An archival recording documenting two sessions of SME, a group with perpetually shifting members.
"Familie" was recorded in January, 1968 and is, I believe, previously unreleased. It's also, per Martin Davidson's notes, the earliest recording of SME in large ensemble format, here an 11-piece group including Norma Winstone, Trevor Watts, Evan Parker, Derek Bailey and Dave Holland. Contrary to what many perceive, SME was never a purely improvisatory ensemble and "Familie" begins with a clear, if simple theme, long tones and chords with a pastoral quality that strikingly antecede some of the music on Centipede's Septober Energy from a few years hence. It morphs into the sort of light, lyrical improvisation common at the time (though no less enjoyable), all players active at all times, forming a constant stream of moans, whistles, plucks and cymbal strokes with the flute (Brian Smith) prominent.
"Oliv" features two groupings, one with the quartet of Maggie Nicols, Watts, Johnny Dyani and leader Stevens, the second a nonet with those four plus Kenny Wheeler, Derek Bailey, Pepi Lemer, Carolann Nichols (the latter two on voice) and Peter Lemer on piano, each recorded in February, 1969. While the general atmosphere is similar to that heard on "Familie" (the three vocalists are in roughly the same, steady-state territory), the addition of Wheeler as well as the increased prominence of Bailey make this session stand out a bit more. Here, the improvised section in Part I has a regular, if relaxed, pulse, lending a jazzier feeling to the proceedings. It builds a fine head of steam and results in a performance that, of its like, is hard to top. Part II is more angular, Watts' alto and Nicols' voice caroming off each other over Dyani's urgent (and excellent) bass. It wanders a bit as improvisations of this order often do, but there's solid enough playing and listening to elicit moments of reward.
A good document, then, and required listening for SME fans or those with an interest in early (nearly) free improvisation of the period.
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