Weight of Wax WOW 04

A hitherto unreleased session now made more audible through modern technology, this CD captures the unmistakable spiky playing of the late British guitarist Derek Bailey in cohesive improvisations alongside London saxophonist John Butcher, with whom he often played at the time, and visiting American percussionist Gino Robair. More crucially it’s a valuable addition to the guitarist’s burgeoning discography.

By this point the playing of Bailey (1930-2005) was very much sui generis. Having along with others, mid-wifed the growth of self-defined improvised music in the United Kingdom, his tart and acerbic method of string scraping and finger-picking had retained constant whether playing with older associates or newer musicians world-wide. As open to multiple pairings and new partners as Bailey, Butcher had by this time (2000), perfected soprano and tenor saxophone multiphonics making his tones as distinctive as the guitarist’s. Rather than being odd man out, Bay area percussionist Robair, whose rhythmic versatility is expressed by labelling his percussion instruments energized surfaces, had already set up a playing relationship with Butcher. But this is his only recorded meaning with Bailey.

Bailey’s insistence on what could be termed total improvisation notwithstanding, the eight tracks don’t suffer from hesitancy on anyone’s part, with the juddering mass often depending as much of the percussionist’s wrenching textures, cymbal scrapes and patterns as the saxophonist’s diaphragm vibrato, tongue stops and circular breathed split tones. No surprise. Robair had already worked with quirky guitarists like Myles Boisen and mercurial saxophonists like Anthony Braxton; Butcher’s associates had included guitarist John Russell and drummer John Stevens; while Bailey had played with nearly every major percussionist and reedist in Free Music including Evan Parker, Peter Boltzmann, Han Bennink and Tony Oxley.

“Frangible” the lengthiest track is probably almost the most characteristic. Built up with circling single notes from Bailey, high-pitched reed squeaks and extensive percussion friction, stressed textures are invested with more urgency as Butcher’s hollowed respiration swells to corkscrewed tongue flutters and chirps alongside Bailey’s rugged slurred fingering and Robair’s roll, pops and paradiddles. Just when the sonic tension seems impenetrable, vibrated reed obbligatos and descending string flanges cut through the impasse and are soon joined by percussive impulses segmented among paper ripping, cymbal smacking and drum surface crackling.

Approximations of rhythm guitar strokes, without a standard pulse, as well as cymbal pops and on “Plugh” an understated, reed-blowing ostinato, keep many of sounds on the other tracks together, even approximating harmony at some points.

Still, the true value of this session is to expose the first-class music produced by three improvisers at the top of their respective games. It’s a valuable addition to each man’s catalogue.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Almosthenics 2. Teasing Needles 3. Cosmetic Halo 4. Excrescense 5. Frangible 6. Plugh 7. Surprise Inspection

Personnel: John Butcher (tenor and soprano saxophones); Derek Bailey (guitar) and Gino Robair (energized surfaces)