Improvising the Score
Bill Shoemaker April 1, 2001
Seeds of Sound
By Declan O'Driscoll
Music is sound. Sound is mystery. Unseen but felt (it can make you do the strangest things). Improvisers play music for the mind (from their fecund, instantly responsive minds) and for the body too and the spirit (wherever it may reside). The emotional impact of their music – it's felt feeling – is too often ignored, but it's there in the giving and in the receiving. It is quite moving to see, and hear, musicians transforming the weight of their being into truth-bearing sound; reaching for a level of expression they understand to be crucial. There is no other reason for doing it, for being there.
When the Barry Guy New Orchestra played for the first time, at a concert in Dublin, more than a few of those present – in a capacity-straining, adulatory, munificent audience – felt almost overwhelmed by what they heard when Inscape – Tableaux was given it's premier performance. A fervent complexity, an immediate communication. A beautiful sound that relocated the locus of beauty (or what is considered to be beautiful). "Much that is beautiful must be discarded/So that we may resemble a taller/Impression of ourselves."*
Nothing about the composition, nor the many improvisations latticed through it paid regard to fashion. The distancing defences of post-modernism – it's pasteurised lack of resolve – were ignored, thwarted by the simple statement of unselfconscious seriousness and an absolute commitment to the importance of the continuous now. "That their merely being there/means something."* It spoke of vitality, it blossomed. Seeds of sound germinated and grew before us, revealing the colour and shape of their inherent energy.
The music that night suggested so many possibilities. It's astonishing blast still resonates. When it ended we were suddenly bewildered, left shaking our heads; trying to think of words that might catch the music's echo. We moved around the room, uttering the word 'amazing' to faces we knew as our pulse rates gradually regained their normal beat.
*Quotations from poems by John Ashbery.
Behind Barry Guy's New Orchestra
By Greg Buium CODA Magazine, March-April 2002
When the Barry Guy New Orchestra reassembled in Vancouver last June for just its fourth concert, its first in over a year, the improvised music set couldn't believe their luck. It was, by any standard measure, a coup. Considering the ten-piece group's lineup, an exceptional gathering of European and American improvisers, and the sheer size of its signature piece, Guy's seven-part composition, Inscape – Tableaux, finding a festival for its first (and only) North American appearance wasn't easy.
"We've got so many amazing players in this band we can present almost anything," Guy told me in the middle of the group's four-day whirlwind through town. "It's very hard to persuade a festival organizer to utilize the potential of the group. To say, 'Well, look: Other than the big band we actually have the [Evan] Parker Trio, we have the Guy /[Mats] Gustafsson trio. Or you can have the Marilyn Crispell Trio. And more.'"
But the Vancouver International Jazz Festival didn't need much convincing. Breaking off into a variety of duos, trios, and quartets, the orchestra blanketed the festival's first few days. In some respects, the BGNO (as Guy is given to calling it) simply recreated its first performances in Dublin last year. To debut the new group Guy set-up four days of music, plotting out a compelling network of groupings and daily rehearsals, culminating in the premiere of Inscape – Tableaux. For some of the players it was the first time they'd ever met.
"The process that took place in Dublin was actually quite important," Guy explained. "One thing I wanted to do was to acquaint us all, and the audience, with the voices in the band. Kind of lay the skeleton bare before we ever came around to playing the final piece. And it was a very interesting process not only for the audience but for ourselves because all the players always listened to everybody else. So we were informing ourselves of the way the players interacted in different groupings."
It was a masterstroke – and, for Barry Guy, something not unfamiliar. For nearly thirty years with the London Jazz Composers Orchestra (LJCO) he's tackled the often problematic relationship between composition and improvisation, a lifetime trying to make improvised music work in large group settings. "Guy's LJCO recordings," Bill Shoemaker recently suggested, "comprise a Teflon-like argument for the legitimacy of the composer in improvised music, as his works are casebook studies in the integration of improvisation and predetermined materials and the empowerment of improvisers to substantively shape the work." Indeed, the BGNO fits snugly into this tradition. Built on the questions (and problems) posed in the LJCO, Barry Guy's New Orchestra was born out of its predecessor's unwieldy economics.
"The genesis of the new group, I suppose, came out of the fact, the horrible reality, that getting work for the London Jazz Composers Orchestra was actually getting more and more difficult," Guy recalled. "The LJCO was always a large animal to deal with, to keep it moving. There was no such thing as funding. We funded it basically by selling instruments over the years. I suppose I can put my Baroque music days as the progenitor of the LJCO."
After the LJCO's last concert at the 1998 Berlin Jazz Festival (with Marilyn Crispell and Maggie Nicols as guests) – "a remarkable evening," Guy recalls, "because the band was on absolutely top form" – the prospects looked bleak. "The months passed after Berlin, we tried to get some more work, and basically the information coming back to us was that nobody has any money for big bands, unless you have government support. Patrik Landolt from Intakt wanted to do another album and he said, 'Look, why don't you think of a smaller band.' Which to me was the unthinkable because in a way that's my baby, the LJCO, with the size of it – the orchestration, the understanding how I could write for it. A ten-piece band seemed a proposition that was untenable. However, it was suggested as a financially easier option."
Landolt persisted. "He said, 'Why don't you just give a thought to who you'd want in the band.' That was the difficult thing because I had all the guys that were in the LJCO who'd I'd worked with for years. But I decided to just let that be, to push that to one side and find the reasons for putting a ten-piece band together – and who to get into it. It seemed to me that the best way of doing this was to almost get back to the first principles that I had with the LJCO: to gather around under this umbrella a group of players that I had recently been working with in small groups, in duos, trios. And also players that had played with each other in various groupings over the years.
"So the Parker Trio was the obvious starting point because I love working with Evan and I love working with Paul [Lytton]. And of course then there was the Swedish trio with Mats Gustafsson and [drummer] Raymond Strid. So there were two, for me, very interesting trios: one younger one, and the other established but dealing with trio music in a completely different way. I thought that would be quite an interesting focus, and axis point. And then I had been working with Marilyn in trio formations, either with Gerry Hemingway or Paul Lytton, so it would seem to be a necessity to get Marilyn in. And I was wanting to write some things for Marilyn anyway – some ballads, slower things – since she was interested in that area. And she had also made records with the Parker Trio and the Gustafsson Trio.
"I wanted a band that was reasonably international, which reflected my experiences over a period of years. I had done some excellent duos with Hans Koch and wanted a bass and contrabass clarinet sound in this ensemble because I realized that once you're coming down from the seventeen-piece to a ten-piece, coloration is quite important, absolutely vital to this orchestration.
"But I wanted to keep a strong brass section. [Trumpeter] Herb Robertson had played with the LJCO in America and Berlin. He came in and I thought he was an excellent player, kind of revitalized the brass section in a way. And he had made an album with Paul Lytton, so there was that connection. Then [trombonist] Johannes Bauer. I'd done quite a lot of duos with him in Germany, on and off. We kept on meeting. And I thought he had a very positive attitude to improvising and reading music. He's a very good reader, strong sound, and also a really nice guy, as well. I was also interested in the chemistry of the group. What I didn't want was a lot of superstars in the ensemble who would just get on each other's nerves. So I tried to find this arcane balance: to get not only the music to work but the people to work with each other, as well."
And tuba: Per Åke Holmlander, a Swedish player that played in Mats's big band. He was such a good player, very powerful, good improviser, really nice guy, knew the Swedes well, of course. So that was the Viking Trio, in a way (with Raymond Strid on drums), a very special dimension.
"The other thing was, I had to devise music in which I could play bass instead of conducting all the time. You see, I do some conducting in this piece but also I had to imagine a piece in which I could actually step back and let the direction of several parts of it take place within the band itself. So I had to have people who had good initiative. Mats had directed his own orchestra so there was already a fellow traveler. If I needed somebody else to go, 'OK, guys, mobilize here,' he could be relied upon to do that."
Having, as Guy characterized it, "accepted the ultimatum that this was going to be a reality," he began to write – or to at least think about writing. "For quite a while I didn't necessarily do anything on the piece," he recalls. "But there were moments, when I was walking somewhere or sitting at the drawing board working on something else, I would suddenly visualize the BGNO and how it could come together, just sound-wise, as an ensemble. There was a period of gestation: I was having to adjust to the possibilities, the sonic expectations, compared with the LJCO. But there came a point where new things started to stir, reducing the larger orchestra down to a compact aural scenario in my head, but at the same time I was realizing that because they're singular instruments a new sonority started emerging in a very subtle and nonspecific way. An idea was forming itself in my head about clarity and sharply defined gestures. For instance, 'OK, there is one trombone. But that one trombone is powerful and it can actually have a very important and decisive effect within an ensemble.' Whereas the three trombones in the LJCO were used in a strategically different way.
"It was a slow and not very scientific way of forming the sounds of the band. But as these things were happening I found myself more and more making marks on paper, like an artist with a paintbrush. Even before this all started coming into place I'd just get excited by the imagination of a particular instrumental grouping, or one player playing against a construct. And I would just make a mark, or a series of marks, not actually writing notes even. Just a very soft pencil, just digging the paper in a way. It's almost like cavemen making marks on rocks, just images to remind you exactly what you want to do. But in the context of the other things that might have been accumulating, they made sense: something to do with a density of sound, or tailing off to a lightness. I would even change pencil thicknesses sometimes to give a sense of density change."
While a number of the drawings were eventually discarded, specific ideas began to emerge. "As I went through this process they started shaking themselves out into numbers, if you like. This is where the aural imagination, which had been just thinking of grouping, started to enter the drawing facility. I would just put 'Marilyn,' or something like that, at the end of a sequence of lines. That would indicate to me a certain type of activity ending in Marilyn, or, for instance, a specific logical meeting point of certain instruments to support this moment.
"In the early part of Inscape – Tableaux I wanted the exposition to present the two powerhouse trios of Parker and Gustafsson. Before that, however, I wished to present the brass players in short vignettes that would gradually accumulate in energy to the point where they would come together and comment on the progress of the trios as they made their way to a sonically elevated level.
"Then there was this memory of hearing Marilyn and Evan doing a circular stream of activity, and that was the first release point, where the focus changes: from the grand to the specific. And then through that process, and a little short ballad section, we actually pick up pretty much where we left off with the whole band, with the background thing coming to the foreground picking up everybody on the way. This rounds off the first section.
"For me it was important after that to dramatically change the architecture, where suddenly you've got one person in an open space. There you have Marilyn. Having exposed the whole band, I just remember having the, 'This is the Marilyn moment.' It goes right down to one instrument and that's her.
"The whole tension has changed here; the focus has changed. In some ways I think of it as highly architectural but with some cinematics. I'm not a great cinema buff but it's always interesting the way films have the ability to show the bigger vista, then they pan and bring the focus to one specific detail: it could be an eye, or it could be a hand, or it could be a small gesture. But I'm interested in how you can focus the sound. You're channeling everybody into a particular way of listening.
"The other thing that I did at this initial stage was put all the names on a list and connect up who, to my knowledge, had played with whom. There were the obvious trios and parings that had featured in my musical life. But what about Johannes Bauer, for instance. There evolved this very complex, spaghetti-like diagram. And then I started looking at the diagram to realize who hadn't played with somebody in a particular situation. So not only were there the familiar groups, but also the unfamiliar, as well – which became a useful tool to evaluate structural procedures.
"What I try to do is also think of the possibilities of it going wrong as well as right – if it deviated into an area which wouldn't be appropriate. But then you have the trust of the players. I always have the complete trust in the improvisers: they instinctively know where in the creative process it should go. There's a kind of mystery in this, as well, about how these things might work. But I try to assess the probabilities of where they might go. And it can come up with massive surprises, but on the other hand, its creativity is assured."
Inscape – Tableaux may be a monument to Barry Guy's ingenuity and these improvisers' singular skills, but it will be a balancing act to keep the BGNO a viable affair. While a number of national arts councils have generously supported the band, it's been difficult just getting everyone in the same place. "In reality, of course, it's been the biggest nightmare ever," Guy explains referring to the logistics. "The old days of meeting the London Jazz Composers Orchestra at Heathrow Terminal 2 was not to happen anymore." Still, the BGNO regroups in Nickelsdorf, Austria this August. Then there's a three-city Scandinavian tour in the fall. And next spring it seems the group will be in Paris and in Mulhouse in the summer.
With the LJCO on hold, Guy is committed to making the New Orchestra an ongoing project. Not only is he hoping to produce more music, but Mats Gustafsson has plans to write for the group, as well. And after this second spell of gigs, one might expect "Inscape-Tableaux" to still find its place in the band's book. "Could be," Guy responds. "Since the piece is actually taking on a good feel, people are relaxing into the music now.... The thing that I definitely want to present to an audience is something which is organic and growing in front of you. I want the process to be joyous and energizing – to breathe."
Inscape-Tableaux, Intakt CD 066
by Ken Waxman
Just as the European Union (EU) and the Euro have begun to win over Continental rivalries and local currencies, so composer, orchestra director and bass master Barry Guy has decided to put together a new international aggregation that's showcased on this exceptional disc.
After 28 years leading the mostly British, usually 18-piece, London Jazz Composers Orchestra (LCJO), the now Ireland-based Guy has organized an all-star tentet to perform this multi-faceted composition which took two years to perfect. As multinational as the EU, the Barry Guy New Orchestra (BGNO) features only two other Englishmen, as well three Swedes, two Americans, a German and a Swiss national.
Most have worked with the bassist before – some extensively like Evan Parker and Paul Lytton. All are at the top of their form. It would be stupid to say that the colors brought forward by the LJCO's additional eight to 10 players can be equaled by BGNO's fewer musicians. But together these improvisers are so proficient on so many instruments and so cognizant of so many techniques that what they produce easily has the resonance of a larger band. Though scored, Guy's Inscape-Tableaux leaves plenty of space to take advantage of each individual's talents.
Especially noteworthy is pianist Marilyn Crispell, who as well as being integrated into the ensemble, is featured in three keyboard-centered interludes between the larger orchestral sections. Sometimes pastoral, as in the beginning of "IV" – practically a duet for her and Guy's flying fingers – sometimes powerful, Crispell seems to bring her classical chops to the fore here. Distinctively unique, her playing no more resembles that of Cecil Taylor – as some lazy commentators have suggested – than Jesse Helms' politics resemble those of Jesse Jackson's.
Trombonist Johannes Bauer's showcase comes on "V," an exploding comet of cacophony, which harkens back to the earliest days of large ensemble free jazz. Here and elsewhere his vocalized, guttural cries simultaneously suggest New Orleans tailgate and outer space. "V" also features some of Herb Robertson's best Maynard-Ferguson-meets-Cootie-Williams explosions. With only three valves, the American trumpeter is able to produce the sort of multiphonics saxophonists need many keys to generate.
Speaking of saxophonists, how can a band go wrong with a section made up of Parker's circular breathing, Mats Gustafsson's lung bursting blowouts, and on "VI," Hans Koch's top-to-bottom bass clarinet forays?
Still, this Ellington band-like aggregation of stylists shouldn't obscure that the BGNO is very much a composer's vehicle, with echoes of European New music and on "II" Charles Mingus' scores for mid-sized ensembles. Listen again to an interlude in "V" and observe the perfect clarity of Per Åke Holmlander's tuba making its way like a hippo across the Veldt as the untamed wild birds that are the horns vocally leap and frolic overhead. Like Ellington and Mingus, Guy writes with the idiosyncrasies of his players firmly in mind and the score sounds that much the better for it.
One could go on and on appending extended examples of sophisticated and eventful writing and outstanding solos, but how many more superlatives can be heaped on this groundbreaking disc of modern music? Suffice it to say that Inscape-Tableaux deserves to be heard by anyone at all interested in modern composition and the state of 21st century orchestral sound. We can also hope, that sometime in the future, this Valhalla of improvising giants will tour in this formation.
Track Listing: Inscape-Tableaux Part 1; Part II; Part III; Part IV; Part V; Part VI; Part VII
Personnel: Herb Robertson, trumpet; Johannes Bauer, trombone; Per Åke Holmlander, tuba; Evan Parker, tenor and soprano saxophones; Mats Gustafsson, tenor and baritone saxophones; Hans Koch, tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet; Marilyn Crispell, piano; Barry Guy, bass; Paul Lytton, Raymond Strid, percussion
Inscape-Tableaux, Barra O Seaghdha
Once a year, if you conceal yourself by a rocky beach on a certain island in West Cork, you will see a slightly puzzled group of teenagers. Their school-trip has taken an unexpected turn. Why have they been brought to this lonely spot where there is nothing to do? Without explanation, their teacher has started to pick up rocks, to place them. Somebody joins in. Gradually, with decreasing self-consciousness and increasing enthusiasm, groups of two, three or four begin to form. Soon enough, everyone is absorbed in putting stone on stone, stone against stone, and an ordinary beach has become a place of creation. These are not art students (and their teacher, my friend Diarmuid, is not an art teacher), but each of them has discovered the creative potential in the everyday, has come to grips with a medium or material, has touched the possibilities of improvisation.
The same place, the same people, the same material, could equally produce an improvisation in sound: stones, rocks, pebbles; the smooth, the rough, the bumpy; tapping, scraping, whacking; silence to noise, to a different silence; the controlled and the free; solo, small group, ensemble.
From a beach in West Cork to a performance space in Dublin, from untrained teenagers to the Barry Guy New Orchestra, from playing with rocks to preparing for the premiere of Inscape-Tableaux – of course, we are dealing with a different order of experience. Nonetheless, if the extraordinarily accomplished musicians who make up the BGNO were not touched by something of the sense of innocent discovery that touched those teenagers, then all their technique would be for nothing. The line of energy that joins a doodle to a piece of abstract art, a children's rhyme to the most sophisticated poem, must be respected. To witness the inauguration of the BGNO was to see this truth enacted.
Under the auspices of the Mostly Modern Series, at the Bank of Ireland performance space, for four days in early March 2000 Dublin was offered a lesson in musical generosity and in the art of connecting innocence and experience. The performance of Inscape-Tableaux on the closing evening was only the culmination of a fascinating series of solos, duos, trios. The preliminary concerts allowed the players to 'find' each other, to get the measure of each other, to learn or relearn each other. For the audience – small at first, but growing from concert to concert – this was a festival of discovery. Though Barry Guy and Maya Homburger have built up a loyal and near-fanatical audience for their multifaceted musical world in the years since they moved here, this was an outstanding moment in the history of improvised music in Ireland. Seeing a selection of the finest musicians in their field at close quarters, in permutation and combination, many of the non-aligned – those unprepared who had come along out of a mild musical curiosity – were drawn into an intensity of listening that amounted almost to participation.
A concert, no matter how austere either the music or the way the musicians present themselves, is always a kind of theatre. If visible evidence of the dedication and constructive spirit of the musicians helps some listeners to appreciate the difference between musical adventurism and authentic adventure in music, is this not a good thing? A Barry Guy composition like Inscape-Tableaux allows for and respects the integrity of the participating musicians. As a result, the shaping and balancing of the work itself – the controlled, the semi-contolled, the free – cannot be separated from a shaping and balancing of the musical personalities involved. If this process is fascinating to observe as well as to listen to, let it be an auxiliary road to the heart of the musical experience.
With hardly a movement of the body, with the inward concentration and calm of someone who knows the ground his feet are planted on, Evan Parker can as easily blow up a storm as send his partners a steadying wind to play with, to play against.
Mats Gustafsson: not a note sounded yet, but mouth and face already working to the impulse of the notes to come; grappling body and soul with his baritone sax, pulled ground wards, jerked upright, swinging abruptly left or right, as if pulling massive musical shapes out of the air around him; but a sculptor in musical space too when key-clicking, or when finger- or lip-flicking his mouthpiece.
Hans Koch, listening intently behind his clarinet, selecting the precise moment at which to insert a concise, thought-laden statement into the swirl of notes around him; or, with controlled aggression, unleashing all his power to blow apart a musical environment that seemed about to stabilise.
Per Åke Holmlander, spawning more burbles, gurgles, splats and croaks than any pondful of frogs, but every note deliberate, imaginative and imbued with musical awareness.
Belying his unassuming, and sometimes quizzical manner, trumpeter Herb Robertson's unshakeable creative confidence and command, the speed and finesse of his responses, the endlessly fresh colours on his palette.
Johannes Bauer, in excited pursuit of the fat vowel-sounds that seem to burst from his single trombone with fertility enough for two; Johannes Bauer, almost inaudible, aspirating a consonant ...
Marilyn Crispell throwing off a certain aura of detached benevolence as she comes on stage to reveal a power of total commitment at the keyboard, a sweeping unstoppable energy – which does not stop but instead, to our surprise and delight, transmutes into a searching lyricism, only to transmute again...
An experimental scientist at the drum kit, afraid of nothing, ideas no sooner conceived than subjected to a battery of tests, Paul Lytton adds, subtracts, multiplies ...
Coins, rubber toys, rubber bands, bells, whistles, the zip-zip-zippered suitcase from which all these spill: everything is grist to the sound-mill. Plonked amid his drums, Raymond Strid deadpan comic? Close your eyes and listen: Raymond Strid, master of metamorphosis.
Imagine the many roles of Barry Guy himself as deployed along an arc: welcomer of the audience; introducer of the work, setting the maximal listening conditions; composer and conductor, revelling in the energies that rise and fall – and thus player of the orchestra as partly self-regulating instrument; listener, as always, his delight in others' searchings and discoveries visibly equal to his delight in his own; player of his own instrument, poised to select the precise form (pluck, stroke, whack, glide) and point of contact that will focus the moment, which (and now we are moving outwards again) is part of his playing, within the group structure he has created, which he is animating and which continues to unfold, until the playing stops but the music doesn't, because the audience – of whose reaction he is now the gatherer-in and reflector – is still happily resonating to the sounds it has just heard as it hears his concluding words of thanks.
Cloud puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay gangs they throng; they
glitter in marches. Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, wherever an elm arches, Shivelights and shadowtackle in long lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Openness and engagement precede understanding here. In any case, there is nothing to understand if one is not open to the exultant drive, the repeated holding back and joyful release of pressure that are the core of an encounter with such a poem.
Inscape: a word that needed to exist but didn't until invented over a century ago by the poet Gerald Manley Hopkins; a word that seems better than any other to convey art as felt from the inside, its inner shape; an artist's mode of understanding; gratefully seized on by the painter Tony O'Malley, through whom it spoke to Barry Guy.
Many elements combine to create the charged excitement of the first performance of Inscape-Tableaux. Barry Guy's respect for his fellow-musicians has been palpable from the beginning, as has been his joy in sharing them with us. Though many of them are leaders in their own right, there is a remarkable absence of egotism among the players. On the contrary, as each individual talent is fully expressed within the overall design of the work, there is a sense that each shares in the others' eagerness to surpass all barriers and expectations. Musical generosity is built into the piece, with its mixing and counterpointing and highlighting of voices, for example, with its variety of texture and speed, and with Guy sharing the leadership for a time with Gustafsson. The intensity of the experience leaves the audience stunned and exhilarated. Even if further performance may bring about a refinement or redefinition of aspects of the work, they know they have been privileged to witness the birth of both Inscape-Tableaux and of the Barry Guy New Orchestra.
by Alan Jones
This music is wonderfully complicated. British bassist/composer Barry Guy has taken the ideas behind his London Jazz Composers Orchestra (LJCO) a considerable step further.
The idea for the Barry Guy New Orchestra sprang from the logistics problems that he continuously encountered with the LJCO. For example, planning for the travel and accommodations for up to twenty other musicians is often a Sisyphean task. Funding is another issue altogether.
Guy and Patrik Landolt of Intakt Records brainstormed, and when the dust had cleared, the idea for the Barry Guy New Orchestra was born: an international collective consisting of ten musicians. Funding is more dependable this way, from the international angle, at least for part of the group. The Swedish and Swiss governments are quite dedicated to the forward progress of their artists. Germany too, to some extent. The British Council lends a hand when it can to its musicians, as it has for many years with the LJCO. Then there are the Americans, but that is for another essay.
Physically, it is also easier to move around ten musicians than it is eighteen. The only real remaining complication is ensuring that everyone's schedules jibe, which, under the circumstances, will often be hit or miss.
With these intricacies ironed out, Guy could focus on composing for his new group. He imagined the unification of two of his working sax/bass/percussion trios to create a base for the new project. Because pianist Marilyn Crispell had experience with these trios, not to mention that she is such a dependable improviser, he chose to include her as a sort of common ground between the two units. The backbone of the music for Inscape-Tableaux, the orchestra's maiden composition, fell easily (Guy admits) into place from this approach. Incidentally, healthy segments of the piece were written specifically for Crispell. Guy colored the composition further with equally demanding roles for the remainder of the group – trombone, trumpet, tuba, and more woodwinds.
In a class by itself, the music that is Inscape-Tableaux bears the boldness of the LJCO, the consistent intelligence of its composer, and the complexity that is inherent in such a grouping. Guy conducts the orchestra, while playing contrabass simultaneously. Crispell is on piano, with Evan Parker and Mats Gustafsson on saxophones. The brass section is Herb Robertson on trumpet, Johannes Bauer on trombone, and Per Åke Holmlander in the tuba chair. Percussionists Paul Lytton and Raymond Strid complete the (ahem) "rhythm" instrumentation. And Swiss multi-instrumentalist Hans Koch plays soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, and contrabass clarinet.
The 66-minute composition begins ("Part I") as if the orchestra has been hired for a Hitchcock film score, bright and fluttering. There is a break, and Bauer tears away with a brief trombone cadenza, which rises back into the collective. The orchestra wails again, breaks, and Robertson comes in with his own frantic lines, similar to those of the trombone. This pattern repeats itself several times, although not identically. There is a building of tension that comes with each successive break, between which different soloists make statements, sometimes in duos, larger in others. And so a barely detectable and complex pattern is revealed. "Part I" is a long, aggressive intro movement that does not cease until each musician has had his or her say, some of them bonding and some dramatically contrasting. Parker and Gustafsson have their own improvised section with the percussionists. Crispell and Parker mimic one another on piano and soprano saxophone, respectively. "Part I" momentarily becomes a handsome ballad, before returning to primary patterns, written structures interlaced with improv.
"Part II" begins with Crispell following written material, and improvising in large areas. Parker joins her on soprano, in a similar flavor to their duet from "Part I." Their improvisations are textured by glissando entries and cut outs from the brass section.
"Part III" and "Part IV" rival one another for the most aurally captivating "movement" of the piece. Almost entirely improvised, "Part III" consists heavily of wind and air sounds, and intermittent symphonic perturbations. These are achieved by discrete, seemingly random partnerships. "Part IV" is mostly a Crispell/Guy duo, both written and freely improvised and serves as an interim resolution amidst the controlled chaos of the rest of the piece. The piano and bass meet briefly to establish a theme before Guy launches, alone, into a free solo using a lightning pizzicato technique. He reconnects with Crispell, and the orchestra, restating the previously hinted theme.
The remaining parts of Inscape-Tableaux are a commensurate extension of the first three. They are by no means alike in sound, but similar in energy and in the conductor's employment of individual musicians. It is fascinating to listen to the music in segments, or, to isolate contrasting trios of musicians playing against or in congruity with one another. The soloists are impeccable. Herb Robertson has a few show stopping moments in "Part VI." Koch's bass clarinet is a central figure in "Part VII." But Marilyn Crispell – largely due to much of the music being written around her – is the essence of Inscape-Tableaux. Listeners can latch onto her from the get-go, clinging to the piano with one hand and inspecting the dark of the layered instrumentation with the other.
So every good idea begins with a problem, although the music of Inscape-Tableaux leaves no indication otherwise. It is an astonishing accomplishment that should be experienced.