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.

Throughout, Gjerstad casts out a long fishing line of tiny accented notes, while Bailey ranges up and down the strings, plinking and plucking resonating, sharply metallic phrases. At the same time, the ever-busy Stevens moves between cymbals and snare, placing accents with the accuracy of a pastry chef decorating a multi-layer cake. Sometimes, though, as in the middle of “Three Two Three One”, when Stevens lays out things get a little too weightless, with the feathery sax lines and string silences threatening to float away. Strangely enough that track ends with about two minutes of amplifier hum, which seems to be an enigmatic Bailey statement rather than a technical fault.

Perhaps to counter that, “Three by Three” — the longest track —is much more aggressive, with Stevens occasionally spewing out a stream of off-key mini trumpet blats, Gjerstad elongating his alto lines, sometimes in counterpoint with the trumpet, and Bailey constructing some picked and strummed rhythmic backing. With the guitarist producing an improv version of power chording, Stevens is moved to ratchet up the backbeat while Gjerstad slides out some shards of pitch variations that more resemble the energy music of the 1960s than more restrained EuroImprov.

That moods seem to stay intact during “Two Three Two Three” with a saxophonist-indicated head of long-lined slurs that almost sounds South American. Immersed in his kit, Stevens keeps the rhythm jumping from snares, toms and cymbals and back again, while, as if reacting to the challenge, the guitarist matches both of them with a busy barrage of single notes. Here and elsewhere, using his amp’s and pedal’s capacity and creative feedback, Bailey proves that the booklet description of him playing an amplified guitar is no misnomer.

All in all, HELLO, GOODBYE is much more than the historical souvenir of a unprecedented one-off meeting. Although reminiscent in part of some of SME sessions with the same line-up and a few of Bailey’s saxophone face-offs, the creations are given a fresh twist from Gjerstad’s ingenuity.

Thus the disc becomes triply valuable. It’s another report on the talents of a highly inventive drummer; a supplementary CD of the underrecorded Gjerstad’s work; and as a reminder that no matter how many sessions he plays, when faced with improvisations —and improvisers — at his level Bailey will pilot his work up to yet another level.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Hello 2. Three Two Three One 3. Three by Three 4. Two Three Two Three 5. Penultimatum 6. Goodbye

Personnel: Frode Gjerstad (alto saxophone); Derek Bailey (guitar); John Stevens (percussion, mini-trumpet)