May 26, 2012
Without the controversy implicit in discovering relics from biblical times, Goldsmiths offers up six fascinating performances by the first edition of Iskra 1903, whose influence dwarfed its hitherto miniscule discography. Consisting of trombonist Paul Rutherford (1940- 2007), guitarist Derek Bailey (1930- 2005) and bassist Barry Guy, and named for the newspaper Lenin edited before the Russian Revolution, Iskra proclaimed not only its political radicalism, but in choice of instrumentation, a change from the larger and percussion oriented bands with which all three had been affiliated.
More indicative of how well the British improvisers had distanced themselves from the often overbearing Free Jazz of their affiliated American and Continental confreres, the sessions resembles archeological artifacts in another way. The final two tracks are of performances recorded in an unknown place at an unverifiable date.
Relic-hunting aside, the musical value of the trio’s innovations is demonstrated clearly on the four tracks recorded at London’s Goldsmiths College in 1972, especially the two parts of “Cohesion 2”. Following more than four decades of exposure to reductionist sounds, it’s difficult to imagine how freaky and unconventional these performances must have been, particularly in a Jazz scene preoccupied with the rewards of Jazz-Rock fusion. Instead the band, made up of a barely amplified guitarist, multiphonic exploring trombonist and a bassist eschewing a steady beat. Exposed, individualized abrasive timbres miraculously seem to sunder together like jigsaw puzzle pieces.
On “Cohesion 2” Bailey’s metallic-sounding resonations and below-the-bridge plinks sidle up against Guy’s muscular plucks as Rutherford works his way in, out and around the string continuum with whistling plunger extensions and buzzing textural rephrasing. Making up duo counterpoint with each of his partners in turn, the trombonist is particularly effective in the last section of “Cohesion 2A” when throaty slide swallows plus a droning ostinato from the bassist are blended. The guitarist’s harsh and hard responsive string action is carried on into “Cohesion 2B”. As the percussive and oscillating guitar licks harden, they narrow in pitch to complement Guy’s spicccato string pops and wood thumps. Meanwhile Rutherford’s thickened tongue guffaws solidify, decisively contrasting with the bassist’s string slaps and Bailey’s amp distorted undulations and abrasive string scratches. At the conclusion, the guitarist’s strokes turn to sustained fills as the trombonist’s wide-bore gurgles move to vibrating tongue action and finally silence.
A notable variant of this continuum is also apparent on the nearly 30-minute “Cohesion 1A”. Before it too fades – or the tape reel had to be changed – the trio creates another instance of microtonal multiphonics. Guy is more upfront with slippery pumps and intervallic sprawls, as Bailey concentrates on foreshortened plinks, snapping flanges and recessed clanks. Meanwhile Rutherford’s burgeoning skills multiples his brass expansion, often sounding two distant tones at once. Barely there puffs are exposed alongside lowing guffaws, while extended mouthpiece mutters and cries are balanced by slippery pumping, rubato guffaws and spittle encrusted buzzing through the horn’s body tube. All the while Bailey strums forcefully if distantly. With so many fungible and undefined lines, the track appears to exist in its own space-time rather than beginning or ending.
With two out of three members of Iskra 1903 having moved on to another astral plane, the sounds they left behind are doubly valuable. Providentially, as this CD demonstrates, the artifacts are as notable musically as historically.
Track Listing: 1. Cohesion 1A 2. Cohesion 1B 3. Cohesion 2A 4. Cohesion 2B 5. Unknown 1 6.
Personnel: Paul Rutherford (trombone); Derek Bailey (guitar) and Barry Guy (bass)