Improvisations for Cello and Guitar
Dave Holland cello
Derek Bailey guitar
Recorded live at the Little Theater Club, London, January 1971
One’s not half two. Its two are halves of one… All lose, whole find.
–e. e. cummings
If you’ve ever picked up a guitar and played those short strings between the end of the neck and the pegs and wondered if one could make viable music with that kind of sound, then look no further, for that is precisely the pinpoint aesthetic captured on this rare recording. These improvisations are miniscule and entomological, whispering with the nocturnal regularity of a cricket. Holland and Bailey shift from pops and plucks to more sustained tones at the drop of a hat, but always with an ear keenly tuned to the other player. The two take full advantage of extended techniques to create a wide palette of sounds. These are delicate pieces, but no less full of verve and character for their utter precision. Sometimes the music is incredibly expansive. Other times it seems to implode, by turns galactic and subterranean. Because both musicians are so skillful at what they do, one can truly appreciate the spontaneous dynamics of their playing, the ways in which they react and prompt each other into action. They are never afraid to take separate paths, for they always seem to rejoin, and in doing so they add seemingly endless variety as the energy flows and ebbs. It’s always fascinating to hear Dave Holland’s earlier work, and this meeting with Bailey is certainly an archival treat.
The Music Improvisation Company
Derek Bailey electric guitar
Evan Parker soprano saxophone
Hugh Davies live electronics
Jamie Muir percussion
Christine Jeffrey voice
Recorded on August 25-27, 1970 at Merstham Studios, London
Engineer: Jenny Thor
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: November 1, 1970
Derek Bailey is a pioneer of British free improvisation, and although this is one of his earliest recordings, it houses much of what he would come to be known for: microscopic precision, a love of empty space, a supremely fractured aesthetic, and a subtle disregard for the rules. As with his later solo outings and fruitful collaborations with John Zorn and other bastions of the avant-garde, Bailey brings full commitment to the table in this early, digitally reissued ECM recording. Yet how to describe it? A possessed duck call tripping down a flight of stairs into a pile of discarded instruments? A broken jack-in-the-box heavily amplified on cheap speakers? A radio being tortured to give up its innermost secrets? None of these comes close to mapping the album’s rambling course. Still, the results are consistent. So much so that track titles like “Packaged Eel” do nothing to deepen our understanding of the goings on. As can be expected from the roster, the musicianship is of indisputable quality. Evan Parker awes with his outbursts of indiscernible melody while Bailey cultivates an anonymous approach, cutting in and out from behind a surgeon’s mask.
The Music Improvisation Company is nothing more or less than what one makes of it. Its difficulties are also what make it go down smoothly. A mysterious morsel that yields a new flavor with every taste.