This album was recorded at Café Oto, London, in August 2016, at a concert which was a reunion old friends, the six artists credited. Of those six, saxophonist Evan Parker, guitarist John Russell, violinist Philipp Wachsmann and double bassist Marcio Mattos have remained active participants in the improv scene in London and further afield. In recent years, after a period of inactivity, guitarist Ian Brighton had been trying to find a pathway back to performing improvised music; this included recording "A Voice You Left Behind", a dedication to Derek Bailey, and releasing the album Now and Then (Confront, 2016). Percussionist Trevor Taylor is also the proprietor of FMR, publisher of Avant magazine, a concert promoter and retailer of musical equipment. Brighton, Mattos, Taylor and Wachsmann, collectively known as String Thing since they began playing together in the early seventies, had not performed publicly since they recorded the album Eleven Years from Yesterday (Bead / FMR, 1988). Yes, this was some reunion.
The concert (and, hence, this album too) was well programmed to display the six musicians to best advantage in a range of playing contexts. It consists of four tracks that run for about seventy minutes altogether, an opening six-and-a-half-minute solo performance from Brighton, a thirty-two-minute String Thing piece, a sixteen-minute Parker-Russell duo and, finally, sixteen minutes of all six together. Straight way, Brighton's solo track demonstrates that he was right to right to return to performing improv; playing electric plus pedals, he bends and shapes chords and single notes to create a layered soundscape that is rich in detail but avoids becoming over-elaborate or cluttered. On this evidence alone, Brighton should record a solo album as soon as possible. He carries this highly distinctive style into the extended String Thing performance, where it blends well with the violin, bass and Taylor's vibes in a gentle, slowly-evolving piece that creates a relaxing listening environment which is occasionally punctuated by some rather intrusive pre-recorded samples. Fortunately, these are used sparingly and, thanks to the strings, the enjoyable mood persists for most of the track. At its conclusion, audience applause is rightly prolonged.
Next up, the duo of Parker and Russell demonstrates the benefits of experience together and longevity; the two have been playing with one another (and sometimes with others) since the early seventies, and it shows. They know each other's playing well enough to conduct a coherent ongoing dialogue that is not obviously led by either one but brings out the best of both of them; a textbook example of duo improv. Finally, the closing sextet track draws together the strengths that have been amply demonstrated throughout the album. In particular, all six are clearly distinguishable throughout the piece and play together without getting in each other's way or cramping each other's style. Altogether, this is an album of good, old-fashioned improv by six long-experienced exponents of the art. Highly recommended for established fans and for newbies alike.
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