Reviews that mention John Stevens

September 1, 2020

Bobby Bradford/Frode Gjerstad/Kent Carte/John Stevens

Blue Cat
NoBusiness Records NBLP 130

Franz Koglmann


Black Monk BMCD-01

Franz Koglmann


Black Monk BMCD-02

Establishing absolute European improvised music free of American influences was as much of a mug’s game in the late 20th Century as Donald Trump’s xenophobic directives have been during the past four years. Those like Derek Bailey who maintained that stance – while still playing with any non-Europeans who came along – ended up looking foolish. Far more prescient were players like the one here who created a sound mosaic that didn’t bother with geographical origins. MORE

October 13, 2019


Day Two
NoBusiness Records CD 114

ICP 10-tet


Corbett vs. Dempsey CvsD CD 060

Jimmy Giuffe3

Graz Live 1961

ezz-thetics 1001

Keith Tippett

The Unlonely Raindancer

Discus 81 CD

Sounds of Liberation

Sounds of Liberation

Corbett vs. Dempsey CvsD CD 057

Something in the Air: Reassessing 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Jazz through via New Reissues

By Ken Waxman

Reissues of recorded music serve a variety of functions. Allowing us to experience sounds from the past is just one of them. More crucially, and this is especially important in terms of Free Jazz and Free Music, it restores to circulation sounds that were overlooked and/or spottily distributed on first appearance. Listening to those projects now not only provides an alternate view of musical history, but in many cases also provides a fuller understanding of music’s past. MORE

February 6, 2018

Spontaneous Music Ensemble (1968)

Karyobin are the imaginary birds said to live in paradise
Emanem 5046

Steve Lacy

Free for a Minute (1965-72)

Emanem 5210

Hans Reichel (1973)

Wichlinghauser Blues

Corbett vs. Dempsey CvsD CD 033

Roscoe Mitchell (1977)

Duets with Anthony Braxton

Delmark/Sackville SK 3016

Something In The Air: Historical Free Music Documents Reappear on CD

By Ken Waxman

Arguably the most important and least understood sound of the 20th Century, Free Music which combined jazz’s freedom with noted music’s rigour, while aiming for in-the-moment creation has now been around for almost six decades. With its advances now accepted as part of the ongoing sonic landscape, long out-of-print are being reissued and reappraised for their excellence. MORE

November 26, 2017

Convergences, Divergences & Affinities: Further Beyond Jazz, the Second Wave of English Free Improvisation, 1973-9

By Trevor Barre
Compass Publishing

Forced to exist in a musical universe that values popularity and money over other qualities, Free Music and one particular sub set, British Improvisation, has always inhabited a unique, almost heroic area. It’s unique because most of its major stylists are instantly identifiable once they start playing; it’s heroic because a raft of UK musicians continues to inhabit the field despite mass indifference. Like Theodore H. White writing in his multi-volume The Making of the President series on American politics, Trevor Barre brings the same attention to detail as well as examining overriding trends in order to perfectly situate the musical, societal and sociological circumstances that contributed to the birth and dissemination of this music. MORE

June 15, 2017


At Club 7
NotTwo MW 953-2

By Ken Waxman

Recorded in late 1982, one week before keyboardist Eivin One Pedersen quit Detail, which had recently become a quartet when bassist Johnny Mbizo Dyani joined drummer John Stevens, Pedersen and, reedist Frode Gjerstad, At Club 7 is the only document of the band in this configuration. Although Pedersen (1956-2012) played with fellow Norwegian Gjerstad in the Calling Signals group a decade later, it appears that cooperation with Briton Stevens (1940-1990) and South African Dyani (1945-1986) didn’t work out. MORE

April 6, 2017

Spontaneous Music Ensemble

Withdrawal (1966/7)
Emanem 5040

Barry Guy

The Blue Shroud

Intakt CD 266

By Ken Waxman

Organization and innovation are the concepts most closely associated with British bassist Barry Guy. A classically trained musician, he early on established himself as a masterful soloist in groups led by pianist Howard Riley and others. By his mid-twenties however, Guy, who turns 70 this month, had made in music the same sort of transcendental leap Woody Allen effected in film by demonstrating memorable skills as director as well as actor. Guy’s founding of and compositions for the London Jazz Composers’ Orchestra in 1972 demonstrated that precise notation and free-form improvisation could coexist. From then on, like a hyperactive Jekyll and Hyde, the bassist has enthusiastically directed and played with large ensemble while utilizing his string prowess in a dizzying number of smaller bands. MORE

August 6, 2016

Artist Feature

Frode Gjerstad
By Ken Waxman

After more than three decades on the cutting edge of free music, Norwegian saxophonist Frode Gjerstad, 68, is more modest than he should be. “I realized very early that I couldn’t make a living playing the music I was interested in,” relates the Stavanger-based musician. “So I got an education and became a teacher while still playing.” Merely describing himself as a teacher downplays that Gjerstad taught economics, social science and sound design at university and college. Plus, before Gjerstad made the transition to full-time playing about 10 years ago, he worked steadily with some of the music’s heaviest hitters including drummer John Stevens, pianist Borah Bergman and cornetist Bobby Bradford. “I’m happy that I didn’t become a full time musician at an early age. With kids and a wife I stayed at home and could concentrate on the music I like. I’m not a big spender plus my wife has always been very helpful. She owns a kindergarten and I help her with that. She has been my biggest supporter all these years.” MORE

November 16, 2015

On Screen

Taking The Dog for a Walk: Conversations with British Improvisers
A film by Antoine Prum

By Ken Waxman

Part travelogue, part history, part performance and part philosophy, Taking the Dog for a Walk is the definitive portrait of British Free Improvisation. Yet from the first sequence showing drummer Mark Sanders improvising alongside a bingo caller, the genre’s sardonic humor implicit in isn’t neglected either – note the vintage clip of Lol Coxhill and other improvisers in zoot suit disguise playing at a beach resort.. Even the title references the hoary jape that three men and a dog was BritImprov’s typical audience. MORE

November 11, 2015

Beyond Jazz: plink, plonk & scratch; the golden age of free music in London 1966-1972

By Trevor Barre
Compass Press

Out of Nowhere, The Uniquely Elusive Jazz of Mike Taylor

By Luca Ferrara

Gonzo Multimedia

By Ken Waxman

A succinct, personal, opinioned and ultimately insightful volume about the so-called First Generation of British Free Musicians, Beyond Jazz is first-time author Trevor Barre’s crisply-written, well-informed overview of the scene during those crucial seven years. A little too young and living elsewhere in the U.K., to have participated in most of the seminal London-based performances of that era, Barre’s turned to contemporary journalism, some academic studies and most importantly correspondence with 21 Free Music mover and shakers to fill out the story. Out Of Nowhere, the Uniquely Elusive Jazz of Mike Taylor is an exhaustive near hagiography tracing the brief career of a British pianist whose career began and ended in the 1960s and whose particular music and short life characterized all that was good and bad about the improvised and overall music scene during that representative decade. MORE

June 6, 2015


First Detail
Rune Grammofon RCD 2166

By Ken Waxman

Odd man out who plays hot free, rather than cool Nordic, jazz Stavanger-based multi-reedist Frode Gjerstad (b.1948) had to wait for the 21st Century and his nurturing of a new generation of Norwegian improvisers to gain local accolades. Starting in the ‘80s however, it was overseas that he connected with like-minded associates and this fascinating CD preserves the first-ever session by the Detail group, whose impetus came from freewheeling British drummer John Stevens (1940-1990), Gjerstad’s first and most important foreign contact. Stevens, who would have turned 75 this month, was one of the progenitors of BritImprov in the mid-‘60s, founded the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and worked with dizzying array of other musicians in many contexts. Detail’s first long-standing configuration was a trio with bassist Johnny Dyani. But for one year it was a quartet including Stavanger keyboardist Eivin One Pedersen (1956-2012), a long time Gjerstad associate, who along with the reedist and drummer, completes the nascent trio here. MORE

March 18, 2015

Label Spotlight:

Rune Grammofon
By Ken Waxman

Helping to define and preserve sometimes uncategorizable improvised music was one of the goals of Norwegian Rune Kristoffersen when he started his Oslo-based Rune Grammofon (RG) label in 1997. “A new scene was forming with young artists doing exciting music,” he recalls. “But they had nowhere to release the music since the majors weren’t interested.” Kristoffersen decided to fill the gap, and by the end of this year RG will have released 176 sessions that touch on aspects of folk, jazz, ambient, electronic and rock. Artists include Supersilent, Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen’s trio and Mats Gustafsson’s Fire big band, with some popular discs like Supersilent’s repressed many times; and with most of the catalogue still in print. That’s a pretty impressive indication of support for novel Nordic sounds from someone who in the ‘80s released six albums as one-half of the fashionable Norwegian pop duo Fra Lippo Lippi. MORE

October 10, 2011

Loose Torque

Label Spotlight
By Ken Waxman

London’s Loose Torque label is the audio equivalent of a small press publisher which concentrates on aesthetics. Just as those firms’ limited-edition books are printed on high-quality paper with covers produced by hand-operated letterpress, Loose Torque CDRs are computer-burned in batches of 100, using specialist Taiyo Yuden discs, with professionally designed packaging.

Loose Torque is the brainchild of veteran British bassist Nick Stephens, who describes himself as “artist-producer-runner. I play on and record the music, mix and edit it, think of titles, burn, print and pack the discs and take them to the post office.” Founded in 2005, Loose Torque has already released 21 CDRs, ranging from archival sessions with such major UK players as alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana and drummer John Stevens, to contemporary dates that showcase Norwegian saxophonist Frode Gjerstad, British trumpeter Jon Corbett and South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo among others. The label’s literal in-house art staff is Stephens’ wife Fay, an illustrator and New Media designer, who also maintains the Web site. MORE

August 8, 2009

Music Outside, Contemporary Jazz in Britain

By Ian Carr
Northway Publications

Hindsight may be 20/20, but this reprint of Ian Carr’s 1973 classic Music Outside, reveals that he beats the law of averages. However, anything written 36 years ago resonates with the attitudes of the time. Some musicians who seemed significant then are more the province of nostalgia than admiration; others mentioned briefly are major figures.

Parenthetically that sense of being of one’s time makes Roger Cotterell’s contemporary postscript frustrating. While he does tie up loose ends and outlines the subsequent career of some musicians, a few are still ignored. His updates are also mostly personal anecdotes. MORE

September 1, 2008

Spontaneous Music Ensemble

Bare Essentials (1972-3)
Emanem 4218

Definitely dedicated to playing reductionist music, the sound of the Britain’s Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME) was even more mininalist in the early 1970s, since the SME at the time was a duo: Trevor Watts on soprano saxophone and John Stevens on percussion.

Resuscitated from tracks recorded by Watts on a portable cassette player, Bare Essentials presents complete and edited performances by the duo from nine concerts in 1972 and 1973 that took place in Wolverhampton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and London’s now legendary Little Theatre Club. With the 16 tracks running in length from slightly more than a minute to slightly less than 32½, none of the music – with possibly one exception – is absolutely indispensable. However the overall two-CD set is engrossing, letting you trace the two applying different strategies and approaches to the material. MORE

February 24, 2008

John Stevens-Evan Parker

Corner to Corner + The Longest Night
Ogun OGCD 022/023

Musically associated in a variety of ensembles from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, saxophonist Evan Parker and drummer John Stevens (1940-1994) are generally credited as two of the half-dozen or so visionaries who helped create the unstructured collective sounds that characterized British Free Music.

Throughout the years, infrequent duo interactions offered both expansive opportunities to express themselves, and this important reissue combines what arguably are the two’s most accomplished duets: 1976’s The Longest Night and 1993’s Corner to Corner. Although of variable personalities – the mordant drummer loudly rubbed more people the wrong way then he did drum tops, while the saxophonist was and is more moderate in demeanor – their shared philosophy of facing every musical challenge head-on serves them well on both discs. MORE

December 5, 2005


Live at the Plough Stockwell
Loose Torque LT007

Antwerp 1988
Loose Torque LT001

Two vibrant snapshots of London Jazz in the late 1980s, early 1990s, these discs show that just before the Limey version of Young Lions appeared, musicians of many different schools had developed a rapport with one another.

By this time jazz-rockers, Free Musicians and boppers had been coexisting for a good many years, while the Brits had the added advantage of having internalized the Kwela and Township Jive rhythms expatriate South Africans players brought with them to the British jazz scene, after they fled Apartheid. MORE

October 31, 2005


The London Concert
psi 05.01

Mining the seam - the rest of the Spotlite sessions
Hi 4 Head Records HFH CD003

Combining and splitting apart numerous times in various bands – ad hoc and not –during a period in the late 1960s and early 1970s now seen as the genesis of British Free Music, guitarist Derek Bailey and drummer John Stevens (1940–1994) are almost universally acknowledged as dual catalysts who nurtured the nascent scene.

Although over the years both improvised with just about anyone and mentored a large number of younger musicians, Stevens had, and Bailey still has, a fairly prickly personality. That meant that at the same time newer players were being initiated into freer sounds, one or both was usually carrying on a feud with older associates and sometimes with one other. Bailey has maintained from that time that every performance should be completely improvised with each creation a tabla rasa. Less rigid, Stevens didn’t disdain composition and wasn’t above playing jazz, Free Jazz and a touch of jazz-rock. MORE

May 19, 2003


The Tony Oxley-Alan Davie Duo
a|l|l 005

Application Interaction And...
High4Head HFHCD002

Pioneering Scottish Abstract Expressionist Alan Davie had his first one-man exhibition in London in 1950, at height of the Cool Jazz era, when he was also making his name as a painter, poet and multi-instrumentalist. Keeping up with musical changes, Davie, born in 1920, eventually developed a longstanding playing partnership with percussionist Tony Oxley, born in 1938, who is one of the founders of restrained BritImprov and a painter in his own right. The improv duo sessions here were recorded in 1974 and 1975, and are reissued with two additional tracks for the first time since their appearance on LP in 1975. MORE

December 17, 2001


Hello, Goodbye

During the long period in the 1970s and 1980s when he was metaphorically alone in the wilderness, as practically the only advanced improviser in Norway, alto saxophonist Frode Gjerstad developed an extended playing relationship with British drummer John Stevens. However this recently discovered almost 73½-minute document is the only time the two worked in tandem with guitarist Derek Bailey.

Bailey, who is often as theoretical as Stevens was spontaneous, was along with the drummer an early BritImprov creator and worked with Stevens many times as a sort of “fellow traveler” to the drummer’s Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME). But this disc preserves the only meeting -- so far -- between the guitarist and the alto saxophonist. Recorded by Gjerstad on a portable DAT machine during a 1992 concert in his hometown of Stavanger, and computer-corrected in 2000, it’s an instructive example of how three originals can interact without giving up any of their individuality. Most of the tunes flow one into another, with the only real break occurring about 20 minutes after the three begin. MORE

April 29, 2001


Live at The Plough
Ayler Records aylCD-007

Two of the most fervent of England's first generation free jazz/improvised music experimenters, drummer John Stevens (1940-1994) and alto saxophonist Mike Osborne (b.1941) aren't as well known as they should be for a variety of reasons.

Stevens, who for 30 odd years until his death directed various versions of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME), one of the seminal experiments in defining BritImprov, was a famously irascible character. A chameleon who could be playing super sensitive near soundless improv with partners like saxophonist John Butcher or trumpeter Kenny Wheeler one day and raucous jazz rock with lesser musicians the next, Stevens managed to alienate as many players as he inspired. More clearly jazzy, Osborne, who worked over the years in circumstances as varied as Mike Westbrook's big band and an all saxophone group with John Surman, was one of the U.K.'s "farthest out" freebopers in the 1970s. Unfortunately part of that "outness" resulted from a steadily worsening mental illness, which finally forced him to cease playing about a year after this live session was taped in 1979.