DUO Plimley/Guy


BARRY GUY Double bass

Sensology (liner notes)


"That's not me shouting, it's the earth that roars"

Attila Jozsef

Laughter can sometimes sound like crying, even the associated body movement can give the wrong impression. Such misunderstandings are common so it should be no surprise that the severely concentrated energies of improvised music can be thought of as merely a cry of enragement, a monodimensional expression of frustration (at society, at politics, at poor CD sales). That it is a good deal more, that it is in reality a subtle, sharply gradated musical form through which a whole gamut of expression is possible is evinced by the music of Paul Plimley and Barry Guy.

The primal energy of this music is not anger (though it has impact) but celebration, a tapping into the elemental forces of nature, running across a field and shouting with exuberance, swimming and feeling the enclosure of water, digging and savouring the moist, dark smell of decay and growth in a shovelful of soil.

The joy to be found may be related in abstract, elliptical forms but this rather than being forbidding is like an invitation to enter the labyrinth of ideas, a transcendent space where notes fly like birds deciding where to land. It may be complex but it respects us by rejecting utterly the idea of the compliant listener and offers instead a deep level of involvement. That role is not restricted to the head (another common misunderstanding). The music on Sensology is intensely physical, not just because of the physicality of both musicians but because the music needs more than toe-tapping ( a limited involvement at best) and entreats the whole body to react. Mind and body are completely engaged, it comes close to entering the consciousness of another. It is mesmerizing. As Paul Plimley said in an interview for Coda magazine, "The music that is inside each musician cannot be reached or formulated solely by the intellectual process. Music goes deeper than that."

Both Plimley and Guy are unremittingly purposeful, open to all eventualities (they had to be with this audience) but clear and determined about their intentions. The vigour of their playing is immediately established on This is not much less than flat though other tracks and passages leave time for rumination and consideration. But these moments of quiescence are hard won, their lyricism checks itself, aware of how vapid such music can be, but wanting too to remember, evoke, smile.

For three decades now Barry Guy has been notable both for his resourcefullness and for the breadth of his imagination, capable of leading and writing for the London Jazz Composers Orchestra or exploring to the fullest extent the variagated potentiality of the solo bass. Look no further than the solo passage on the track Sensology or the arco statement that starts Short steps until it finally dawned with its feeling of formulation, gathering thoughts.

Paul Plimley came to the attention of many non-Canadians when, in duo with another bassist Lisle Ellis, he recorded his reworkings of ten Ornette Coleman compositions, a remarkable and strikingly intelligent CD. His attitude to piano playing can be almost inquisitorial. On Jazz for now and never more, for example, he seems to demand a revelation, a cryptic disclosure of intent. But he can, just as easily, be surprisingly delicate, using spare notes for unsentimental retrospection.

Together they generate wonderful philosophical discourse, drawing on the depth of musical knowledge they share and those inexhaustable resources of energy to assimilate, respond, accentuate, reformulate. The title piece is a particularly remarkable example of their ability to negociate the dialectics of a proposition as they join in dialogue before each formulates an individual statement after which they reconverge for some further debate. On Joyous absence of Disco they unhesitatingly reject the commercial imperative, happily determined to be true to themselves, moving from frenzy to serenity in unison. For Jazz now and never more, a particularly forceful track they extirpate the restrictions a new generation has wilfully imposed on the jazz form, a form of mimetic retrogression which Plimley has sagely dismissed, "If you become a replicant you are cheating yourself and not acknowledging that maybe you have something to contribute to this marvellous tradition".

Laughter can, as I said, be misunderstood but when the audience at the Western Front, Vancouver decided to play a trick on Plimley and Guy by chuckling and yelping at the end of their set, the two musicians were surprised but aware of the humorous intent. "The concert took place in front of a circle of friends" Barry explained to me and that response "was a joyous outburst that suddenly erupted - apparently organized by saxophone player Coat Cooke". Rather than taking offence, Barry explained "we responded with a short musical statement finishing with the applause. The atmosphere was of a very happy recording".

Laughter and reverberation. The great depths of improvised music and the warmth of friends. Lose yourself in the details, move beyond the concrete. Plough the earth, turn the sod, reveal its essence, the sense of it.

Declan O'Driscoll