DEREK BAILEY/SHAKING RAY LEVIS

Live at Lamar’s
Shaking Ray Records SRR CD-003

LIMESCALE
Limescale
Incus CD 56

Getting a handle on Derek Bailey’s recorded and performing output is like trying to grab Jell-O with a catcher’s mitt — some sticks, but most slips away. The length and breath of the British guitarist’s almost 40 years of musical associations just as a committed improviser is staggering in breadth and unconventionality.

Bailey has said that he considers ad-hoc musical activities essential, and he always appears to be ready, willing and able to play with anyone at any time. Over the years his partners have ranged from those as recognized as fellow EuroImprov theorizers such as drummer Tony Oxley and saxophonist Evan Parker and Peter Brötzmann to unique throw downs with a potpourri of lesser-known solo players, dancers, DJs and even head-banging rhythm sections.

These two CDs fit snugly into the later exploratory category. While some may find it odd that he’s on a live date recorded in Chattanooga, Tenn. with a weirdly named local duo, in fact Shaking Ray Levis’ Dennis J. Palmer on synthesizers and Bob Stagner on percussion are veteran improv associates. Not only have they worked with Bailey previously, but they were also the first American group on his record label.

More notable is the creation of Limescale, a cooperative group featuring Bailey on side with two British Free Jazzers — clarinetist Alex Ward who is also part of bassist Simon Fell’s SFQ band — and bass saxophonist Tony Bevan, who in his solo and trio outings has created a modern voice for the unwieldy beast usually confirmed to Dixieland bands. But it’s the other two participants who really show Bailey’s acceptance and courage. Fancifully named T.H.F Drenching improvises on the Dictaphone (sic), while Sonic Pleasure hits the bricks in a way most striking unionists wouldn’t recognize.

Unmasked, the two actually come from other musical areas that admix with jazz and Free Improv. Sonic Pleasure — real name Marie-Angélique Bueler — is a Manchester-based composer of so-called serious music, who has tested her improv chops with Fell and woodwind master Mick Beck. A fellow Mancunian, T.H.F Drenching is the stage name adopted by Stu Calton, guitarist in alt-pop band Pence Eleven, when he creates freely improvised musique concrète with his Dictaphones. He too has had improv experience with Fell, Beck and trombonist Gail Brand, who is also part of SFQ.

Back in the U.S.A., despite some sonic overlap between Bailey’s electric guitar and Palmer’s synthesizer, the sounds are more-or-less clearly delineated. Still there are points where it appears as if being near the birthplace of Southern Fried Boogie Rock adds a harder and more metallic cast to the guitar’s solos. He won’t be mistaken for Duane Allman, but then again he’s never been mistaken for any other guitarist during his more than 50 years professional career.

On “Dietrichson”, for instance, the distorted oscillations from his volume pedal eventually mate with the distended reverb washes arising from Palmer’s synth. No beat monger, Stagner varies his strokes from standard time to irregular beats, occasionally crackling the ride cymbal for effect. Sanguine, with stuttering rhythm guitar chording elsewhere, there’s one section just before the end where it appears as if Bailey is using delay to transform himself into a flat-picking guitar army as Palmer lays on the organ chords.

A churchy organ riff completes the penultimate section of “Catfish Night” as well, but for most of the tune the keyboard man relies on less conventional tumult. There’s the spinning massed drone that seems to include the whap of a fan belt that he often shows off. However, that sound often resolves itself into atmospheric rocket launching suggestions and burbling space tones when the guitarist goes the opposite route, worrying single notes with Appalachian thoroughness. If Palmer extends his undulating sound base, Bailey merely uses his reverb to amplify top-of-fretboard investigations and Old-Timey flailing, letting the synth create the feedback that by rights should come from his effects pedal. The distortion pedal is only on tap at the end, raising the volume for some buzzing feedback, complementing similar wavering aural data from the keys, and completing the rhythmic thump from Stagner. Before that, the drummer mostly confines himself to cow bell pealing, brush strokes on the hi-hat and friction between two wooden drumsticks.

Throughout this concise CD of a little less than 27¾ minutes, the mood reflects the more mellow properties of Free Improv.

LIMESCALE would never be described that way. There’s so much happening at the same time during the six titles on the disc, that at intervals it appears as if there’s no central focus at all. Luckily Bailey & Co. are able to keep these tendencies in check.

One of the overriding truisms on this almost-61-minute CD, is how absolutely distinctive and individualistic Bailey’s guitar licks are. There’s never any doubt as to who is holding the plectrum. Conversely it’s surprising how conventional Dictaphone and brick sounds appear in this context. Drenching’s appliance simply becomes another horn along with the two reeds; while Pleasure’s bricks provide the rhythm, with her technique striking them the way a percussive vibist like Lionel Hampton or Terry Gibbs would treat his axe. Resonating rattles and crashes put her output midway between that of a limited drum set and a vibraharp with the motor turned down very low.

The only real departure from this occurs on “Charity singles ball”, the CD’s longest track. Here there are points when the chiming tones of the masonry resemble those from glass test tubes, a carillon, or a wooden desk. Meantime the horn section is respiring out a Greek chorus of honks, with Drenching adding a queer, high-pitched vocalization to Ward’s shrill timbres ranging from double-tongued trills to upper register screeches on top of multiphonic, huffing mouth percussion from Bevan. Irregular staccato picking is Bailey’s contribution, at least before he ends the tune with arching feedback distortion, while Pleasure somehow replicates the sound of log drums and unselected cymbals spinning on the ground.

Elsewhere it’s probably the Dictaphone noises that suggest the squeals of a miniature pooch, the gasping of a monkey, and sibilant Daffy Duck timbres. That links the fowl trills, ear splitting whistles and frequent elongated squeals to clarinet territory. That is, except for a time when Ward creates a liquid laughing solo, expanded with key clicks and ghost notes on “The army stuffing its drum”, and on “French archive”, where his tone turns so legato that it almost resembles that of an outside Buddy DeFranco.

If there’s one disappointment here it’s that far too often Bevan’s parts seem limited to puffing out subterranean rhino snorts, creating split-toned, liquid raspberries evidentially forced from the bow of his horn, or producing rhythmic tongue slaps to emphasize the beat. Segregating him in traditional bass territory means that the octave jumps and higher-pitched pyrotechnics he’s displayed elsewhere are kept under wraps.

Then again, there may be enough cacophony on call, considering that when Drenching’s Dictaphone manipulation doesn’t result in either a whistling wind section role — shared with Ward’s unattached gooseneck altissimo blowing — it exhibits the static oscillation of mass-produced office machinery. Drenching’s heavy-breathing mouth refrains passed though the miniature item could be dispatches from Bedlam as well, and perhaps that’s all the anarchy in the U.K. the five wanted on the session.

Between the anvil-like offbeat rhythm of the bricks plus the horns’ shrieking undulations when colored noises aren’t being forced through them, this could be the perfect soundtrack for a very British political demonstration. Yet whether he’s playing expressive rhythm guitar fills or sounding out irregular tones from beneath the bridge, Bailey, in contrast, goes about his job as distinctively, competently and unperturbed as an old time Bobbie.

As a left winger Bailey would likely despise the comparison. But that’s what happens when you, like the Bobbies, have evolved a distinctive persona unaffected by the different situations in which you’re found.

It’s also why investing in these examples of Bailey’s collaboration is as valuable as picking up any of his other CDs.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Lamar’s: 1. Dietrichson 2. Catfish night

Personnel: Lamar’s: Derek Bailey (guitar); Dennis J. Palmer (synthesizers); Bob Stagner (percussion)

Track Listing: Limescale: 1. Bürger plus 2. French archive 3. The army stuffing its drum 4. Charity singles ball 5.Academy now! 6. Titles by drenching

Personnel: Limescale: Alex Ward (clarinet); Tony Bevan (bass saxophone); Derek Bailey (guitar); T.H.F Drenching (Dictaphone); Sonic Pleasure (bricks)