ensembles. Zusammen mit dem Saxophon und der Bassklarinette von John Surman und der Laute von Stephen Stubbs suchten sie neue Klänge für die tränenreichen Lieder des englischen Renaissance-Melancholikers John Dowland: «In darkness let me dwell». Eine wunderschön elegische Platte, nach dem bewährten Muster der Gregorianik-Arrangements von Jan Garbarek und dem Hilliard-Ensemble. Da ist Mayas Barockgeige in ihrem ureigenen Element. Barrys Bass dagegen erhält neben dem Saxophon und der Bassklarinette weniger solistische Präsenz.

Treffpunkt Gardiner

Es sind diese Alte-Musik–Sphären, welche das Geigen-Bass-Paar 1988 zusammengebracht haben. Maya – geboren und aufgewachsen in Zürich – ging 1986 nach einigen Jahren als Orchestergeigerin in der Camerata Bern nach England und spielte in den Barockorchestern von John Eliot Gardiner, Trevor Pinnock und Christopher Hogwood.

Und Barry Guy, der überall mitmischte, wo in London neue Musikstrukturen ausprobiert wurden, was sich in einer weitgefächerten Diskographie von über 80 Plattentiteln niederschlug, kaufte sich eines Tages auch einen barocken Kontrabass und bewarb sich bei Hogwoods «Academy of Ancient Music». Die Londoner Early-Music-Ensembles der ersten Stunde trugen alle verschiedene Namen und waren mit den bekannten Dirigentennamen Gardiner, Norrington, Hogwood und Pinnock verknüpft. Die Musiker aber kamen alle aus demselben Pool. Erst mit dem zunehmenden Erfolg, als die Tourneen immer länger und die Plattenaufträge immer zahlreicher wurden, bildeten sich geschlossenere Ensembles heraus. «Man konnte sich nicht in dieser Szene bewegen, ohne nach kurzer Zeit mit all diesen Leuten gespielt zu haben», erzählt Maya, und Barry ergänzt: «Eine zeitlang waren wir wie eine Recording-machine: Ins Studio, rotes Licht an, Haydn-Sinfonie ab.»

Das hat sich geändert, die goldenen Zeiten der Alten Musik, als jede Plattenfirma von jedem Originalklang-Dirigenten den gesamten Beethoven haben wollte, sind vorbei. Gardiners grosses Bach-Projekt, die Gesamtaufnahme der Kantaten auf seiner Jahr-2000-Jubiläums-Tournee ist zusammengeschrumpft in eine vergleichsweise mickrige 12CD-Edition, die teilweise sogar auf alte Aufnahmen zurückgreift. Aber die Konzerttournee rollt wie vorgesehen, und einen Abschnitt davon machen auch Maya und Barry mit, darunter natürlich das Heimspiel in Zürich während der Zürcher Festspiele.

Initiation mit Biber

1979 kam Maya Homburger bei einem Meisterkurs in Bern mit der Barockgeige in Kontakt – und verliebte sich auf den ersten Ton in die besonderen Klangfarben dieses Instruments. Sie ging daraufhin zu Eduard Melkus nach Wien, der sie einführte in den Kosmos der Biber'schen «Rosenkranzsonaten». Seither gehören diese gleichermassen virtuosen wie mystischen Sonaten, in denen Biber mit den vielfältigsten Skordaturen (Umstimmen der Saiten) experimentiert, neben den Geigenwerken von Bach und Telemann zu Mayas ständigen Begleitern. Und die Chancen stehen gut, dass Mayas nächste ECM-Platte diesen Biber-Sonaten gewidmet sein wird.

Die oft puristische Haltung der sogenannten Historischen Aufführungspraxis, welche dem Original so nahe wie möglich kommen möchte, steht bei Maya Homburgers Barockgeigenspiel nicht im Vordergrund. Vielmehr sind es die besonderen Klangfarben, die Maya fasziniert haben: «Ich verstehe mich nicht als eine Barockgeigerin, die auch noch moderne Musik spielt. Da die Barockgeige eine geringere Saitenspannung hat, verfügt sie über mehr Obertöne als eine moderne Geige. Mit unorthodoxen Spieltechniken, Ponticello-Klängen (Streichen nahe beim Steg), verschiedenen Artikulationen usw. lassen sich weitere Klänge kreieren, die eine moderne Geige nicht kennt. Der Steg einer Barockgeige ist so konstruiert, dass die oberen Saiten von den unteren sehr verschieden klingen und dadurch eine Polyphonie entstehen kann. Das Ziel ist gerade nicht, wie bei einer modernen Geige, über den gesamten Tonumfang hindurch dieselbe Sattheit des Klangs zu erzeugen.»

Knacknuss Improvisation

Eine Faszination, die Barry Guy teilt. Und die ihn inspirierte, für diese unorthodoxe Instrumentenkombination zu komponieren. Fast ein Verrat an den Idealen der Frei-improvisierenden Szene? Barry winkt ab. Wer so vielseitig ist wie er, kennt keine Berührungsängste. «Um komplexe Musik zu spielen, ist die freie Improvisation die geeignetere Form. Wenn Interpreten komplexe Partituren lesen, klingt das meistens sehr gequält. In den ausnotierten Teilen komme ich beim London Jazz Composers Orchestra, das mit grossartigen Improvisatoren besetzt ist, mit einfachen kompositorischen Mitteln zu den schönsten Resultaten». Das London Jazz Composers Orchestra hatte er anfang der 70er Jahre mitbegründet und mit vielfältigen musikalischen Anregungen hartnäckig am Leben erhalten.

Maya spielt bei diesen Big Band-Projekten nicht mit: «Im Kopf kenne ich die Mechanismen, schliesslich habe ich oft genug zugehört. Aber die Finger machen zuwenig schnell mit.» Sofort wirft Barry ein: «Die Zeiten ändern sich: Maya hat soeben in Vancouver das erste Mal in einer improvisierenden Big Band mitgespielt.» Und wie war's? «Es war erst mal in einer Probe, ohne Publikum. Ein Cellist fehlte, also habe ich versucht, einzuspringen. Und es war wunderbar, ich fühlte mich grossartig. Ich bin allerdings an die Grenzen meiner Barockvioline geraten, weil du mit diesen Leuten in einen so hohen Energielevel hineinkommst, dass du extrem laut spielst. Natürlich hatten wir Mikrophone, aber dennoch: Meine Darm-G-Saite gibt da einfach zuwenig her.»

Vorerst bleibt sie bei der kleinen Besetzung. Seit sie zusammen mit Barry ein Duo bildet, treten sie immer öfter auch zusammen auf. Der Anstoss kam vom Jazz-Festival in Rive de Gier, das Maya 1994 zu einem Telemann-Solorezital einlud. Maya dachte zuerst an ein Missverständnis. Aber die Organisatoren hatten die Einladung durchaus ernst gemeint. Maya schlug vor, Telemanns Musik mit Improvisationen von Barry Guy zu verbinden. Damit war der Grundstein für viele weitere gemeinsame Auftritte gelegt. Und nicht nur Barry Guy komponierte für diese ungewöhnliche Besetzung: Bei Buxton Orr und Giles Swayne bestellten sie Werke, Roger Marsh komponierte für ihr Duo und Terry Riley hat es für 2001 versprochen.

Dabei stellt sich ein besonderes Problem: Die Barockvioline ist einen halben Ton tiefer gestimmt. Entweder spielt also der Bass oder die Geige in entlegenen Tonarten: «Nicht alle Komponisten, die für unser Duo geschrieben haben, sind gleichermassen geschickt mit diesem Problem umgegangen», schmunzelt Barry. «Ich persönlich empfinde diesen Halbton-Unterschied als sehr anregend und fruchtbar.» Warum nimmt er denn nicht seinen barocken Kontrabass für die Auftritte mit Maya? «Die Darmsaiten sind dicker und reagieren viel langsamer. Ich improvisiere ja sehr viel an unseren Konzerten und viele Dinge, die ich machen möchte lassen sich mit dem Barock-Kontrabass nicht hervorbringen.» Also bleibt der fünfsätzige Gasparo da Salo-Bass von 1560 den Ensemblestücken mit Gardiner und Co. vorbehalten und kommt auf Gardiners Bach-Kantaten-Tournee zum Einsatz: «Hauptsächlich, weil wir nicht zu lange voneinander getrennt sein möchten, suchen wir uns schon die Projekte aus, die wir zusammen machen können.» Und mit auf der Tournee ist auch der Cembalist Malcolm Proud. «Mit Barry und Malcolm zusammen zu musizieren, ist immer wunderbar. Wir sind eine kleine Kilkenny-Mafia.»

In Kilkenny, zwei Stunden südlich von Dublin, haben sich Maya und Barry eigenhändig ein Haus gebaut, inklusive einem kleinen Konzertsaal, der so etwas wie der musikalische Treffpunkt der Region geworden ist. Aber auch die vielen Musikerfreunde aus aller Welt machen hier Station und hin und wieder – wie letzten März – veranstalten Maya und Barry ihr eigenenes Festival. «Es ist ein gutes Publikum, das auch die improvisierte Musik schätzen gelernt hat, was für diese Leute ja auch etwas Neues ist.» Und dass es immer mal wieder ein paar neue Klänge in Kilkenny gibt, dafür werden Maya und Barry mit Sicherheit sorgen.

Diskographie:
— «Ceremony», Werke von Barry Guy und Biber (ECM 1643)
— «In Darkness let me dwell», Werke von John Dowland. Mit John Potter, Stephen Stubbs, John Surman (ECM 1697)

Maya Homburger:
— Zwölf Fantasien für Solovioline von Telemann (Maya Recordings, in der Schweiz bei Musikvertrieb)
— Bach: Sechs Sonaten für Violine und Cembalo. Mit Malcolm Proud (Maya Recordings)

Weitere CDs — (siehe allgemeine Diskographie etc.)

Brave New World

Joanne Talbot

Barry Guy's experiments in improvised jazz have created a new colour palette for the double bass.

Innovation and tremendous creative energy are synonymous with Barry Guy; internationally renowned for his staggering virtuosity and for the new sound worlds he creates in his distinctive improvised jazz. He has invented a whole range of techniques, from novel pizzicatos to bowing methods. It's all a far cry from his initial occupation – working at an architectural practice.

Music played a formative role in Guy's education. It was in military bands at school, exploring repertoire from Schubert to John Dankworth, that Guy discovered the double bass – sampling the clarinet, tuba, french horn and trombone en route. From school he attended evening classes in composition with Stanley Glaser at Goldsmiths' College, London. There he explored ideas from the American avant-garde and absorbed the merits of Gothic and Georgian restoration work back at the architects' office.

'Really, everything was bubbling along together,' says Guy, 'but during this period I started studying the double bass with James Edward Merritt, and subsequently studied with him at the Guildhall School of Music. It was an incomplete education outside music college, but once I was inside the four walls I started to fill in the gaps. And I began to understand how contemporary music fitted into the whole spectrum. Until then,' he adds, 'it had been quite disjointed.'

Jazz was always an attraction to Guy, who developed a strong empathy for it at school through the various bands he joined and the records he gleaned.

'From my point of view, jazz represents a freedom of the probing spirit,' explains Guy. 'You feel that just around the corner there's going to be the delight of new and surprise elements. For me it's like an organic music with no additives. It's an incredibly exciting area to work in and this is why jazz has been, and remains the most important part of my life. It's like a language that you create over the years and the whole area, from Bebop to Dixieland, started to join up in a very urgent and energetic way.'

Eventually, Guy adds, it led him into 'free improvisation', far less disseminated than the ubiquitously popular jazz of Duke Ellington or Benny Goodman. But with the air of a missionary, Guy explains what attracts him particularly to this mode of playing.

'It's probably the greatest area of music you can be involved in, because you're composing but also playing, receiving and exchanging ideas at the same time. The business of improvising means you lay bare your soul and being, because you're relating directly with another set of people, and there is an incredible honesty in the language. At once everything is brought into play – from the resonance of your body to the accuracy of your ears and the formulation of your technique.'

But like any language, the semantics and parameters change. Mention jazz, and people tend to think of Ellington and Dizzie Gillespie.

'Our style is all and none of these,' counters Guy, 'in that our music-making is not pastiche in the historical sense. But, somewhere in the distance, such classic jazz informs our playing.'

And a similar synthesis forms the background to the London Jazz Composers Orchestra (LJCO), initially founded by Guy in 1970. Now the Artistic Director of the orchestra, he has helped shape the musical evolution of the ensemble. Guy's early music experiments with the group started life within the confines of highly-organised musical argument - sometimes at odds with the idea of improvisation.

'The first piece I wrote for the LJCO was Ode,' Guy explains, ' a work which extended over two hours and sought to celebrate my improvisation work with London players, expressing my gratitude for all the help I'd received. It was a very powerful experiment, even though it was an exceedingly difficult score for many of the players because they were dealing with notation they'd never seen before.

'However, there were problems trying to integrate improvised passages and then switching back to notation. I started integrating more composed music, but eventually this began to alienate people because there wasn't sufficient improvisation. Sometimes it was like juggling the fixed and the free.'

The next phase in the band's musical development came with the performance of scores by members, including Howard Riley's Triptych and Tony Oxley's Alpha. Buxton Orr, Kenny Wheeler and John Stevens have also contributed to the repertoire, while from outside the group Bernard Rands has written a piece. The ensemble has also performed Penderecki's Actions.

'I've always tried to create a community of musicians, where the direction could be determined by the members of the band. We had a desire to break down certain barriers we'd been brought up with. To get these down and open the way forward, we almost had to go too far in a particular direction.'

But Guy's musical horizons stretch beyond the LJCO. He has more that 50 albums to his name, plays in numerous jazz groups and works with musicians such as Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Irene Schweitzer and Paul Rutherford (as in the MAYA label's Elsie Jo album). More recent recordings feature his Evan Parker/Paul Lytton Trio and a duo with Canadian pianist Paul Plimley. Novello publishes his commissioned compositions – Look Up was honoured in 1992 with the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for chamber-scale composition. Add to that a commission from the City of London Sinfonia to celebrate its 25th anniversary and his schedule is hectic.

While his jazz experiments were sowing the seeds for what was to become a highly distinctive style, Guy was developing a strong foothold in the world of period performance, playing with the Academy of Ancient Music and the London Classical Players – all of which involved up to three sessions a day. Despite their apparent differences, the world of baroque embellishment and informed improvisation - coupled with the notions of spontaneity – proved to be a major linking factor between the two disciplines.

'I certainly feel emotionally at home in this kind of music,' Guy enthuses. 'In baroque performance practice there are a lot of improvisatory possibilities, particularly in the violins, gambas and harpsichord parts – not to mention the whole area of vocal embellishments.

'As for the bass line, if you're performing a composer like Bach there's something obvious about the harmonic direction and the way you express this. For me, it was a matter of finding bowing techniques and an instrumental style that would lift the music and elevate the bass line. A colleague of mine once likened playing the bass to being a communist and undermining the whole system.'

Guy's fascination with baroque music led to his meeting his partner Maya Homburger – a specialist in period performance on the violin. Together they operate the MAYA CD label, established to reflect both their interests in music. In their recording schedule, experimental jazz co-exists with performances of Telemann and Bach. Homburger continues her work with her period performance chamber groups, in which Guy also participates, enabling them to work together as much as possible.

The MAYA label includes some interesting crossover duos: 'We've commissioned Buxton Orr, Giles Swayne and Roger Marsh to write duos for us. I'm using contemporary pitch, whilst Maya is using baroque pitch – so there's great possibility for experimentation.'

An ongoing collaboration with London Contemporary Dance has added another dimension to Guy's style.

'I watched the way the dancers produced lifts, whereby the energy is transferred to the right place at the crucial moment through a fluency of motion,' he says. 'And I use this fluency or perpetual motion to achieve a more organic relationship to the bass.

'But the real staging is when I do a theatre-recital with works such as Jacob Druckman's Valentine, Roger Marsh's Time Before or Hubert Stuppner's Ausdrucke: Rondo for a Clown. For the Stuppner,' Guy explains, 'I dress up as a discredited clown and in fact studied general clown-like scenarios, including the way they fall. I tend to build up the theatrical situation more than other players, requesting lighting and props.'

Given the wealth and diversity of his experience, and an architectural background that has given him a strong sense of structure, it's almost inevitable that Guy's playing style should be both sophisticated and eclectic.

'Its amazing how many different areas can inform our musical language. There may be a subconscious reflection of architectural training in my playing. It's really like anything we observe. We can see that a building has perfect proportions or that a painting can thrill, but there are reasons why these things work or make an impact.

'If one takes the time to fathom why they work in different disciplines,' Guy continues, 'it's not beyond the realms of plausibility that our subconscious reverberates with these ideas when playing or composing. I certainly don't like the ghettoisation of concepts, and believe ideas cross-feed each other.'

As well as the strong connection with architecture, Guy's sensitivity to brush strokes and line has a tangible reflection in painting. Here Guy's innovative approach to the bass really comes to the fore, with the development of new sounds as a vehicle to express his ideas. But Guy is insistent that 'it is not a methodology'.

'A lot of these inventions have come through playing situations where you are forced to resolve the need for a sound in order to fit the situation. It might be highly percussive, or the stroke of a hand across the string.

'Alternatively, you could use a stick for striking the string or a cloth – there are many possibilities for the end result. For instance, at music college you're taught the orchestral pizzicato. But in jazz the pizzicato is liberated and acquires a resonance and life of its own. For me, however, that's only the beginning of the pizzicato experience; you can create percussive pizzicato by slapping your finger onto the fingerboard, or you can use two hands and take different strings and make a complexity of sounds.

'Alternatively, the left hand thumb can stop a note whilst the other fingers pluck, and of course the same with the right hand. So we're breaking down the boundaries. Similarly with bowing – we're all taught how to make a good sound, but you can make other articulations such as wood scraping on strings, change the position of the bow to the bridge and so forth.

'Likewise different weights of bow alter the sound,' Guy adds, 'and I use a variety of beaters and sticks which can strike the strings or be threaded through. It's my little surgeon's table of instruments and extensions, but they all arrive through the necessity of expressing something.'

Bassists are too often numbed to the illusion of their instrument as a large and ungainly cousin of the cello. If there was any doubt as to the capacity for effecting such flexibility and agility on the bass, Guy dispels them.

'My idea is to try and make the bass almost the size of a speck of sand,' he explains, 'and imagine the instrument's size doesn't matter any more, just like a voice. If you hold a grain of sand between the ends of your fingers you can feel the clarity and boundaries of the sand. What I've tried to do is get the energy coming through my fingers. And following from this, I find that improvisation allows me to treat the bass as a voice, instead of an object to be bowed or plucked.'

It is this commitment to allowing his virtuosity to personify his voice that marks him out as a committed disciple of the instrument. Thanks to Barry Guy's pioneering work in the spheres of sonority and improvisation, the bass will hold its own at the forefront of developments in contemporary music.

Double Bassist Number 1 Spring/Summer 1996, reproduced with permission of Orpheus Publications Ltd.

Interview with Barry Guy

Malcolm Miller

Barry Guy is a leading double bass player and composer whose creative diversity, in the fields of chamber and orchestral performance, solo and vocal duo contemporary recitals, composition, jazz conducting and teaching, is the outcome both of an unusually varied training and a zest for experimentation, underpinned by a dedication to the double bass and the ideal of musical communication.

I visited him at his new home in Cambridgeshire, where he recently moved to avoid the nonstop studio life of a session artist in London, and in order to devote more time to composition, both for contemporary 'serious' music and for his particular love, jazz, especially with improvisations and performances with the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra which he founded 18 years ago and has directed ever since.

Involvement in the 'Historic Performance' movement which until recently formed the main element in his career began early on: 'I played in the first Gardiner Monteverdi Vespers, a thrilling experience'. He plays regularly with Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, (with the chamber ensemble he has recorded the Schubert Octet, praised in The Gramophone, and a forthcoming disc of Beethoven's Septet and Weber's Quintet for 1991, on L'Oiseau Lyre) as well as Norrington and the London Classical Players with often as much as three sessions a day. "I never wanted to be a leader of a section, as it is with later 'authentic' performances, such as Wagner, with 10 basses in a section, and I felt it was time for a change'. Nevertheless, Guy's new routine still involves plenty of historic performance, and he plays with the new Simon Standage ensemble, 'CM90' which was launched last month in Oxford and London. I asked him if there is much difference in 'period' playing for the double bass, especially since so much attention is usually focussed on the balance of violins and woodwind. 'Yes there is. In articulation, bowing – the shapes of the bows, and above all the sonority, which means different instruments'. Indeed, Guy has seven of them, all for different styles and periods.

Beneath the low ceilings of the studio in his 13th century thatched cottage Barry Guy's seven double basses stand tall. As is evident, 'there's only one place in which to stand to practice, and when the phone rings, it can be painful!' Lining the walls, alongside bookshelves crammed with modern art and philosophy, recordings, and an electronic studio, is an assortment of seven bows which vary from concave to convex. 'I match the bow to the instrument for the most suitable sound, but, like most bassists, am still searching for "the right bow"'. While we speak, there is a phone call from a string maker. 'There are so many varieties of string types; again it's a question of obtaining the right sound, though of course it varies with the different tensions and proportions of each instrument'.

Guy's valuable collection of seven basses shows a serious concern for the spirit as well as the detail of 'authentic practice'. For early Baroque music up until Haydn he plays a Gasparo da Salo (1560) from the Tarisio collection, and is one of only a handful of instruments still in existence. 'The tension of the strings was far less in the early basses' explains Guy, 'as can be seen by the upright angle of the original neck. There were six strings originally, no bass bar, and a lower bridge and a smaller 'C' which restricts the bowing area.' Guy has a reconstruction by Roger Dawson of Thwaites, which he uses for Baroque music, particularly the North German school. 'The reconstruction is a compromise, with a neck mid-way between early and modern positions. The bridge is between the original low and modern high positions. The lower tension strings give more in the way of a "breathing" timbre.'

The da Salo copy is the instrument used in the recent Hogwood recordings of Haydn Symphonies, of which Vol. 4 has recently appeared; in it is the Horn Signal Symphony which features a double bass solo in the Trio, which, played by Guy, conveys a rhythmic momentum and lightness of articulation quite distinct from a modern bass sonority: 'I use the contemporaneous Viennese five-string tuning, D-A D-F sharp-A (rather than more resonant Baroque D-A-D G - which enhances the sympathetic vibrations – or the modern E-A-D-G-) which actually suits the music better, since melodic figurations and scales frequently outline the triadic patterns'. Guy also justifies his use of the da Salo for classical music with the argument that players could have used earlier instruments from an earlier period, but emphasises that it is the sonority which is the main reason.

Consequently, for later classical and early Romantic music, Guy uses a 1740 chamber bass by Pietro Zenato, although at present he is keen to use the da Salo for Mozart, and for later Romantic music he employs a pair of chamber basses from 1840 by Frederick Lott, one of which he also uses for jazz, for which purpose the tuning is transposed up a fourth to A-D-G-C.

It is the novel string effects which link Guy's contrasted activities in 'serious' avant garde music and contemporary jazz. Most striking amongst the new techniques is the sonorous potential opened up by electronic amplification, by means of a transducer on the bridge controlled by a pedal. The pedal allows the player to select and to highlight certain resonances, and thus to evoke a dense and colourful texture. Several factors contribute to this: the use of beaters of varying sizes, and new fingering and pizzicato effects. Guy is particularly attracted to the 'split string' effect, which produces polyphony by sounding both the upper and lower parts of a stopped string. By varying the pitch of the string, the complementary portion varies inversely in pitch. Thus a complex texture, with changing pitches in each string can result in eighth distinct lines, with varying intensities due to the amplification. And by sounding the pitch by means of the left hand articulation, a sequence of chords from two to eight parts is possible. There is also a 'gamelan' timbre produced by soft beaters and pedal, and various 'noise' effects by strumming on the strings and tapping.

Several of these effects were already in use in the early jazz scores, but especially in the work for solo double bass called Statements. Statements II is a 'serious work', hardly ever performed in public, and most often used for study. Only a few people can play it, since students are seldom taught the rapid multi-finger pizzicato technique necessary. Statements 1, 3 and 4 were improvisations for the LJCO and exist only in recordings.

Guy's interest in new techniques was manifest early in his compositional career. The String Quartet no. 3, which won the Radcliffe music award in 1973 and was premiered by Jane Manning and the Allegri, for instance, includes a three page glossary of new notations. Of works for a variety of genres, a larger proportion features the double bass in a significant solo part, for example Eos (1977) premiered in Donaueschingen, Germany, (which was reworked as a ballet in 1977 for the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, for whom Statements II was also reworked in 1972, and for whom Video-Life for bass and tape was composed more recently in 1987) and Voyages of the Moon, composed in 1983 for the City of London Sinfonia.

A particularly remarkable and appealing work is Flagwalk for 14 solo strings composed for the Orchestra of St. John's Smith Square and their conductor John Lubbock in 1975. In the 'Introduction', an ostinato is set up by the solo double bass using soft beaters. The first main section of a three part design ensues, with strict 14 part 'Canonic Variations', in which a rising stepwise minor sixth imitated at closely phased intervals gives rise to an increasingly dense tableau of tonal-modal harmony. 'I have played in string orchestra works like Strauss's Metamorphosen, and Vaughan William's Tallis fantasia, and was working with the vivid sensation of the rich and dense string orchestral textures and sonorities of those works, as well as Tippett's Fantasy on a Theme by Corelli, in mind.' The central section, entitled 'Evolution and Collective', is a stark contrast to the variations in its atonal and freer rhapsodic polyphony leading, after an abridged reprise of the Canon, into the final section and an introduction of the expressive solo 'Song' for double bass solo.

A year earlier, Anna for solo double bass and orchestra (1974) was considered too daring for performance, since the orchestra were required to speak, laugh and move around in the theatrical conclusion, in which the soloist finally plays until all the performers freeze into stasis; it received its long postponed premiere only recently at the RCM in a performance conducted by Edwin Roxburgh with the composer taking the solo part.

Nevertheless the theatrical gesture, as also the interactions of the later works, display the tendency towards dramatic interplay within textures, a predilection which stems from intense experiences of jazz ensembles, and the challenge of combining improvisatory solos within a strict form. An even earlier work, Ode, composed for the LJCO in 1972 and of which three of the seven parts were broadcast by the BBC, showed a similar concern for strict and free elements and jazz group interaction. Ode was composed for a vast orchestra under the tutelage of Buxton Orr at the Guildhall, where Guy studied following his remarkably unusual switch from a career as a professional architect, with the help of evening classes in music at Goldsmiths College. 'Once at the Guildhall, I was playing bass in clubs, such as the Little Theatre Club and Ronnie Scott's (in the late '60s–'70s), I got together musicians I know, to play and improvise. The ensemble became the LJCO, which went through several phases: at first the compositions were fairly strict, and increased in complexity in the first decade, with scores similar to Xenakis. But then we became freer, with more solos, greater improvisation, and less notation. Even then I would compose with faces – particular players would come to mind as I wrote music I imagined them playing.'

Melody is a major element in the more recent LJCO compositions such as Harmos, which opens boldly with a quotation of a chorale accompanied by noise effects, and proceeds to unfold an expansive melody which is transformed in variations successively presented by different instruments. The chorale returns several times to re-evoke its questioning mood, whilst the climactic variation is reserved for double bass in a concluding cadenza. In Harmos improvisation is restricted to aleatoric solos within the rhapsodic variations, yet Guy is still interested by 'free improvisation'. Several recordings with small jazz ensembles such as the Tony Oxley Group, the Howard Riley Trio, and Evan Parker show a constantly renewing interest in contemporary jazz improvisation. The latest recording (which is due to be released on CD next spring), is a duet with Barre Phillips, a bassist from the LJCO. 'We went to a beautiful Romanesque Church in the South of France, and had three days uninterrupted improvisation; it was amazing. We extracted the best sequences for the recording.' Those extracts show an intuitive sense of form and logical discourse, in which texture and sonority are deployed in highly sophisticated language: a spontaneous soundworld if expressive and rhetorical potency that is quite distinct from notated scores, yet which frequently draws upon and extends known avant garde devices and sonorities.

Clearly the element of dialogue is a primary concern to such improvisations, and to Guy's style in general. On the draughtsman's table in the studio in which we talk is a large manuscript page with notes and crossings out. 'That is part of my latest work – a Jazz piece for piano and ensemble for the 50th birthday of Irene Schweitzer, a wonderful Swiss jazz pianist. I aim to give the piano the main part and then build up the texture gradually. Then there is a sort of Tarantella with solos for each instrument in duo with the piano. Recently I gave workshops with LJCO scores to students in Germany – Hamburg, Hanover and Frankfurt – most of my jazz works are performed abroad – in Switzerland and Germany. England is still behind in the contemporary jazz scene, but let's hope that things will change!

Finally, I ask about the electronic keyboard and computer: 'I use electronics a lot, though mainly for working out ideas. This means that a piece can be tested before it is performed, which is very useful. For example, I am composing a work for eight cellos for the St. Martin-in-the-Fields Cello ensemble, a genre which, although there are examples by Boulez and of course Villa-Lobos's Brachianas Brasileiras, is still relatively seldom used for original works. With the music software, I could play some sketches to the ensemble's leader Steve Orton, before the piece was completed.' The piece, which is called Look Up (the title of an American Indian poem), was sponsored by GLA and is to be premiered by the St. Martin-in-the-Field Cello Ensemble at the Wigmore Hall on January 165 1991: 'it is dedicated to the orchestra's former principal bassist Raymond Koster who died last year, inspired by his spiritual radiance and tremendous courage'. Guy's dedication of the work to a fellow double bass player is a characteristic expression of his intensely warm humanity. Above all, Guy's optimistic enthusiasm for the performance, potential and the personality of the double bass itself, underpins the eclectic facets – as solo, jazz and orchestral performer, contemporary jazz and avant garde composer, of his challenging musical creativity.

February 1991 – The Strad

Letting Freedom Ring

Ed Hazell

On the phone from Berne, Switzerland, where he has been rehearsing the London Jazz Composers Orchestra for the previous two days, bassist-composer Barry Guy sounds both exhausted and exhilarated. They are working on his new piece for Swiss pianist Irene Schweizer and a new work by trombonist George Lewis, both of which they will tour and record this month and next. As the interview winds down, he hears the band starting up again, and he's so pleased and proud, he holds the phone receiver out the door so I can hear. Then it's back to work. Guy has many reasons to be tired and happy. He's kept busy as artistic director of the LJCO, as principal bassist with several classical orchestras, including Christopher Hogwood's Academy of Ancient Music, and as a new-music soloist playing works by Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, and other contemporary luminaries.

He is also one of the leading European free improvisers. Which will be evident at the Middle East Cafe on Sunday (February 24), when he performs solo and in duet with Boston-area clarinetist David Rothenberg.

Guy joined the nascent English free-improvisation scene in the mid '60s, while studying classical bass and composition. Along with guitarist Derek Bailey, trombonist Paul Rutherford, Saxophonist Evan Parker, pianist Howard Riley, and drummers Tony Oxley and John Stevens, he created an English music, distinct from American jazz.

Like jazz, this new, difficult music relied on improvisation and used uncommon instrumental sounds but that's where the resemblance ended. Without melody or a regular beat, English improvisation is a quicksand bog of sound in constant flux. It can at times be remote and analytical, and like all free-improvisation, it risks aimlessness.

At its best it establishes a continuum through a highly emotive language that conveys anguish, fury, melancholy, and, on occasion, a delicate, alienated beauty. Beneath the agitated, seemingly chaotic surface lies an order, perceived through careful listening and empathy, that prevents the music from slipping into self-absorption and randomness. For all its off-putting textures and knottiness, this stuff is very human. But if Cab Calloway thought bebop was Chinese music, he wouldn't recognize English free music as even originating on this planet.

Guy helped lay down the ground rules and discovered many of the extended techniques that today are coin of the realm among free improvisers. In a typically unpredictable performance, it may seem that a force beyond his control has gripped him. Or he may proceed with the deliberate rigor of chess/Clarity gives way to murk. Short, nervous, birdlike gestures contrast with languorous sunset tones. Subdued mutterings explode into riotous shouting. "Whenever I do a solo performance, I see only an open landscape ahead of me," he says.

Relying much on the moment, it is difficult music to record. Guy's only solo album Statements V-XI (on Derek Bailey's Incus label), is out of print, but he can be heard with improvising ensembles on more that 30 records. Tracks (Incus) features Guy with Parker and drummer Paul Lytton in four exemplary improvisations Incision (SAJ)-duets with Parker – and Paintings (FMP), with German bassist Peter Kowald, offer a more intimate look at Guy's artistry.

Right now, Guy is reaching a creative peak. His compositions for the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, who he founded in 1970 and has led every since, knit composed and improvised music. "I thought the great leap forward in improvisational ambitions and techniques could be realized in terms of the score. I thought I could place the improvisational sounds within a contemporary musical score that reflects the players, rather than the score making the players do something. I'm looking for a music that has logic and intensity and expresses everyone's aspirations who plays it."

With the European avant-garde at a cross-roads between an older, but by no means exhausted, generation of atonal improvisers and a younger one more interested in melody and traditional forms, Guy has incorporated both camps into Double Trouble (Intakt), his latest work with the LJCO. From the lost-in-the-woods sound of Henry Lowther's opening flugelhorn solo to the querulous final statement from Evan Parker, a memorable story unfolds. The piece encompasses a caterwauling tenor battle involving Simon Picard and Paul Dunmall, a spacious duet between Trevor Watts on alto sax and Steve Wick on tuba. Guy's sense of drama never deserts him, and the diverse personalities in the band interlock.

"This is not a music that aims for any 'ism,'" he concludes. "We're always on this lovely journey, and the landscape keeps on changing. This is the idea – we're responding to those changing landscapes."

(Barry Guy and David Rothenberg appear at the Middle East on Sunday the 24th at 8.30 p.m. Recordings featuring Guy are available through North Country Distributors, Cadence Building, Redwood, New York 13679)

The Boston Phoenix – February 22 1991

From Intakt CD 041 "ODE"

texts by Barry Guy, Bert Noglik & John Corbett

Barry Guy

25 years seems an absurdly long time to keep a band going, but then there have been exceptional attractions in doing so. Two abiding and powerful forces have promoted this continuity: The constantly evolving creativity of the musicians and my desire to research an expanded scenario for the large ensemble.

In those early days I was greatly encouraged by my composition professor Buxton Orr. Such was his interest in my ideas and crucially, his understanding of the impetus behind the musicians' experiments, he eventually directed the orchestra for several years. Also his work as composer, conductor and teacher prepared him for many weary hours coaxing the pieces into life.

"Ode" was my first score written to address the problems of integrating improvised music within a large tableau of symphonic proportions. The first performances produced glowing notices: "remarkable and impressive"; "technically awesome creation"; " a wor k of astonishing brilliance" and so on. There was also a great deal of adverse criticism – "lunatic music"; "merciless noise"; "a long way from Satchmo, Benny, Bix and Duke, too long a way". Well yes, it meant to be a long way from those great pioneers, but some folks always miss the point!

At the time of writing "Ode", I was very conscious of possible misunderstandings that could surround such a composition, and in particular I was anxious to make clear that it was not "Third Stream Music" – the superimposition of "Jazz" material into a classical ensemble. For me it was important to stress the language similarities, the symbiotic sound worlds of "Free Jazz" and contemporary compositional rationalities. I had in mind two solid foundations on which to build the music – "Sound as energy" and "Energy's structure".

As a performer and composer, it seemed to me that the way to integrate the original music of improvising musicians with the composer's idea was to reach into the heart of what each discipline was setting out to achieve and to recognise specific parameters where a meeting point could be negotiated. The process was not so much intellectual – more being guided be feelings and searching for the source of our collective creative spirits. The performer in me felt the intense heat and concentrated energy of improvising with colleagues. The process was spiritually awakening, communicating, inventing, learning, healing with a wide open space controlled by a wonderful balance of ego, humility and explosive creativity. Here was sound as energy.

Switching hats to the "composer", the first obvious point is that my body and brain are one and the same as the improviser. However, the parameters under consideration (naturally) take a different focus since musical space is being organised and prescribed according to the hoped for sonic result. "But why bother" is an often heard question – "improvisation does not need such regulation". Well of course I agree(d) with that statement, but then a different kind of music would emerge if there was even a minimal ordering of events. Large free groupings in particular are prone to "ideas congestion" on the one hand and tentative negotiation on the other unless of course the ensemble had the luxury of constant rehearsals to understand the territory being investigated. The chances of coincidental simultaneities and co-ordinated movements are rare, so what better than a scenario of free and ordered space. In free jazz and improvised music there have been and no doubt will be, incredible moments where musical strands coalesce to produce a music that no composer can imagine. That is as it should be. These moments are unpredictable and surely not repeatable except for the knowledge that certain chemistries between players can create an energy flow that has always the possibility of transcending the sum of its parts. My second tenet therefore was to recognise these possibilities and juxtapose groupings (and solos) to produce an ebb and flow of musical tension. In other words, the energy suggested structure with the composed music being directly related to the individual musician's personal expression. After 25 years the prospect of writing a new piece still excites me with the same adrenaline flow when I think of the musicians that will join me on the stand to make the music live and breathe.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this short essay, aside from my own pre-occupations with structural aspects of music, the continuity and support of the musicians has been my life line for holding the ensemble together. Whenever the future looked bleak there was always a concert that provided the energy to go onwards.

Personnel changes can be expected over so many years, but importantly there has been a solid core of musicians that have offered their own musical signatures to the orchestra from its inception which has essentially given the LJCO its sound.

These are March Charig, Evan Parker, Trevor Watts, Paul Rutherford, Howard Riley and Paul Lytton. Elton Dean, John Stevens, Tony Oxley and Philipp Wachsmann should also be mentioned as long term collaborators. The very nature of the lives of the individual musicians has meant that each performance had to be a special event, and this boiling cauldron of explosive energy has given me the will to search for new ideas and places to play the music.

This new pressing of "Ode" includes the previously omitted Part VII, so at last the composition can be heard as a whole. Our recording specialist Peter Pfister has worked on the technical problems of bringing the original into the general aural picture. Trevor Watts' passionate solo alone is worth all of the efforts to bring this final part onto disc. Special thanks are due to Derek Bailey at Incus for allowing us to re-release "Ode". Thanks also to Patrik Landolt and Rosmarie A. Meier at Intakt for supporting the orchestra consistently, Maya Homburger our manager for transforming our working opportunities and of course Fabrikjazz, Rote Fabrik (Zurich) and all the supporters who have ensured our survival.

Bert Noglik

1....with a different musical rhetoric

After listening to it again: Almost a quarter of a century after it was created, "Ode" resembles a manifesto. The momentum of something beginning, the strength of something new, the bursting forth of a vocabulary never before heard in such a form, the onset of a musical language that goes beyond convention, i.e. beyond the standard pieces of Jazz and New Music. Twenty-five years ago it must have flamed up with revolutionary fire. Despite the years that have passed in the meantime, it has lost none of its effect. "Ode" still glows brightly. The late works of writers and composers have been examined again and again. It is about time that the magic of early pieces is given some attention – early testimonies, though not yet formally perfect, nevertheless anticipating the characteristics of future works in terms of intention and impetus. This also applies to Barry Guy's "Ode", which was performed by the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, especially in view of the dialectics of spontaneity and form, process and structure. To a certain degree "Ode" contains the full range of possibilities, opening them up without becoming capricious and without paging through a dry catalogue of ways to play the music. In a note to his work, Barry Guy speaks of the musicians' ability to play with a "different musical rhetoric". The title ultimately refers to the choral aspect, to the emphasis, to how the audience is addressed.

2....only the start of something

"Ode" dates back to the beginning of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra. Movements 1,2 and 7 were recorded for BBC in 1970; Movement 4 was recorded in 1971 and Movement 6 for BBC in 1972. On the initiative of the "Musician's Cooperative" the first complete performance of "Ode" was held in London at Ronnie Scott's Club in 1971. It was followed by a presentation at the English Bach Festival in Oxford in 1972. The idea of a composers' orchestra, a large formation equally defined by the concepts of composition or intervention and by the improvised creative genius of the participating musicians, developed an amazing self-impetus through "Ode". It was this energy, which proved to be greater than the arithmetic sum of the participants, that encouraged Barry Guy and the orchestra to drive idea and practice even further. At the end of the cassette on which Movement 7 is recorded – the recording of the concert on the Incus label from the Town Hall in Oxford from 22 April 1972 only contains parts 1 to 6 – I can hear the voice of the announcer commenting on Barry Guy and his piece "Ode": "It is," he hopes, "just the start of something." Later, Barry Guy spoke of the different phases of the orchestra: of a phase in which the compositions found their origin in the characteristic playing styles of the members, becoming more and more complicated, of a subsequent phase in which a rigid conception and the liberty of improvisation were increasingly balanced etc. "Ode" comes before these phases, marks the hour of birth, the initial phase, bears the seeds of all of the moments to come.

3. We were all steering towards something yet unknown

It is not necessary to reconstruct Barry Guy's biographical background here. A brief reminder should suffice that his path ran from architecture to music, from the study of so-called "classical" and at the same time "older" and "newer" music in addition to Jazz and free improvisation on to a language of music that would be unthinkable without the above-mentioned experiences, but which can no longer be reduced to its sources. John Coltrane left his traces as well as Anton Webern and Alban Berg. Stravinsky and Penderecki, Stockhausen, Boulez, Xenakis have all been named as an influence on Barry Guy. In connection with "Ode" he referred to how fascinated he was by Oliver Messiaen's "Chronochromie", which inspired him to reflect on the construction principles on antique odes. However the title and principle of construction bear at best only an associative relation to the dimensions of Messiaen and certainly only very vaguely to the chorus of Greek tragedies. The music seems to be equally far from the subtitles, which were named for painters and paintings of the surrealistic school: Part 1: "The End" – Edgar Ende, 1931; Part 2: "Memory of the Future" – Oscar Dominguez, 1939; Part 3: "Exact Sensibility" – Oscar Dominguez, 1935; Part 4: "Indefinite Indivisibility" – Yves Tanguy, 1942; Part 5: "According to the Laws of Chance" – Jean Arp, 1917; Part 6: "Presence of Mind" – René Magritte, 1958; Part 7: "Melancholy Departure" – Georgio de Chirico, 1916. All of this hardly allows an association with concrete references to pictorialness, but rather indicates contours of a reality not yet seen or heard, at least not in this form. It corresponded with Barry Guy's adventures in the area of musical improvisation – be it with Paul Rutherford, Trevor Watts, John Stevens, Tony Oxley, in ensembles with Bob Downes, in groups around Evan Parker, in trio formations with Howard Riley, in the group Iskra 1903 (at first with Barry Guy, Paul Rutherford and Derek Bailey).... The unknown , Derek Bailey once said, cannot be reached with a compass. The atmosphere of the late Sixties and early Seventies, the questioning of social structures and the breaking open of encrusted traditions all seemed to give the musical "Sturm und Drang" processes more drive. Barry Guy wanted to melt his apparently disparate experiences together orchestrally in the medium of music, or , as he once explained, to make the paradox of joining together composition and improvisation productive. There was a further related motive for "Ode": Barry Guy wanted to point out the variety of musical styles that had developed in the English improvising music scene and present them, so to speak, under one roof. The different stylistic onsets proved to be a driving force, at the same time also creating a tension of collective effort that stretched to the breaking point. In a conversation with Rosmarie A. Meier and Patrik Landolt, Barry Guy admitted: "We were all steering towards something yet unknown. We were working towards it together as part of a process. We tried to clarify the details, to tie together the various musical disciplines. It was also about finding forms of a musical discourse in order to be able to coexist with the others. Through destroying the conventional patterns of communication, we wanted to achieve an even more intense communication."

4.....to be able to feel free within the structure

In the liner notes accompanying the recording of "Ode" under the Incus label, Barry Guy complained that the orchestral aspects had remained statistically underdeveloped in relation to the enormous expansion and differentiation of the musical vocabulary through the instrumentalists of improvised music. He is not only referring to the Big Bands of Jazz that were caught in conventional traditions and idioms, but also to the works of New Music. Although it did pay attention to the structural aspects, New Music had largely left the specific individuality of the players unconsidered. What is new is characterised on the one hand by using the language of music developed by modern Europeans and on the other by the creative potential of improvisers in the field of tension between concept and spontaneity. This should not be confused with a third way in the traditional sense of "third stream". Thanks to his studies in composition, Barry Guy was able to organise and structure what he played with his improvising colleagues, forming "Ode" into a manifesto. The orchestral dimension literally cried for a composer if the playing was not to end in endless passages of power or overflowing surfaces of sound. At the same time, the variety of individual voices proved to be a kind of palette that challenged creative fantasy. When he writes for an ensemble or an orchestra with "classical" musicians, Barry Guy once said, he imagines a certain sound that he wants to achieve. For the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, on the other hand, he sees faces. Even in this piece, which is far from Jazz, Barry Guy follows the principle of orchestral thought that was developed during the history of Jazz: Taking into consideration the mentality, the personality, the stylistic characteristics of the soloists. He lets them inspire him without reducing his total concept. He challenges the individual, but does not force them to deny their own characteristics. Ekkehard Jost described the complex working relationship of the orchestra: "put together from the imagination and competent craftsmanship of the composer Guy;the notions that he forms of the musical characters of his partners;and the performances that these then give – reacting to the events of his imagination." Very clearly Barry Guy and the participating musicians are no longer interested in provocatively standing out from the encrusted traditions of Jazz and /or New Music, but are more concerned with a principle of construction. The analogy to social structures and processes was in the air. Barry Guy speaks of the composition as a "social framework", for the participating musicians; and he accentuates that he wants to design the score so freely that all of them can actually "feel free within the structure". This was not always the case in later phases of the Orchestra. The solution to the paradox or the insight gained in the process of the dialectic of composition and improvisation, however, can only be thought about and brought about as a process. "Ode" made this problem transparent and at the same time held it up so it could be clearly seen: in the acoustic room, in the cultural landscape, in society.

5. With the composition "Ode" I found a first solution

In this piece density does not necessarily mean tutti. Barry Guy works with the most diverse gradations and overlapping of density and degrees. He introduces "solo groups", which to a certain extent negotiate between the soloist and the orchestra, confronting them with each other as the concertino and the full orchestra do in the concerto grosso. And he uses all these means undogmatically, he combines, complicates and untangles, he also allows stylistic varia – from reminders of melodic ballad improvisations to a feeling of strict dodecaphonic playing, from individual and collective bursts of energy to comparatively calm surfaces of sound, from associations with "classical" music to Jazz gestus. The latter however, only appears very occasionally. This is certainly connected with the fact that in this phase Barry Guy and most of the musicians gathered around him were greatly concerned with disassociating themselves from the image and idiom of Jazz. Only in the final movement, Part 7 which is entitled "Coda", did Barry Guy attempt a compromise with Jazz's Big Band traditions. Significantly enough , this part was left out of the Incus production of "Ode". In the liner notes Barry Guy indicated that he was not satisfied with the result, that he had asked too much of the soloists who had otherwise worked themselves so well into the language of the other parts and that several "blunders" had occurred. Nonetheless he regretted, that "Coda", which contained good solo and ensemble passages and had been a success with the audience, had not been documented. Ekkehard Jost quoted a critique by Derek Jewell that appeared on 2 May 1971 in the "Sunday Times" where he stated: "This wonderful ‘Coda' in Guy's piece, in which Bernard Living's revolutionary alto saxophone and a blindingly beautiful bass trio stood in the foreground, was a conclusive plea for the cause of the Jazz avant-garde .....". As Barry Guy had conceived just this part as a compromise, one cannot help but confirm a misunderstanding in the reception of it. However, from a different perspective "Coda" can be considered a part that exactly because of its contradictions does not take a back seat to the others in terms of brisance. Once the disassociation from Jazz had taken place and did not have to be emphasised all the time, the exchange of views between the creative means and the means of expression in Jazz once again became attractive. Although "Ode" is fascinating, especially because of its tonal dimension which, in lack of a different or more succinct expression, could be called "European", Barry Guy was concerned at the same time with the model of structure and with a model of communication: "I was looking for possibilities of combining the contrary moments of freedom and control with each other. With the composition of "Ode" I found a first solution". And so "Ode" is still shining a quarter of a century after its creation – similar and yet at the same time also different to "Globe Unity" with the Orchestra around Alexander von Schlippenbach, to "Machine Gun" with Peter Brötzmann's octet, to "European Echoes" with the ensemble around Manfred Schoof, to the recordings with the Jazz Composers' Orchestra around Carla Bley and Mike Mantler. Or, to risk a comparison and carry it further, to John Coltrane's "Ascension" or Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz", to the significant works of Anton Webern or Yannis Xenakis. "Ode", in short, falls in line and out of the frame: a milestone and a manifesto. In the London Jazz Composers Orchestra the music has freed itself from the subaltern mediator. New productive powers were kindled by the attempt to resolve the paradox. Thus, the sound of "Ode" is at the same time highly personal and yet goes beyond the individual, the concrete expression of a phase of uprise, to a certain degree timeless, characterised by systematic intellect and yet full of sensuality.

That the London Jazz Composers Orchestra has survived for a quarter of a century despite unavoidable crises and continues to stride towards the future, that seven of the founding members (Marc Charig, Paul Rutherford, Trevor Watts, Evan Parker, Howard Riley, Paul Lytton and of course Barry Guy himself) are still part of it, underlines the forbearance expressed in the quotation that the whole thing is the start of something.

(Translation: Susan Kaufmann-Guyer)

John Corbett

"....where the composition could coexist alongside the soloists, both in concept and the resultant sound" Barry Guy on LJCO, 1972

When I first heard about the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, the word "composer" stood out like wings on a pig. With a cast that has included Derek Bailey, Tony Oxley, Peter Brötzmann and Peter Kowald, Paul Lytton and Evan Parker, it seemed more like and improvisers' convention than a composers' orchestra. With the benefit of a few years consideration, I have now realised that the moniker has two meanings: 1) the writing kind of composer (like Guy or any of the other player/composers or just plain-composers whose music LJCO has embraced) who directs and manipulates the orchestra with charts; 2) the "instant composer", that is, the free improviser. LJCO is at once a big-band playing a particular style of music by jazz composers and an orchestra built out of improvisers. Recent years have seen Guy make good on the first definition; he has written the ensemble a book of luxuriant scores in an instantly recognisable compositional style, thereby giving the group an audible identity beyond that of its individual members. But the earlier pieces, like the earliest, "Ode", utilised more open-ended and less thematic structures and frames, letting the soloists become the compositions, as much as "coexisting" with them. In its infancy the (now 25-year-old) band seems to me to have emphasised the latter definition: the instant composer. Blurring the line between composition, interpretation and extemporisation, LJCO was, and in many respects still is, a band in which everyone was a composer.

Here we have Barry Guy's first attempt, as he explained at the time, to revitalise the stilted American big-band tradition with the rich new blood of European free music. But I think of LJCO in relation to an ongoing line of large ensemble composer-leaders, not as a total break from them. Some other enterprising soul will have to connect the European compositional dots – Xenakis, Ligeti, Penderecki, Takemitsu, Mahler, Monteverdi, Codex, Camerata – but I'll take a swing at the group's jazz matrix. Of course, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis thread is hardly continued in LJCO, but we can track back through a lot of jazz history finding points of connection. These are by no means "influences" – many aren't even bands or approaches that have especially captured Guy's interest over the years – but they constitute a matrix of the very best large-scale creative music ensembles, a context in which we can situate one line of LJCO's activities.

Anthony Braxton Creative Orchestra Music: The last decade of neo-conservativism has seen Braxton exorcised from the jazz tradition despite his tireless investigation of his own roots from Bird to Tristano. Fascinating statement on the state of music a quarter century ago that Guy chose to call his a "jazz" orchestra, when now Braxton's parallel developments for large group – integrating Henry Brant, Fletcher Henderson and John Philip Sousa – are outside even the "outside" of jazz. I suppose we'll have to wait for the LJCO Lincoln Centre debut ....

Jazz Composer's Orchestra: Michael Mantler's band is a reference not only because of the name (a direct appropriation and gesture of esteem), but in its ability to work bold voices like Cecil Taylor's, Don Cherry's and Roswell Rudd's into his "Communications" without making them lose their personality. A typographical detail might be worth mentioning: before Barry finally decided to drop the apostrophe altogether, as he recently has, LJCO placed it outside the "s", suggesting an inclusive, multiple "composers' orchestra" Mantler retained authorial singularity in his "composer's orchestra".

Globe Unity Orchestra: Four years before "Ode", Alexander von Schlippenbach's first stabs at unifying the globe set an obvious context for LJCO's emergence. The original attempt to bring Europe's free contribution into such massive orchestration, when it started GUO had more musically in common with the LJCO than it did by the time the two bands met for their monumental duel, "Double Trouble". Whenever I get a good blast of Globe Unity, it reminds me of the pure power at the core of LJCO.

Brotherhood Of Breath: Remembered more for their infectious, joy-filled vamp-tunes than their (quite extensive) movement into denser areas of orchestral abstraction, the Brotherhood nevertheless seems an appropriate connection in decoding LJCO's existence and significance in the unfolding of new approaches to big-band. McGregor's cband was capable of the same mixture of sweetness and sting so masterfully manipulated by LJCO.

The Experimental Band: Muhal Richard Abrams led this never-recorded "rehearsal band" for a decade in Chicago, exploring possibilities of scoring for large-scale improvising corps. Indeed, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, AACM, had a requirement for new members at one time that they had to lead a big group through their own material. Abram's later orchestra also bears comparison, especially with Guy's more recent scores.

John Coltrane-Ascension seems an inescapable citation: 11-piece band, 1965, teasing borders of thematic composition and expressionistic, explosive improvisations. Trane retained the jazz-solo format within gargantuan-blow framework, which meant he could incorporate voices (like Freddie Hubbard's) that might seem incongruous or impossible. LJCO too, uses this inclusive logic.

Charles Mingus: How to break up the orchestra into smaller subgroups and treat the orchestra as a space for multiple reconfigurations? Along with his huge impact on Barry as a player, Baron Mingus's approach to writing for the big-band is decisive, and his long, sectional, storytelling pieces set another corner of LJCO's stage.

Sun Ra Arkestra: How did Ra manage to keep musicians with such individual voices and leadership potential as John Gilmore, Marshall Allen and Pat Patrick in Arkestra so long? Nourishing material, gradually changing compositional strategies, and, for the soloists, lots of SPACE. Look back at the members of LJCO on "Ode" who are still there today: Paul Rutherford, Trevor Watts, Evan Parker, Howard Riley, Paul Lytton and Marc Charig. A family that plays together .....

Duke Ellington: The inevitable, overemphasised, but still somehow true party-line on Duke's writing for targeted band members is also true of LJCO. It is the unique vocabularies (often "extended" vocabs, just like the Ellingtonian's were) of the participants in this orchestra that give it its specific sound and that take it on its charted (and uncharted) course. But to say that a composer writes music with particular players in mind is a hazy statement at best, in need of clarification.

Around a table on the day after Nickelsdorf 95, the three-day festival at which LJCO has played twice, once with guest soloist Marilyn Crispell, I sit in casual conversation with Guy, Lytton and pianist Georg Gräwe. Impressed especially by the meeting with Crispell, I express my amazement at Guy's ability to write music that inspires great soloing and strong subgroup improvisation. The discussion meanders in to Jungle Band comparisons. Lytton offers that the idea that Ellington wrote only for certain players is a badly misunderstood cliché, that Duke composed great music regardless of intended player, inspiring for any soloist. Barry concurs. Lytton wonders, what will happen later in the year when Guy's most personalised, detailed depiction of the 17 members of LJCO "Portraits", will be played by a completely different band in Sweden. Guy smiles and raises his eyebrows in joint uncertainty.

It seems to me that this specific breed of big-band composer writes with several things in mind: 1) the instrument and instrumental role (foreseeable and predictable possibilities); 2) the demands of compositional strategy of the particular piece (specific musical context); 3) the player in question (unstable and often unpredictable stylist). Guy has, from "Ode" on, used compositional materials to push the players, to elicit special performances from musicians with special abilities.

A sense of drama, of unfolding or expedition, is integral to Guy's concept and it fits the members of LJCO like a glove. Guy has adamantly explored the twin dialectics of written vs. improvised and arrangement vs. solo, and when a player like Rutherford uses a giant orchestral swell as a diving platform into a solo, anticipating and toying with a string of punch-chords, and finally settling elegantly into a tide pool of clusters that follows, the negotiation of the very relationship between soloist and orchestra belongs to the player, not to the composer whose name is beneath the title. That's a form of radical redistribution of authority – freedom, if you want – that doesn't go out of style because Ellington used it sixty years ago.

One last thought on writing for improvisers. The way some people talk about Duke's style of writing for his players goes something like this: He knew what they could do, knew their special tricks, their technical innovations, their signature licks, and wrote music with places for them to do their things. A spin through his 1926 version of "East St. Louis Toodle-O" might confirm this – Bubber Miley's growling, talking trumpet mutations seem the only possible answer to Ellington's compositional query. But Ellington made a place for exceptional players to play exceptionally; he didn't try to think for them, he featured them. In the same manner. Guy doesn't try to anticipate the extreme liberties that players like Paul Lytton and Alan Tomlinson, for instance, might take during their LJCO solos: far out, on a limb, they know it's their charge not to fall off, to somehow come back to the trunk of the tree.

I've heard a few downtown New Yorkers – Elliott Sharp and John Zorn, specifically – discuss writing for musicians who they know so well they can predict what they'll do. In fact, I've played structured improvisations designed "with me in mind" and found it strangely constricting. The art of writing for improvisers, in my opinion, lies not in guessing what they'll do or drawing on their gimmicks, but in composing music that inspires them to do something you couldn't imagine. This practice thus requires the humility not to know; it means you have to believe in something unknown, in something as fragile as improvisation. At Nickelsdorf, listening to Paul Dunmall take an emotionally charged, absolutely jubilant, free jazz tenor solo over the orchestra, I'm sure that Barry Guy is one of the most gifted – and humble – composers of this variety the world has yet known.

Barry Guy: A most ingenious paradox

Kenneth Ansell

One of the most vexed questions which has dogged improvisers has been that of the relationship between improvisation and composition. The arguments and debates have covered ground ranging from ethical and commercial considerations to the philosophical problems raised.

Can it be correct, for instance, that when a jazz soloist takes a 'standard' tune, applies all his creativity to reworking – recomposing – the themes almost beyond recognition, that the author of the first tune should retain all the credit – and royalties – as if his composition had just been trotted out dot-for-dot?

And in what ways do the two elements – improvisation and composition – interact, inhibit or illuminate each other?

Naturally the debate has raged with argument and counter argument; and almost as many resolutions as participants have emerged. Notwithstanding the fact that stances adopted have sometimes seemed to shift with the passage of time.

These and other questions are begged not only by Barry Guy's whole career, which straddles both composed classical music and improvisation, but more centrally by the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra – the eighteen-strong improvisers' orchestra founded by Guy – where he meets them head on.

'I think, first of all, we're entertaining a paradox by combining improvisation with the written element,' states Guy, 'and it's intriguing for me to see how that paradox works itself out. It's an unstable chemistry in a way, and the catalyst in the experiment is the players. By their approach they can move the whole mass one way or another.

"With the LJCO we try to find a homogeneous language where instrumental facility is matched by a written vocabulary, but without trying to create "Third Stream" music. Recently we've also been working completely without scores, for example during some concerts in Angers last year, and recently in London, and the results were really very good.'

Thus, unlike Fred Frith, who has kept his improvised and composed work separate, having come to the conclusion that improvisation worked best in isolation, Guy is actively mating the two in the framework of the LJCO.

PITCHED HEADLONG

Guy established the LJCO in the early Seventies. 'We talked about it in Berlin in 1969. A lot of diverse people were playing together, and it was such a good time that I thought I'd like to write a composition which would include everyone and express those things. So I decided to put it together."

Thus 'Ode' and the LJCO were born, to represent and embody the musical climate and scene he found about him.

It was a scene into which he had pitched himself headlong, and which he subsequently helped to shape. It was not one into which he had grown, like to many of his contemporaries. In fact, it was not until relatively late that he had taken up the bass at all.

When he left school Guy combined work in an architect's office with learning the bass and attending composition classes at Goldsmith's College. He was also playing Benny Goodman numbers in working men's clubs and later, bebop in Dave Holdsworth's Sextet. Graduation to the nascent improvised music scene followed quite promptly. A composition Guy had written featuring trombone took him to Paul Rutherford, and through him Guy met Trevor Watts and John Stevens and received an invitation to join them at the Little Theatre Club.

At the Little Theatre Club Guy joined the SME (the Spontaneous Music Ensemble), and when Ronnie Scott's Club moved to Frith Street he began work there too in the resident rhythm sections.

In his own words, 'I seemed to spend my whole time commuting backwards and forwards between the Little Theatre Club and Ronnie Scott's.'

Guy enrolled as a member of Amalgam (with Watts and Rutherford when all three left SME), Howard Riley's various trios, began a long association with Tony Oxley and was a regular participant in Bob Downes' ensembles, including those provided music for the London Contemporary Dance Theatre.

At the Stockwell Plough sessions, Guy was reunited with John Stevens; here fresh impetus was given to one particular sub-group from the Musicians' Co-op, an organisation in which Guy had also been involved. It also made manifest a music which has, despite the spare transparency of his early work with SME and subsequently at times with both Iskra 1903 and the Parker Quintet, become integrally associated with Guy's playing. It is one charged with urgency and noteworthy for the density of material.

'I started playing very late,' Guy explains, 'and there was a great urgency to learn and catch up. This urgency was characterised in the people I associated with, and I've tended to work with these people ever since. I find my greatest spontaneity and creative sense manifests itself with people who work at that sort of speed.'

SEPARATE SPHERES

During the late Sixties Guy spent four years studying at he Guildhall School of Music.

'I didn't know much about classical music at all before I studies there,' he comments, 'my introduction to classical music had been Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" and Penderecki's "Threnody To The Victims Of Hiroshima". So I was working backwards through classical music and discovering as I went. Then, about the time I left Guildhall, there were quite a few small chamber orchestras starting up. It was a very optimistic time. I ended up as principal bass with about four of them, tearing from one to the next!'

Generally Guy regards his work in the 'classical' and 'improvised music' spheres as two separate areas of activity. Two different worlds, in fact, revolving around his bass at the centre; two worlds with different languages and different challenges, yet both concerned on a personal level with investigations and communication. But in the LJCO he draws on compositional elements of the classical tradition and attempts to combine them with the expressive power and organic strength of improvisation.

'With the LJCO I'm interested in composition, not in a dictatorial way, but as a "social framework" for the players. But in writing for classical orchestras, or string quartets, I take another line. They expect the composer to be responsible for all the music that emerges, so I don't include improvisation any more, although I did at one time. I do try to express spontaneity within that written music, although I'm definitely not trying to "write improvisation".

When I'm writing for a classical group or orchestra I have a particular sound I'm aiming for, but with the LJCO I see faces. For instance, for the tune I used as a coda for "Polyhymnia" at the Place concert; I sat at the piano, heard the way Trevor (Watts) plays a ballad and just wrote it.

'In the old days I used to use tone rows and things like that, but now a realise that in a way it's superfluous with the LJCO. It's actually to do with areas and textures we understand better intuitively.'

However, an understanding of the role of composed structures within the context of the LJCO was not something of which Guy was automatically aware. In fact he is still exploring their use, although he has learned from experience.

'"Ode" was the first piece, and it covered a lot of areas and directions. That was an experiment for me as much as for everybody else – to see the response to different structures. Since I was enormously impressed with how everybody dealt with them I very enthusiastically thought, "Let's carry on with that".

The scores got more and more complex and I gradually became aware of people getting more and more frustrated. I wasn't immediately aware of this because I knew the music quite intimately and I was also fairly adept at going from score to improvisation and back again, but I got wind of a gradual feeling that "this is impossible", and that was reflected in people leaving, of course.

'You learn all the time ... if you make a score too simple then sometimes the musicians don't like it because, in a way, you're relying on improvising musicians to make – or complete – your score, one that might have very little thought behind it. But if you go to the other extreme, and make it very complex, then people feel hemmed in and don't feel that there's enough room left to improvise at all. That has a rather stilting effect. So what I'm trying to do is to liberate the score in such a way that the guys can actually feel free within the structure, and add their contributions.

'After "Ode" I moved away from writing tunes and concentrated more on writing textures. In a way these were a reflection of the direction in which our improvising was moving anyway, with its density and complexity. I was hearing a lot of that and started incorporating it into the scores – trying to provide and reflect the material of and for the improvisation. It's a paradoxical mixture.

'Four or five years ago I cut the band down so that it contained all improvisers, I simplified the scores and gave a lot of responsibility to individual players to control sections and instigate movements. I think that by working in this way quite a good feeling began to emerge – "We're doing this as a group".

"Then, last year – at the Angers Festival – I eventually said, "Let's do a group improvisation". And it was marvellous. That collective spirit of working together transferred itself into a completely open situation. People listened to the sonorities and timbres of the whole band; everyone entered into the improvisation and was very controlled (which isn't to say that they were timid).'

SOCIAL STRUCTURES

Speaking generally of large ensemble free improvisation and the LJCO's position relative to that, Guy continued: 'With large group improvisation there's often a lack of responsibility by some members. Either through just dropping out, being lazy or apathetic, or by being thoroughly brutal and virtually destroying it, saying "well, it's my spot now", and forcing space for it regardless.

'What's happening now with the LJCO has far more understanding of large group improvisation and of other members' contributions. I wouldn't be interested in the LJCO as just a vehicle for soloists, and all the indications are that there's a group commitment to improvisation which is very different to that.'

Guy is not the only musician composing for the LJCO; Tony Oxley, Howard Riley, Kenny Wheeler and John Stevens have all provided scores (in Oxley's case a graphic score). Buxton Orr wrote a piece during his time as a conductor. But outside of the LJCO structure only Bernard Rands has composed for them, although they have also performed Penderecki's 'Actions'.

Guy was anxious to expand this circle by commissioning, initially, George Lewis and Anthony Braxton to compose works; both have written for large orchestras and have performed alongside members of the LJCO, but an application for funds from the Arts Council to enable these commissions to go ahead was turned down.

Similarly, Guy has also always been keen to spread the weight of authority and responsibility within the orchestra; a parallel development to that of spreading the compositional load and encouraging a musical egalitarianism through his composed structures.

"I've always aimed to create a community of musicians,' he states, 'where the direction could be determined by the members of the band. I've always tried to avoid the things of Barry Guy's LJCO, because I've always considered myself to be just one of the musicians.

'In the early days I think there was always a certain amount of flippancy. The LJCO was regarded as a curious animal to come and make music in. But I realised that it would involve a very long-term effort on everybody's part. I don't see it as a one or two year project. I also wanted the band to work often enough for these changes to manifest themselves in a very strong way, where people would say, "We don't want to do that – we want to do this". That's hard when you haven't got many gigs.

'It's as much a social structure as a musical body; because of that the music is often particularly fine. Especially the last two gigs we've had – they've been triumphs for hard work and musical resolve.

Barry Guy's current commitments continue to straddle the areas of classical and improvised music, including a duo with Jane Manning, work with the West Square Electronic Music Ensemble, Capricorn, John Harle's Berliner Band, the Orchestra of St. John's Smith Square, the Academy of Ancient Music and the City of London Sinfonia (for whom he recently wrote a bass concerto).

He continues to work with Paul Rutherford and Phil Wachsmann in Iskra 1903, in Evan Parker's trio and quartet with Paul Lytton and Kenny Wheeler (or Mark Charig), in the Supersession quartet with Eddie Prevost, Evan Parker and Keith Rowe and is interested in exploring a trio with Evan Parker and Jamie Muir.

But he remains most passionate about that body in which the two elements of composed and improvised music coalesce – the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra.

I would hate to lose it now; I think the LJCO has tremendous possibilities, there's tremendous potential, and all the guys want something magical to happen. We get good results, we get powerful results sometimes (I would say often now) but there is another hurdle. What's over it, I don't know. But I do know that once we're over here it's going to be absolutely extraordinary.'

There can be little doubt that given sufficient support and playing opportunities the LJCO is capable of achieving those extraordinary musical results of which Guy speaks. The indicators are there: a gripping short-notice concert recently at the Place in London, and the wonderful heaving, organic recordings just released under the title Stringer by FMP/SAJ. They have already acquired for themselves a unique voice favourable comparable with those of the Globe Unity Orchestra and Bley-Mantler's JCO in the States (and latterly Bley's touring orchestras), managing to achieve this with only a fraction of the support offered to either.

The final word must belong to Guy: 'The improvised music scene is a more vital force than anything else I know in terms of Western contemporary music. And the LJCO, and its area of activity, is actually as important as that of the London Sinfonietta in terms of dealing with large-scale composition.'

Free Spirit

Will Montgomery

Composer and bandleader Barry Guy, on tour this month, is a key figure in contemporary improvised music. Will Montgomery discussed his often controversial achievements, including his latest work, Portraits.

"Running a big band is probably mind-blowingly stupid!" laughs Barry Guy at the end of our conversation. Indeed, to some, the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra, the 17-piece group he founded in 1970, is more than a foolhardy enterprise, it's artistically flawed. Guy's been attacked both for producing musical chaos and, on the other hand, for imposing the strait-jacket of a score on his improvisers. neither position does justice to the overwhelming power and emotional energy of the band at full-stretch. For Guy, the opportunity the orchestra presents for exploring the relationship between formal organisation and spontaneity within a large scale setting is something uniquely exciting.

As he says, "I see both sides as completely valid. it just so happens that I have a great love for structure and, in the best improvisations, you hear structure anyway. For me, improvisation is not a random procedure, it's a progression of understandings, musical understandings. I think it's terribly important over a period of time to reassess these moments until we come out with a different music. I've probably got over the idea of scores being problematic in the sense that I think I'm beginning to find the way of making them more organic with the music.

"I've had the most marvellous good fortune to play with some of the most wonderful players around: Evan Parker, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Irene Schweitzer and Paul Rutherford ... It doesn't matter whether you are Afro-American or white European, essentially what happens in the best music is that you have a kind of logic of construction and direction".

Guy's affection for structure manifested itself in his original career in architecture, though he eventually gave it up to study at the Guildhall. From there he went on to work with various chamber ensembles and orchestras, including Christopher Hogwood's Academy of Ancient Music, with which he spent 13 years. He's also achieved success in the field of contemporary music, both with his own prize-winning compositions and with his renditions of pieces by composers like Cage and Xenakis. However his abiding love has been free improvisation. It's a field in which he's been a key figure since the movement's beginning in the late 60s and early 70s, when he started playing with musicians like Trevor Watts, Paul Rutherford, Tony Oxley, Evan Parker and Derek Bailey. Many of the musical alliances he established have now continued into the present London Jazz Composers' Orchestra. Its recent work combines improvisation as challenging as anything produced in the early 70s, with beautifully-scored ensemble sections reminiscent of Mingus or Ellington. Guy refuses the contention that his use of tradition is, in some way, a retreat from the uncompromising stance of earlier years. "I don't see it as necessarily backtracking at all. I think those early periods of experimentation and abstraction were all part and parcel of the need and the desire to break through certain barriers that we'd been brought up with. To get those down and open the way forward we almost had to go too far in a particular direction".

It amounts to a far more lively use of the past than many of today's young post-bop, pastiche vendors. Yet, as is obvious from the name of his band (echoing Michael Mantler's Jazz Composers' Orchestra), Guy unlike some of the European free school, doesn't feel a need to distance himself from 'jazz'. "In terms of playing jazz I think I couldn't describe playing with Evan Parker and Paul Lytton or Phil Wachsmann and Paul Rutherford, as anything other than improvisation. But is has so many relationships to what I consider jazz-playing. It depends on where you want to root jazz. if you define jazz as being a music that is confined within chord sequences and regular bar structures, then we're not playing jazz. But for me, jazz is a world of creative music and improvisation, which broadly encompasses Afro-American traditions as well as European traditions".

The piece Guy is currently touring with, Portraits, is a kind of celebration of the musicians who form his orchestra, many of whom are bandleaders in their own right, and as such it has a similar objective to Ode (a piece he composed for LJCO in 1972). For it, he felt he had to find a new way of integrating the players' improvising capabilities and the score. "I've tried to do it so that everybody plays in a grouping of their choice and also as a soloist against the whole orchestra ... What I tried to do was build up this huge structure where people keep on reappearing at different points. So, although you think you've seen the last of somebody, they might turn up later in other groupings".

Guy has cut down on other relatively remunerative commitments to concentrate on compositional and improvisational work and running the band. Funding is scarce - so much so that he recently had to sell a valuable old double bass to buy 17 air tickets for a LJCO tour of the US. His disgust at the current political climate may drive him to live abroad, though this most exacting and uplifting of jazz orchestras wouldn't itself be threatened. One suspects that the extraordinary two decades of musical relationships it enframes will be sustained for a good time to come.

"For me, the reason for doing it is that in front of me I have 17 friends. This is what the music is about, it's a kind of love for all those people and the hard work that they've put in, and their tremendous energy, creativity, and commitment. That's where the music comes from".

Tomorrow is now

Barry McRae

The 25th Anniversary of the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra

When confronted with the jazz orchestra, the dogmatist has always floundered in the shallow waters of definition. Where does the written start and the improvised end? It was a problem best solved by the like of Duke Ellington and Gil Evans but it still left an area of doubt in the mind of the theorist. By its very existence, the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra compounded the problem. Here was a large aggregation committed to free improvisation and yet marshalled under an orchestral banner.

It was formed in 1970 by bassist Barry Guy and from the inception included the wildest spirits from the European free music scene. As a principle, Guy 'tried to harness the freedom of the music, within structures that had a meaningful, cohesive direction... something like juggling the fixed and the free'. Charles Mingus was very much an early inspiration, although the first work for the orchestra, Ode (1), completed in 1970, paid tribute to the spirit of the American without adopting details of this music. It was purely Guy's examination of the relationship between free soloing and notated music and it enjoyed its debut at Ronnie Scott's in 1971 as part of the Musician's Collective Festival.

It was an undoubted success, and the recorded version had in cornetist Marc Charig, Guy, drummer Paul Lytton, saxophonists Evan Parker and Trevor Watts, pianist Howard Riley and trombonist Paul Rutherford seven players who have remained with the group to the present day. Unfortunately, encouraged by this success and by the possibilities available to such an orchestra, Guy misread the situation and, by his own admission, directed the works that followed on an increasingly academic route. He ushered the band toward greater organisation, embracing atonality and putting more emphasis on the tone row than many of his sidemen were prepared to accept. Reaction from these improvising players was not slow in coming and Buxton Orr, the conductor at the time, had difficulty in keeping the project afloat.

Guy, himself a virtuoso instrumentalist and playing member of the band, was able to appreciate the problem and he instigated a change in direction, one in keeping with the feelings and aspirations of his fellow bandsmen. He was helped in the next phase of the band's life, most especially by the provision of 'compositions' by the likes of Riley (Triptych), Rutherford (Sacre Bleu Spring Song) and percussionist Tony Oxley (Alpha). These mid seventies pieces were not so much compositions as frames that implies aspects of these players' small group performances.

Guy secreted these episodes in his compositional patterns and this fact was strongly reflected in the next phase of the band's history, probably starting in earnest with Four Pieces for Jazz Orchestra (2) recorded by the BBC in 1980. It showed greater flexibility in all departments. Part One was essentially mobile, while Part Two, with Kenny Wheeler, superb in his trumpet part, was positively formal. Part Three, with its ferocious reeds sandwiching the gentle fluency of Melvin Poore's tuba and Tony Coe's clarinet, traded in contrasts, while Part Four, with Oxley's percussion build-up and fine trombone interludes, was the most unpredictable.
A memorable performance of the suite was given at the 1980 Bracknell Festival but the ultimate stage of the Band's evolution was best documented by Guy's Polyhymnia, and captured for posterity in Zurich by Intakt Records (3) in 1987. It proffered orchestral form to the sidemen but accepted the basic shape of their improvisations on a reciprocal basis for performance. Guy used the full weight of the band sparingly, traded in latent power and only rarely revealed that there were 17 men on parade. Nevertheless, the soloists were showcased superbly and when the rare 'all-in' treatment was required it was administered in full measure.

A more formal collaboration, with Anthony Braxton assuming the director's baton, was presented at the Taktlos Festival in 1988 (3). It was enough to show that, faced with 'pulse track structures' and other aspects of Braxton's unique music, the band could accommodate tighter controls. In this event, they did so with style, although it was the quality of the soloing from the reeds of Simon Picard and Parker and the trombones of Rutherford, Radu Malfatti and Alan Tomlinson that capped a brilliant exercise.

In 1984, the first performance of Harmos took place in London to confirm how effectively Guy could realise a structure through melodic elements. As the 1989 recording (4) shows, the solo and duo sections, with their emphasis on melody, provide both impetus and direction. Guy fashions apt orchestral cushioning but demands that each soloist becomes an organic part of his work in a way that is the antithesis of the jam session, with its solo sequences based on joyful but often egotistical satisfaction for the individuals involved.

1989 saw an Ellington/Basie type tie up between the LJCO and the Globe Unity Orchestra in Cologne. Appropriately, Guy wrote Double Trouble to commemorate the event and recorded the piece with LJCO (alone) for Intakt (5). As a performance it further endorsed the soloist's importance. Like Harmos, it had sequences with solo, duo and trio emphasis but, even more than that work, it had brilliantly scored collectives that actually sound ad-lib. With his daunting team of soloists, the talented Guy seemed determined to combine the concept of show-cased individual(s) with an orchestral relationship in which a solo line appears to grow from the ensemble. The fact that the converse was sometimes true only strengthened the music and showed what a constantly evolving process it was.

Riley was heavily featured in Double Trouble (5) and a fellow pianist, Irene Schweizer, graced the 1991 Theoria (6). That work was actually a commissioned composition to honour the German pianist's fiftieth birthday and, recorded in Zurich, it turned out to be a major triumph. The dedicatee's flowing virtuosity was ideally suited to the musical stance of the LJCO, as Guy successfully integrated her piano lines into the 'combo cameos' as well as making her a vital component in the full orchestral panoply.

At the time of writing, their most recent release is the impressive Portraits (7). Recorded in 1993, it typifies all that has gone before; the quality of the solos and group sequences remains impeccable and Guy smoothes their path with orchestra textures to suit each individual case. It was issued at the end of 1994 and a review appears in this issue. It is a fitting monument to an ostensibly British group that has been together for 25 years. During that time, there have been periods of inactivity but the musicians involved have been fiercely loyal and have make themselves available whenever possible. The band's reputation worldwide is abundant and Guy says that the future looks promising and that he plans for guest directors, ensemble collaborations and new works that will continue to add colour to an already impressive musical palette.

Recommended listening:
(1) Ode (Incus 6/7)
(2) Stringer - Four pieces for Jazz Orchestra (Free Music Production SAJ 41)
(3) Zurich Concerts (Intakt 004/005)
(4) Harmos (Intakt 013/1989)
(5) Double Trouble (Intakt 019/1990)
(6) Theoria (Intakt 024/1992)
(7) Portraits (Intakt 035/1994)

Barry Guy: The London Jazz Composers' Orchestra

It seems impossible that you are here in Vancouver playing with an orchestra of this kind so far away from England. It must be very difficult to organise the movement of such an orchestra to Canada, because that can hardly be done inside of Canada. I'm curious how you could make this happen.

There were a lot of circumstantial things that came together, to make this work. The first thing in this tour was the invitation to go to Victoriaville. This is the starting point. Last year when I visited Victoriaville to play a solo concert we talked about the possibility of bringing the orchestra over. The only way we could bring the orchestra over was to enlist the support of the British Council. To enlist the support of the British Council one has to really work on a much grander scale. They are very supportive in some singular concerts, but they prefer us to do more concerts. Especially if they are going to spend the money to get us across the Atlantic, and have us make an appearance in Canada. Ideally the idea would be to capitalise on the initial plan and expand it. So I suppose on the occasion of my visit to Victoriaville last year I started talking to Ken Pickering. We had a kind of joke, I said "Ken it would be really nice since we're coming to Victoriaville, wouldn't it be lovely to come to Vancouver?". At the same time as we were having this conversation he said, "Well, one thing I've always wanted was the original album of Ode", (live recording from English Bach Festival, Oxford. 22nd April 1972. Released on INCUS 6/7) "Well" I said, "I can probably find you a copy of that." And he said "That's going to cost me a lot of money, isn't it?" So I said "It may cost you a lot of money, but you will have the real orchestra then." So I offered him a copy of Ode for an invitation to Vancouver. One day we got a call from Ken and he said "We'll try to make you happy."

Then the big problem was that Vancouver, is quite a long way from Victoriaville. What do we do with seventeen people on the road, all hanging out, we can't afford that. So we tried to fill in between, and to do that we got various people to investigate the possibilities of other concerts here in Canada. And also we made enquiries into the United States. We came up with not very much. Except John Corbett in Chicago. He didn't normally do this sort of thing, but he worked his butt off. That's the way it is. Since we were here, it seemed to be a good idea to do, instead of just one concert, two concerts and possibly some small group concerts as well; to have an expanded scenario rather than a reduced one. In that way we make it sensible for seventeen people travelling that far. It means the listeners get a fairly broad aspect of my writing and the guys playing. And they get to hear small free improvising groups. I hope that's the start of something else. Because there's quite a few appearances of the guys in fairly short concerts, it would be very nice that some of these groups would be able to come under their own names, at different times.

It occurred to me at the rehearsal, that in the orchestra were a handful of the most important British improvisers who created the whole process of new British improvised music in the latter half of the sixties. There was Paul Rutherford, Trevor Watts, Evan Parker, Paul Lytton, Howard Riley, you, Barre Philips, all to do with that period of music. They are all independently very creative artists on their own, so does the orchestra exist because of that time when you all became friends, and it simply grew and grew.

I would say that is precisely it. I think we have to acknowledge that within the orchestra almost everybody has their own projects. They have their own ideas, their own direction, their own sound, their own desires musically. However, because of that particular time in the late sixties, seventies, when the music was, in a way, formulating, we all became firm friends and we have this tremendous respect for each other. Let's say that the London Jazz Composers Orchestra (LJCO) was a manifestation of that period. It gave us another kind of meeting place. And, dare I say, I do see it as a social institution.

In the early days we had quite a few concerts, and then because of financial considerations, because of my own working situation, there were various problems, we did less concerts, but when we did get together it was always a great thrill. In fact most of the time people were catching up on the local news in the profession. In a way it was a great opportunity to bring together friends that didn't always work together. I've been working with Evan ever since those days of he Little Theatre Club, I've been working with Paul, with Howard Riley. These days I don't play with Howard Riley because he has different ideas of what he wants to promote. So it is wonderful to work again with Howard in the orchestra. Actually he's done every single concert right from the very beginning. I think the point of this is that this special energy, this special input, this special kind of music making, is characterised in this ensemble. So whilst everybody has an individual voice, they have enough time to come along and say - yes we can exercise our particular voices within this context. It is terribly important to have these friends, these important musicians around, and I'm very pleased to have them in the band. I'm glad they haven't run away. Some people have been and gone. Trevor Watts was there early on, he went off for a while to do some things and came back again. It's not an on the road band, it's a project band anyway. I like to have the idea of a series of projects which are ongoing pieces that grow slowly to become more and more spacious to allow the musicians to develop. So instead of just going on the road and just playing everything night after night after night, what we have to do is actually work in periods which are financially and artistically acceptable. And then make an intense study of the pieces an intense musical experience. Then we can go off and do our different things. Then I try to mobilise everybody again, as and when the situation seems appropriate.

The first orchestra covered a very very wide area of music, so I tried through my own compositional methods, to narrow this down a bit, and actually became more and more abstract. Whilst we were experimenting with the improvised music side in the early seventies, of refining the language, I was trying to refine another language which was the compositional side. What I was doing, to a certain extent, was alienating some of the musicians. Derek Bailey left a little while after that because he found it almost unacceptable to deal with the rigours of this very difficult music. It was very detailed. So I began to understand that I was probably going up a slightly wrong path. But very often you have to do this to discover the other way. What I did was to invite the musicians to compose pieces. Let's see their approach. So Tony Oxley, Paul Rutherford, Howard Riley and Kenny Wheeler wrote pieces. We had a couple of straight works as well. We played a work by Krzystof Penderecki, which was actually written for the Globe Unity Orchestra. We played a composition by our then director, Buxton Orr, and also a piece by a composer friend of mine, Bernard Rands, who actually teaches in Boston now. So there were these various approaches from the very rigorous side of composing through to the graphic side of Tony Oxley. It was quite a wide palette we were dealing with. Also it gave everybody a slightly different focus, it meant that the composers had to see it from the other side as well. Then it went a little bit quiet. From 1977 through 1980 we did nothing. It also reflects that I was busy on the road doing some other things. Some straight music. But in 1980 I wrote a piece called Four Pieces For Orchestra, that's when Peter Brötzmann and Peter Kowald were in the band. This, in a way, signalled another direction. I directed it. I wanted to try another way to run the band, to put more responsibility onto the players. Rather than just having somebody conducting I wanted some freedom within the sections and freedom with the way the sections were organised. So that meant that some of the players had to take on the role of some of the directing. That was the new direction. Basically the history of LJCO is in three parts. The first part was ODE, the second phase was when all the guys wrote pieces for the orchestra, and the third was when I decided to take the helm again. Because I had a clearer idea of what I wanted to do, it actually became fairly obvious which direction to go. And I had learnt a lot as well. Four pieces for Orchestra, Polyhymnia, Harmos, Double Trouble and Theoria. So we're up to date really.ß

In the period when the orchestra is beginning it seems that there is Globe Unity, Mike Westbrook, The Brotherhood of Breath, all existing in a short period of time. Why was there such a need for orchestras? After all they were difficult to organise and not economically viable.

I don't know, it's very interesting I never thought about that, but you're right, there were quite a few powerful souls. I think orchestras begin because of the initiative of certain people. I enjoyed the writing of large structures I enjoyed the big band sound. Although I wanted to do something about it under my own terms. I think Westbrook did the same and JCOA with Mike Mantler, they had a certain direction they wanted to examine. So I think all of these things tend to be the idea of singular people. I think it's coincidence, but also it's the cohesion of people, the way the people come together at a certain time in history. Very often out of a group of people you will get some nut case like me who will say let's do something as a celebration for us all. Everybody had the same idea, the Brotherhood of Breath, Westbrook's team, when you find this great rising spirit, this great energy, sometimes you just have to get in there and find a way of reacting to it.

There could be some debate in certain circles as to whether or not this is a jazz orchestra. I wonder why you would think it was.

Well let's go onto the other side. I think we can definitely say it's not a straight orchestra. Now why is it not a straight orchestra? It's not a straight orchestra because we're using improvising musicians, all of whom grew up in the jazz tradition. At one time I had a few so called straight musicians in the band, in the first period when the pieces were getting very difficult, but that was a mistake, it didn't work at all, texturally it was quite interesting, but intellectually it was very unsatisfying. There was no meeting point really. If you define jazz as being time playing and harmonic sequence playing then o.k. you could say the LJCO is not playing jazz. Although we do play some time things and some sequences. One of the things I was interested in breaking away from, was the regular structures of eight, twelve and sixteen bars, the song form. Recurring harmonic sequences, recurring rhythmic sequences. The important thing is, that we are researching a much wider area of musical language, based upon the jazz tradition. Integrating the researches and the march forward to technical invention, a fantastic movement from the individual musicians where the instruments have technically flowered. It can't be straight music, what else can it be if we are using jazz musicians, so it has to be called a jazz orchestra.

Was the American big band history an influence on you?

Charles Mingus was very influential. I think he was one of the guys that started to break down the barriers and actually took risks. Took tremendous risks. Really taking the idea of a large ensemble to new areas. From that side I realised it could be done within the jazz ensemble, the big band. From the other side what I found influential, listening to extended straight music pieces, or even symphonies, which I had to do at music college anyway. The question I ask myself is - Why should one deny oneself the opportunity of dealing with the large concept, because it's jazz. Why can't we integrate different sonorities, different time changes, different areas which actually reflect the musicians. Why can't we do that, why should we just run through a series of chord changes and a series of solos strung one after the other, when there is no need to do that. Mingus started to break all that down even in his small ensembles. The wonderful time changes he got into, the way he could slip from one area to another and created these marvellous moods. One of my ideas was to get a sonorous and vibrant sound out of the ensemble and if there was ever an inspiration for that, it was Mingus. The way he made his whole ensemble sing, and he had that freedom, that was certainly very influential. Yes.

You play other styles of music, in chamber music groups and classical orchestra, other than jazz and improvised music?

I used to. In the last few years I have decided to pull out of that area of the music. I haven't completely pulled out, I still do one chamber orchestra and some early music ensembles, but very little now. The reason for that is, as time was marching on, I was constantly on the road or in the studio playing Beethoven and Mozart and Haydn with these various ensembles, and I realised that I was losing time. Not only in terms of looking after the orchestra, not only in terms of composing, but also denying myself playing with small ensembles. One day Evan (Parker) said we're going to lose you if you don't think about this seriously. That was a good moment to say - Hey. Every time they got concerts in Europe I would be on a tour of the States, then I would come back to work in the studio doing all the Beethoven symphonies, or something. So there was very little time in which to do projects. I decided, virtually overnight, to knock the whole lot on the head, and say thank you very much, now it's time to start reconsidering the direction. I've moved out of London to get away from the attraction of the studios. The idea was to focus on a particular area of music that is most important. That is improvisation, the orchestra and composition, solo playing, small groups.

Considering how popular the young gentlemen in suits from the Southern United States have become, and how that has become the new standard for jazz, is it more difficult, in England, to play improvised music now than it was in the sixties?

It has tightened up. There is a preoccupation with bebop music again, there is nothing wrong with that, but the big problem is there seems to be a cut off point for appreciation, their minds have closed up. The doors have closed. On the other hand, because we've been around a little bit longer playing this music, if there is an opportunity where a festival wants some freer aspects, we tend to get asked. So in one sense the whole thing has closed down, on the other hand because we've stuck to it, some people are saying that we must know what we are doing. We still manage to continue a reasonable healthy existence. But it's much harder, there's no doubt about it. Even for something like the Evan Parker trio (Barry & Paul Lytton) it's very difficult to try to get a series of concerts to make a tour. Improvised music or freer music is seen as lunatics music again. It's gone back to where it started from.

Politically and economically, there's no doubt, that in this last decade, it's been ruinous for the arts. Certainly in England the Thatcher government was promoting the idea that there should be no such thing as governmental help through arts councils and arts bodies. She was promoting the idea that if you want to get some kind of subsidy you would have to get sponsorship directly from the big companies. The big companies of course are as conservative as hell, they're only worried about their image, they're only worried about where the money is going to come from for their share holders and to support their directors. The last thing that enters their minds is that they are going to put some money into an operation like ours, because it's the totally wrong image. On the other hand they can put it into an opera company or a ballet company which is part of the national institution, the fabric of society. It has the right resonances within the society in which they move. We don't move within that society, so what Thatcher did, and the various corporate business sides of Britain, and the world probably, was to take away the consciousness for the new arts. I'm not just talking about music but also painting, writing, dance, to redirect the peoples consciousness into this almost bleak scenario of finance and self survival.

It turns out that it's not only Britain, but the Canadian prime minister and the American president did exactly the same thing. So obviously it's a whole concept of this modern commercial world. Is there a generation of players coming from the music that you have invented? This amazing music.

I get the impression that some people have been influenced by some of us, many people acknowledge that Evan has been a great influence. If we are called the first generation, then the so called second generation in a way wanted to do the complete opposite to what we were doing. One of the aspects of the first generation was to work up on a very high technical plain, to get a refinement of language and technique. So the technique was established and therefore you could make your statement without having to worry about struggling with your instrument. So in fact the instrument became part of the self. The way you spoke was with a great amount of fluency, without the instrument getting in the way. To a certain extent, and this is a vast generalisation, the next generation were not interested in our type of technical perfection, it was much more of a grass roots level. Anyone could pick up almost any instrument, it was as if they wanted to take it out into the street and give instruments out to everybody. Unrefined. Needless to say because there were some great people involved in it some great music came out of it. They are very brilliant guys, intellectually they're great. It was just a different philosophy, a different way of approaching the music. The first generation came through the rigours of jazz, learning from people like Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Coltrane, Mingus, All those fantastically great Americans. I think there as a need to become familiar with that language, and because it was so highly defined, you had to develop your own. You had virtually to go along the same road for a while before the change. A lot of the younger generation never went back to there, but started from their own space, from a different philosophy completely. Which is fine. I don't see why everybody should go back to playing bebop. You don't have to go back to dixieland so you can play bebop.

The English jazz element of that generation has gone back to the tradition just like the American suits, playing this conventional imitation music.

I think that coincided with the height of Thatcherism and the corporate mentality. Because suddenly everybody wanted managers. I was reading articles in magazines saying my manager is going to do this for me. I remember one player in England, when asked what he wanted out of life, saying that first of all he was going to get his VAT number, which means he was expecting to earn a certain amount per year, and then a wife, and then a house, and have some kids, and I'm going to make a lot of great albums. The only thing I didn't hear, was about music making. Where is the music coming into this. It was only to do with business. And this was the whole mentality of the eighties, the whole thing was rushing headlong into business schemes and product.

One of the things about the LJCO, and this music, is that it has kept a fairly low profile because a lot of people don't like it. It's been very carefully considered, the way the music develops, how the language develops. It's something to do with the dialect as well. We all have a different way of speaking but we can all understand each other. You live in Canada you have a different accent to what I have, but we understand each other in terms of the music. It's quite important to realise that some things actually take a long time to come to fruition. Whereas a lot of the eighties so called culture was very very quick turning. It was actually at the mercy of the media. Things would come up one day and virtually be extinguished a couple of years later. The idea of the short memory, the quick turn over product. Everybody was being encouraged to come up with this yearly product. To keep on changing. It was very unfashionable to have a long term project.

Childrens toys. They change every season. It's not teddy bears, Lego or building blocks anymore. Every season there are new fashions, even for children.

It titillates for a while, then it's out the window. I remember the kids toys that we had like Meccano, at least you were encouraged to look into things, to build things, to understand how something could be more than instantaneous. You research into how you can get your Meccano to be one day a crane and the next day to be a tractor. It actually exercises the mind to be thinking in the future, thinking a little bit long term, thinking about how you could construct things in a very interesting way. I despair at video games, at that mentality, because again it's the idea of the computer providing a short term success. You win your game, then you go up to another level and win another game, but this gratification is terribly short term. It doesn't actually take you on to thinking about the wider context of things. One of the horrible things about computer games, to my mind, is it's so singular. It doesn't encourage you to communicate with your fellow human beings. Which is another one of the spin offs from the politics and the corporate mentality. It seems to have wiped out the idea that we can work together on a direction, to get on with each other as human beings. This is why I value so much, these associations with the LJCO, because it's not for the want of just hanging on to old things, it's actually the best way that I can see of expressing a type of society. A society where humans beings get on with each other instead of greedily trying to get ahead of each other. We want to work together in a humane way. I try to write music that expresses that.

Bill Smith (Coda)

TRIO Guy/Crispell/Lytton

BARRY GUY Bass/Composer

MARILYN CRISPELL Piano

PAUL LYTTON Percussion

On the CD Odyssey, Barry Guy, Marilyn Crispell and Paul Lytton play several of Barry Guy's most beautiful compositions: Harmos, Double Trouble and Odyssey. Barry Guy is a first class composer, even when we lose sight of this in face of his diverse work as an improvising bassist. In addition to works for contemporary orchestras and different chamber music ensembles (for example Kronos), he has written influential compositions for the London Jazz Composers Orchestra or the Barry Guy New Orchestra. In the trio, Barry Guy's compositional talents and his special tone colors are fully evident. At the same time, the trio leaves space for the improvisational highlights of the three soloists.

Auf der CD Odyssey spielen Barry Guy, Marilyn Crispell und Paul Lytton einige der schönesten Kompositionen von Barry Guy: Harmos, Double Trouble, Odyssey. Barry Guy ist ein Komponist von Rang, auch wenn wir dies angesichts seiner vielfältigen Arbeit als improvisierender Bassist manchmal aus den Augen verlieren mögen. Guy hat neben Werken für zeitgenössische Orchester und verschiedene Kammermusik-Ensembles (zum Beispiel für Kronos) stilprägende Kompositionen für das London Jazz Composers Orchestra oder das Barry Guy New Orchestra geschrieben. In der Triobesetzung kommen Barry Guys kompositorische Grösse und seine speziellen Klangfarben voll zur Geltung. Gleichzeitig bietet das Trio Raum für improvisatorische Highlights der drei SolistInnen.

Reviews for Odyssey [INTAKT CD 070]

Thoroughly absorbing trio music

"Much has been made of pianist Marilyn Crispell's turn towards deep lyricism in recent years. Intriguingly, the compositions of bassist Barry Guy make greater demands on this aspect of her work than even Annette Peacock's. Odyssey confirms that Guy is a harder composer to peg, as he can effortlessly shift from the earnest folkish feel of the title piece to the tumult of Rags without Peacock's arch longing and lamenting. Crispell is also called on to extrapolate Guy's charts of such London Jazz Composers Orchestra chestnuts as Harmos. Her performances are, in turn, magisterial and poignant, galvanising Guy's often staggering output and percussionist Paul Lytton's offsetting textures into a thoroughly absorbing trio music."

Bill Shoemaker, The Wire, London, February 2002

* * * * * Magnificent musical event

"Odyssey, Barry Guy, Marilyn Crispell and Paul Lytton's first recording as a trio, is a magnificent musical event. While it may not exist in a vacuum – After Appleby (1999) and Native And Aliens (1996), where Crispell joined Guy and Lytton's longstanding group with saxophonist Evan Parker, are near relations – Odyssey redefines motion and mood, reaching a level of interaction so high that it must surely be a signal moment in the history of modern trio music. Here, collective improvisation (four exquisitly gauged trio variations) and predetermined materials (five Guy compositions, including arrangements from the London Jazz Composers Orchestra and his New Orchestra books) are plotted with delicious ambiguity, an expertly conceived union of freedom and form. Pieces rarely pick up steam by conventional means; the overarching colors are grays and browns, shades that suggest something more than mere contemplation.

Individually, the musicians are transcendant. Percussionist Paul Lytton, an often underrated voice, provides a subtle network of layers, scrambling through appliances, including, what must be, a stray piece of sheet metal. Pianist Crispell, still a thundering force on occasion, returns to the neat, compact lyricism we have recently seen in her own trio with Gary Peacock and Paul Motion. Finally, there is bassist Guy, whose reach extends from astonishing arco effexts to rich, cascading pizzicato figures. Odyssey is his date; he deserves credit for the trio's absolute clarity of purpose.

Indeed, this is chamber music so finely nuanced that by the finale we're perfectly absorbed in the drama. After Harmos opens in a acrobatic bass-percussion exchange, Crispell enters halfway through, slowly unfolding a dirge (Ornetee Coleman's Lonely Woman comes to mind) in a crescendo of sweeping majesty, a concentrated orchestral gesture rising to the end."

Greg Buium, Downbeat, USA, 6/2002

 

TRIO Guy/Gustaffson/Strid

BARRY GUY bass

MATS GUSTAFSSON fluteophone, soprano, tenor & baritone sax

RAYMOND STRID percussion

You Forget to Answer (liner notes)

Age four to twelve, my greatest pleasure was to catch frogs. These years of earnest experience tell me that there is a special skill involved in frog catching, one might even say an art. You see, it's not just a matter of speed or power – if you do nothing but lunge quick and hard, the frog will simply spring from its perch and out of your grasp. The art of frogging is more a matter of finding just the right moment to strike, of selecting precisely the time to move your hand at precisely the speed and in precisely the same arc traced out by the leap of the frog. It's precise work to snare the web-foot.

The way to find that moment and that vector entails something more than guesswork or luck. You have to empathize with the amphibian. For a split second you've got to imagine yourself the frog. This is essential, for the frog already knows the art of frog-catching. He's honed his craft on flies, mosquitoes, and water-bugs, sure, but at heart he's a frogger just like you. So, if possible you must identify with the frog, visualize the insect it's about to devour, choose the same moment to jump that he would, that he inevitably, irrevocably will choose. You have to pick the frog's brain, because there's one right time to act, and only the frog knows when that is. The frog is the master.

Ultra-slow motion study: the frog and your hand begin to move at the same instant, his rear legs reach full extension as he leaves the ground, your fingers curl around them, cradling them in motion and gliding together like an ice-skating team or Astaire and Rogers; bulbous eyes closed flat against his head, front arms tucked in, he's a cannonball mid-air when all of a sudden >FLASH< your hand jerks closed and the show's over. The frog is yours.

Guy, Gustafsson and Strid make their music difficult to capture with tools as blunt and lethargic as words. One is tempted to lunge at it, but it just wriggles away. The trio's sound is an accumulation of precisely timed movements: elements of steady determination, strategy, even calculation, but also, once the move is started, a force of lightning quickness and tensile strength. Nothing hesitant, nothing unsure. This is frogging music, no doubt in my mind. A form of improvising that requires the same kind of deep emphatic relations. To communicate at a level not just reactive – the brutality of scaring frogs into nets, or of simple question-answer improvising – but truly emphatic. To visualise the fly through the frog's eyes.

You Forget To Answer: perhaps there's no response because once that deep empathy occurs it pre-empts conventional communication routes. If we both ask the same question at the same time, who's supposed to reply? In its temporal seizures, Barry's bass at times seems to anticipate what the Swedes will do, like those rare outings in which you see the frog about to jump and get there first; you know before he does, and he literally hops into your hand. The emphatic circulation runs through many other networks: Mats's uncanny ability to grasp and redirect energies, Raymond's radiant projection of a center of gravity.

Make the grab at the wrong time, the croaker plunks away, rings on the pond. But become the batrachian and you've already snared him.

John Corbett, Chicago, June 1996

You Forget to Answer

"... This trio's recording displays the sort of clairvoyance that distinguishes the most exciting improv, but it works according to an innate architectural sense that reflects the interest of all three musicians in composed music ..."

Peter Margasak

 

TRIO Parker/Guy/Lytton

EVAN PARKER soprano/tenor saxophones

BARRY GUY double bass/chamber bass

PAUL LYTTON drums, cymbals and percussion

IMAGINARY VALUES

nine improvisations

Evan Parker's trio with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton has been a working group for ten years now, but began to function in its present form comparatively late, taking about the same time since the first documented contacts between the three musicians: they recorded together in the first edition of the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra in 1972, on Ode (for Jazz Orchestra) Incus 6/7, but their paths had already crossed in that ebullient scene of musical experimentation taking place in London at the end of the Sixties around spots like The Little Theatre Club and The Old Place.

Parker and Lytton first established their duo as a workable situation to improvise and released three albums: Collective Calls (Urban) (Two Microphones), Incus 5, At the Unity Theatre, Incus 14, and then RA 1+2 on Ring/Moers Music 01016. While collaborations with Barry Guy were rather sparse during the Seventies, Parker always considered the bass player first choice, and invited him for his Improviser's Symposium held during the 1980 Pisa Festival, where a quintet was recorded consisting of the current trio plus Paul Lovens and Phil Wachsmann (Incus 37). With typical caution, another duo situation was tried, this time with Parker and Guy, recorded in Berlin the following year (Incision, FM SAJ-35) and the compatibility was confirmed.

Tracks, Incus 42, the very first album of the trio recorded in 1983, seems in retrospective more than aptly named. Since then the group has been steadily or at least regularly working together, but the recorded documentation is apparently scarce: a second album where the three are joined by George Lewis on trombone (Hook, Drift and Shuffle, Incus 45) and another one recorded live in 1986 during a tour in the USA but released much later (Atlanta, Impetus 18617). One could think that the musicians have purposely kept the trio activity within limits. It could become all-absorbing totally dominating their musical lives, so closely knit is their musical collective entity. The clear, dry acoustic of the Red Rose Club in Seven Sisters Road, London where these improvisations were recorded – in the same sequence in which we hear them on the record – makes it easier to appreciate the tremendous excitement that the trio can generate, based on the uncannily instantaneous ability of the players to react to one another's gestures and all together to the situation they are playing in, creating a musical fabric which is at the same time steel solid yet pliable. Luckily they work in other contexts where they can expand their musical horizon: so the fertile musical mind of Barry Guy, the composer and orchestra leader, devised within his scores for the London Jazz Composers Orchestra all manners of interaction between the trio in different situations, placing the ensemble like a concertino in front of the tutti, rotating soloists against it, changing the background, or just using it for a change of atmosphere and timbral balance; and even Elsie Jo (Maya MCD9201) could be perceived as the trio mirrored in a sextet. The Parker section in Portraits, the latest composition by Barry Guy for the LJCO (due for release on the Intakt label) is not titled Triple by chance.

What the three have in common is an attitude toward music making that can best be described in Evan Parker's words as integrity of purpose: a determination to face openly the challenge of free improvisation, that inescapable tension between the establishing of a musical identity and the unhampered development of the music along its internal logic. Every improviser must try to find his or her way – willing or not – around this obstacle; mimicking historical styles, using written music as a framing/orientating structure for improvisation, trying to keep the group of players in a permanent state of flux. This trio keeps the music poised in a difficult balance where nothing is barred but everything must make sense.The players bring into the music all the experience, wisdom and technique gained in more than twenty years of struggle and play with free improvisation; the way they play – for want of a better word, their style – has been refined, and they say more with less, giving weight to every gesture.

Comparing this recording with previous documents of the trio or of the single musicians, it appears that a total, 360 degrees, experimentation slowly gave way, through a process not dissimilar from natural evolution, to a situation where selected elements are retained as part of the common language. This selection is still in progress, as chance, mistakes and loss of total control often introduce unexpected and interesting elements; but in some way they have identified what for them is essential, the areas where they are most interested in working.

The most evident of these is the personal, instantly recognizable, mature instrumental voice of the players. The crisp, tense drumming of Lytton, full of sparkling, atmospheric metal sounds, the rich sound of Guy's bass, its palette ranging from tuned percussion to classical roundness, the many tongues of the saxophones, Parker growling or chirping as the situation demands. In the intervening years they have grown increasingly wary of employing external, mechanic, electric, electronic devices to extract a wider range of sounds from their instruments. Experiments on that side have not ceased however. Parker has a permanent workshop with electronic instruments and computer, recorded with sampling and processing of sounds – Hall Of Mirrors with Walter Prati on MM&T CD01 – and with overdubbing Process and Reality, FMP CD37; Barry Guy explores several unorthodox techniques on his solo recording Fizzles, Maya 9301. The boundaries and aims of this research however are more definite, and they do not enter at present in the music of the trio, where the perception of the physical source of the sounds is always present. In Lytton's own terse words, 'the sources have remained the same: wood , plastic, metal, wire, rubber, skin, liquid, gas'.

On a second level, ferocious concentration and instantaneous interplay seem to be the basic components of their approach; no soloist with accompaniment here, no division between rhythm and melody players; it is sometimes difficult to say who is playing what, with the drummer bowing, the bassist hitting and swishing or slapping sound coming from the saxophone. Explosive sounds in the deepest range of the horn and percussion on the bass make you think of the drummer – and Lytton is maybe playing a small tinkling dance on the top of it; as in Value, a melodic fragment from the saxophone is instantly echoed on the bass, and the rhythmic profile of the idea ricochets at the same time on the drums. Duo and solo passages give air and space to the music, redirecting the energy, charging players and listener for the next reconstruction of the complete triangle.

At the level of material it could be said that every piece is about mood – the material can be a chopped rhythm, a delicate melody, or a timbric shade. Compare the contrasting openings of Invariance and Variance. In the former, the music starts from a deep, breathing, continuous sound, with all instruments (Parker on tenor) slowly changing the texture and building up rhythmic structures; in the latter a spacious ceremonial dance of clear gongs and singing bass establishes the atmosphere. When the music finds its direction, the basic idea is metabolized in a multidimensional space, where it is reshaped, reversed, remoulded, and then comes back in new form. The energy involved is enormous, but this is not mere energy playing, as the development of ideas never takes second place to the sound pressure generated, and there are always dramatic changes in the atmosphere, from the high density of thick, continuous layers of sound simultaneously generated to sparse, airy formations. An example is Identity , where at the beginning high, buzzing long sounds generated by the bowed bass are interspersed and contradicted, first by the cymbals and woodblocks, then by tongue slaps; skins resounding and swishing increase the dramatic content, while slashing figures appear on the soprano saxophone: the bass returns to a pensive mood, alternating between bowing and pizzicato to underline the intricate exchanges of drums and wind through several phases of variation in density and rhythm.

In this context Parker's solos cannot develop the level of intricacy they are capable of (try Conic Sections, ah uhm CD015, for beautiful examples), as the solo style is – in his own words – 'offered to the trio in sacrifice' to be played along with or to be broken into: listen in Distinction to the soothing big guitar sounds of the bass, and the dazzling rotating cymbal figures, commenting on the vortex created by the soprano, being attracted into it and then developing together the piece until the finale, when the soprano is pitched against the grainy dark background of bowed bass and long cymbal sounds, the piece resolving itself in sparse, classical, carefully placed sounds and accents.

This relationship with the solo music is rather the same for Guy; his solo recording already mentioned shows the maturity of his language, an array of timbres and notes disposed in space and time that require a solo situation to be displayed and appreciated in full, and that here are quickly absorbed by the great current of music emanating from the group: the percussive bass/duet Variance is a quick glimpse into this different sonic world, and must be carefully savoured to appreciate the resonant mbira or thumb piano sound coming from the bass.

All through this record, and more strikingly so in the shorter conclusive pieces, the music takes that ultimate sense of inevitability which signals the perfect combination of sensibility, timing and personal creative use of the instruments into a collective statement formulated right in front of the listener. And in the end this is what music is all about.

Francesco Martinelli

Imaginary Values - MCD9401

"Imaginary Values by the trio – nominally Parker's but in practice collective – that gave us 1990's fiery Atlanta set on Impulse. The nine improvisations here are more compact but no less high-voltage: bright sonic canvasses on which texture, tone-colour and dynamic flow are major parts of the interactive mix. The players' scrupulous respect for nuance plus their incredible speed of response bespeak a group sensibility that has matured over time and is celebrated here in a space alive with joyful interplay. Free jazz at its highly-evolved best."

Graham Lock

"... This is a group that in many ways, represents the epitome of European collective free improvisation. The three players are each masters of their instruments and, more importantly, astute listeners. Lytton's crackling, multi-hued percussion; Guy's currents of resonant wood and scraped, plucked, bowed and beaten strings; and Parker's micro tonal, snaking reed reverberations meld into a unified whole. These three have refined the sax, bass, drums trio into an organic unit where all three are truly equals, their collective lines intricately enmeshed and coiled around each other in a skein of thrilling complexity ..."

Michael Rosenstein

Improvising the Score

Bill Shoemaker

(a version of this article appeared in Jazz Times April 2001)

Barry Guy and Maya Homburger have been moving bit by bit into their new home in County Kilkenny, Ireland, taking much longer than they ever expected. The process has been repeatedly delayed by their respective touring schedules. Guy is a bassist and composer whose credentials run the gamut from early music to improvised music; Homburger is a Baroque violin specialist who has branched out into what the British call contemporary music, and beyond. Luckily, their schedules have increasingly meshed since forming the duo featured on <<Ceremony>> (ECM New Series), a luminous program of solo and duo readings of works by Guy and 17th Century composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber. Still, it was only during a recent lull before delving into a series of projects – concerts with conductor John Eliot Gardiner's Bach Pilgrimage and commissions for Nova Scotia's Upstream Ensemble and the Munich-based International Composers and Improvisers Forum – that Guy was finally able to retrieve some books from storage. Serendipitously, he came across Elias Canetti's <<Crowds And Power>>; having formed the Barry Guy New Orchestra in 2000 after 28 years at the helm of the groundbreaking London Jazz Composers Orchestra, Canetti's treatise prompted Guy to reevaluate some of the fundamental premises of his work.

"It made me realize that I have a crowd of musicians to contend with," Guy said of the 10-piece BGNO, which includes such acclaimed improvisers as pianist Marilyn Crispell and saxophonists Evan Parker and Mats Gustafsson. For Guy, rereading Canetti "also brought back the old specter of command and implementation, and fascism and freedom, as it relates to composers and improvisers." Such issues were front and center in the polemical English improvised music scene of the '60s and '70s, when Guy worked with Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Iskra 1903, and pianist Howard Riley's trio (all of which are represented by Emanem CDs). In a way, Guy's LJCO Intakt recordings comprise a teflon-like argument for the legitimacy of the composer in improvised music, as his works are casebook studies in the integration of improvisation and predetermined materials, and the empowerment of improvisers to substantively shape the work.

Since "it could be said that I am exercising some kind of politically incorrect power over them by writing a score, however loose," Guy tested the relative freedoms of his scores against the minimally scripted performances of Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, of which Guy is a charter member. "Prior to a performance, Evan hands us what I would call a mini-score, which is not much more than a list of events, so we have a clear idea of who comes in where, who goes out where, and where there are crescendos and overlaps," Guy explained, detailing his longtime colleague's methods (Guy first played with Parker in a '67 edition of SME; but, it is through their ongoing trio with percussionist Paul Lytton that the two are most commonly associated). "While the implementation of his score is much less specified, the basic tenet of Evan's scores and mine are the same: these are the structures to be followed over the course of the performance," Guy concluded.

"Given that there's an element of command even in (Butch Morris') Conduction method of using gestures and body movements," surmised Guy, whose contemporary music compositions have been performed by the ECM-affiliated Hilliard Ensemble and the iconic conductor-composer Pierre Boulez, "I suppose that the most a composer can do is develop an organic process with an ensemble so that there is a seamlessness between materials the composer brings to the situation, and the language the composer and the ensemble articulates together through improvisation." That was Guy's agenda for debuting BGNO as part of the 2000 Mostly Modern series at The Bank of Ireland Arts Centre in Dublin. Over a four-day period, Guy programmed lunchtime and evening concerts featuring BGNO members in solo, duo, and trio settings, while holding open afternoon orchestra rehearsals. The culmination was the premiere of Guy's album-length composition, <<Inscape – Tableaux>> (the Intakt CD is from a subsequent studio recording).

"I didn't have to play in every concert, so I was able to listen to the various improvisation-based languages being used within the band, and use the process to build the piece from constituent parts," Guy related. "One of the impulses of putting together the band was to bring together acquaintances I've made in duo and trio situations – within the band, you have the Parker/Guy/Lytton trio, my trio with Mats Gustafsson and (drummer) Raymond Strid, and the trio with Marilyn Crispell and Lytton, which is intense and ongoing," he explained. "The process of having these concerts and rehearsals together in such a concentrated way caused these various languages we have articulated over the years to converge as we built the piece, which I thought was very apropos of the word 'Inscape', which means an unique inner quality or essence of an object shown in a work of art."

Almost immediately, Guy confronted the differences between LJCO and BGNO. "There were obvious trade offs," Guy explained. "With the LJCO , I had amazing sonorities available in terms of orchestration, and to go down to ten pieces has given me some headaches in some ways; but, in many respects, the music really takes off in ways and feeds upon its own energy with ten pieces." Yet, the biggest difference was Guy's ability to delegate conducting chores among members of BGNO. "Since I want to concentrate on playing the bass as much as possible, I set up strategies so that I don't end up flailing my arms about all the time," said Guy, who conducted all but the earliest LJCO recordings. "So, I'm passing some vital things over to the players. In the beginning of <<Inscape – Tableaux>>, the placement of the brass unisons is determined by the musicians. They get it together on their own. There is one section of the piece where the band is split down the middle – five and five – and Mats directs one half while I direct the other. That's something I couldn't have really done with the LJCO. Five and five are manageable numbers in a graphic area."

For Guy, graphic notation is an important tool for the composer walking the tightrope of empowering musicians while retaining some sort of personal imprint on the composition. Pulling out a book by Scottish painter, Alan Davies, whose work he refers to in his graphic pieces, Guy quoted, "'I work with the conviction that art is something basically natural, an activity motivated by a faith in the actuality of existence, which is outside and beyond knowing.'" "For me," Guy continued, "that sums up quite a lot of what I'm trying to get at. There's the conviction of actually doing it, that it is natural, and that it is out of my control beyond a certain point." Guy acknowledges that it is the composer's role to catalyze music into that otherness to which Davies refers, but only if there is "a real chemistry within an ensemble. I must say that chemistry is not just this magical spark; it is the ability to solve problems, because there are always a number of predictable and unpredictable problems that arise in creating a piece like <<Inscape – Tableaux>>. That's what I like about this band – they go beyond the score and make things happen. They take the parts I write to that otherness, that newness. That is how the power is shared more evenly, I think."

Usually, the phrase "collective statement" is applied to music which has no clear compositional guidelines. Yet <<Inscape – Tableaux>> is a thoroughly collective statement, despite being liberally peppered with the compositional signatures Guy has employed since LJCO's landmark 1972 recording, <<Ode>> (Intakt) – intrusions of advanced jazz-informed, jabbing staccato figures, wisps of bluesiness, and glints of English pastoral lyricism. However, these materials do not function not as a static superstructure, but as flexible vertebrae, moving with the unfolding of improvisation-based events. Subsequently, each member of BGNO – including trumpeter Herb Robertson, trombonist Johannes Bauer, tuba player Per Ake Holmlander, and reed player Hans Koch – repeatedly shapes the piece.

Luckily, Guy's bass is heard to much better effect on <<Inscape – Tableaux>> than on LJCO's discs; not only did the dual chores of conducting and playing limit his options, but there was also one or two other bassists of the caliber of Dave Holland and Barre Phillips on the gig. Throughout the program, Guy's lightning runs, surreal bursts of textures (which are often achieved through means that have to be seen to be believed), and time-stopping glimpses of beauty, confirm his complete command of the instrument and his status as a starkly original artist. Still, the full range of Guy's bass playing cannot be comprehensively conveyed through a single recording, which makes the imminent release of <<insert title>> (Intakt) with Crispell and Lytton all the more timely. Longtime listeners will savor their reworkings of such LJCO works as Harmos and Double Trouble II, as well as compare their reading of Guy's lovely ballad Odyssey, which is woven into <<Inscape – Tableaux>>.

'It's very intriguing, the way Marilyn, Paul, and I work as a trio, Guy reflected. 'There's something very special about the way Marilyn voices the piano. Marilyn likes to work harmonically and motivically, with a lot of long scale development. She builds lines that can really take your head off with their complexities, and then do something very delicate.' Guy also likes the interaction between Crispell and Lytton, a percussionist who 'can play tiny little sounds for seems to be ages and then suddenly roar. You can never be quite sure of what he's thinking. Both Marilyn and Paul have the capacity for creating these really dramatic contrasts, which is something I have been very involved with in both my writing for LJCO and BGNO.'

'For this album, I didn't want to do the obvious thing – have a head, do the improvisations, and go back to the head again,' Guy continued. 'On the piece I originally wrote for LJCO – Harmos – we began to improvise with the goal of reaching the tune, but not knowing exactly how we'd get there. I like the idea of reaching a moment where it seems to be the right decision to move into the tune.' For Guy, this method 'introduces a certain mystery, because nobody knows when exactly it will happen. It's a more organic process than everybody nodding their heads at the same time to go into the tune. It's feathered, which is a quality I tried to give the tunes themselves, to sound improvisational. Marilyn is wonderful at this, making it seamless from she goes from a song to an improvisation, or back again. I think the reason she can do this, and all of the other amazing things she does, is that whatever her soul is telling her, she lets it out.'

As for his own approach, Guy acknowledged that 'compared to the early days with Howard, there's a world of difference in what I'm doing with the instrument. Old age has given me some understanding. I'm more expressive, the chops are better, the fluency is better, and I've opened up the coloration.' Guy credited his new five-string bass, which 'has opened up a new dimension to my playing. It's so resonant that it invites you to play a hanging note, and it's good with the bow, as well. Having this new instrument is one of those moments in life where a door opens up and you go, "Wow!"'

Gearbox:

Barry Guy's five-string bass was made in 1997 by London instrument maker Roger Dawson. It is equipped with Thomastick strings and a Schertler pickup. Guy owns two amplifiers: a custom-made Yseult and a Walter Woods.

Listening Pleasures:

Igor Strawinsky: Rite of Spring, Ritual Dance:
Pierre Boulez, Cleveland Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon)

Charles Mingus: Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (Impulse!)

Iannis Xenakis: Pithoprakta and Metastaseis: Maurice le Roux, Orchestre de l'O.R.T.F. (le chant du Monde)

Albert Ayler: Spiritual Unity (ESP Disk)

Claudio Monteverdi: Vespers of 1610: John Eliot Gardiner, English Baroque Soloists (Archiv)

J.S.Bach: Six sonatas for violin and harpsichord: Maya Homburger (violin) Malcolm Proud (harpsichord) (Maya Recordings)

John Coltrane: The Heavyweight Champion – The Complete Altantic Recordings (Rhino)

Anton Webern: Complete Works: Pierre Boulez et al (Deutsche Grammophon)

Bill Evans: The Complete Riverside Recordings (Riverside)

Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch (Blue Note)