With Derek Bailey
Foghorn Records FOGCD006

Perhaps the most unintentionally shocking part of this 2004 live London gig by the British Bruise band joined by guitarist Derek Bailey is its cost, reprinted on the back CD cover: “₤5/₤3 concessions”.

While a bargain for the audience, it proves once again that no matter how well-known someone like the guitarist was in the improv world, he was still doing local gigs for the equivalent of the price of a beer a little more than a year before his death at 75. Obviously no one ever got rich – or is it comfortable, in both senses – playing improv.

At this same time Bailey probably participated in this 70-minute session because of his respect for the participants, who richly deserve it. Bass saxophonist Tony Bevan, who has single-handedly rescued the largest member of the saxophone family from the clutches of the Moldy Figs, first played with the guitarist in the 1980s. Sound collage creator Ashley Wales is part of electro-acoustic sessions involving equally famous first-generation improvisers like British saxophonist Evan Parker and Dutch drummer Han Bennink.

Singly and together, bassist John Edwards and percussionist Mark Sanders have backed up BritImprov heavy hitters ranging from Parker to saxophonist John Butcher. Orphy Robinson, who plays steel drum, marimba, percussion, electronics and trumpet here, subtly and without showing off, often adds funk and African inferences to his more sophisticated note selection.

The likelihood is that Bailey worked with all the others beforehand in some combination or other. Or maybe he didn’t. Bailey had a reputation for improvising with everyone and anyone, preferably for the first time. Often this all-inclusive impulse served him badly and on some record dates you can hear him picking away oblivious to all around him. Luckily this isn’t one of those.

As always Bailey sounds unmistakably like himself, using the non-idiomatic style that he arguably invented. At points he appears to be tapping or rattling his strings; at others stroking a cluster of legato notes; and elsewhere seemingly wiping and cleaning the guitar neck or space below the bridge – musically, and in the context of the improvisation of course.

By the final more-than-34-minute track, perhaps impassioned – or irritated –

by the vibrating samples and effervescent wave forms from Wales, the guitarist’s pin-point notes turn to distorted flanges, as if he was practicing for a Yardbirds’ rave-up. While this is going on the bassist and drummer develop their accompaniment from low-key, stop-and-start to delineate a speedy walking bass line and rhythmic drum-stick rattles.

Still earlier Robinson shows off blustery trumpet tones slowly submerged by shrieking and twittering machine modulations. One early climax is reached however, when Bailey’s single string snaps and resolute flat picking attains double counterpoint with Bevan’s lip bubbling and snorts.

Throughout, the saxophonist’s purpose-built honks join knife-sharp rasgueado from the guitarist to build up the intensity. Most of this takes place on top of horizontal wave forms from Wales’ soundscapes and a percussion display from Sanders that swiftly evolves from bounces and rebounds to heavy, anvil-like beats. When one series of sounds resembles the sweeping textures of a violin recital, can it be attributed to electronic legerdemain or to stroking spiccato lines from Edwards’ bass?

All and all, between Bevan’s masticating basso slurs and altissimo cries, Bailey’s string bending and chiming frails plus off-centre pitch molding from the others, the applauding audience obviously had a great time – at bargain prices. So will the listener.

In sympathetic, challenging company on one of his last sessions, Bailey rose to the occasion to help define his brand of improvisation – as did his five confreres.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Search 2. Locate 3. Destroy

Personnel: Tony Bevan (bass saxophone); Derek Bailey (guitar); John Edwards (bass); Mark Sanders (drums and percussion); Orphy Robinson (steel drum, marimba, percussion, electronics and trumpet); Ashley Wales (soundscapes and electronics)