Lot 74 was originally issued as Incus 12 in 1974, and was only the fourth solo recording Derek Bailey released, after the two volumes of Solo Guitar and the reel-to-reel tape release TAPS. Little of the solo language of the consummate free improviser had yet been documented at the time, and to those mail ordering copies of the LP it must have been a revelation - or a conundrum.
The album is no less surprising today. Before long, Bailey would refine his playing to rely primarily on plectrum technique with harmonics and muted strings, but in the early '70s there was a different sense of adventurousness about him. The "19 string (approx) guitar" isn't heard here, but his deft stereo playing is. Splitting the signal from his electric guitar, Bailey played with two amps and two volume pedals, allowing him to create distinct left and right fields. That, of course, is just a tool, however, and it's Bailey's contrary ingenuity that makes the panned plucking work.
The 22-minute title track that opens the disc is all of what makes his solo playing so great. It's lyrical, more in a spoken than sung way. It moves forward with rationale, is sometimes light but never quite goes for a joke. Cliché though it may be to say, Bailey is a storyteller: linear and engaging. In hindsight, what would have been called "side two" back in the day is even more of a shocker. The brief "Together" opens the side, an intense blur of singing, or whooping in any event accompanied by feedback (he seems to be singing into the guitar pickup to get overtones and distortion). "Pain in the Chest?" is built of shards emanating from (seemingly again) prepared strings. "Planks" is a sort of spidery ballad, which is followed by a spoken piece called "In Joke (take 2)." Bailey's so-called "chats" became better known (and more frequently recorded) in later years, but this is an early example of his conversational cacophony: him ruminating cheekily on the early days (less than a decade prior at the time) of free improvisation, presaging the Charlie Appleyard stories he would later record. Hearing Bailey accompany himself - speaking while drowning himself out with rigid, angular guitar lines - is one of the best keys to unlocking his enigmatic music. The disc closes with another rich amplified piece (curiously this one gets titled "Improvisation").
As his approach to playing grew increasingly singular, his sonic palate became less of a rainbow. Arguably the depth of his musicianship also grew, Lot 74 is rare in his catalogue as a series of attempts and for the resultant diversity.
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