2 ... only the start of something
"Ode" dates back to the beginning of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra. Movements 1,2 and 7 were recorded for BBC in 1970; Movement 4 was recorded in 1971 and Movement 6 for BBC in 1972. On the initiative of the "Musician's Cooperative" the first complete performance of "Ode" was held in London at Ronnie Scott's Club in 1971. It was followed by a presentation at the English Bach Festival in Oxford in 1972. The idea of a composers' orchestra, a large formation equally defined by the concepts of composition or intervention and by the improvised creative genius of the participating musicians, developed an amazing self-impetus through "Ode". It was this energy, which proved to be greater than the arithmetic sum of the participants, that encouraged Barry Guy and the orchestra to drive idea and practice even further. At the end of the cassette on which Movement 7 is recorded – the recording of the concert on the Incus label from the Town Hall in Oxford from 22 April 1972 only contains parts 1 to 6 – I can hear the voice of the announcer commenting on Barry Guy and his piece "Ode": "It is, he hopes, just the start of something." Later, Barry Guy spoke of the different phases of the orchestra: of a phase in which the compositions found their origin in the characteristic playing styles of the members, becoming more and more complicated, of a subsequent phase in which a rigid conception and the liberty of improvisation were increasingly balanced etc. "Ode" comes before these phases, marks the hour of birth, the initial phase, bears the seeds of all of the moments to come.
3. We were all steering towards something yet unknown
It is not necessary to reconstruct Barry Guy's biographical background here. A brief reminder should suffice that his path ran from architecture to music, from the study of so-called "classical" and at the same time "older" and "newer" music in addition to Jazz and free improvisation on to a language of music that would be unthinkable without the above-mentioned experiences, but which can no longer be reduced to its sources. John Coltrane left his traces as well as Anton Webern and Alban Berg. Stravinsky and Penderecki, Stockhausen, Boulez, Xenakis have all been named as an influence on Barry Guy. In connection with "Ode" he referred to how fascinated he was by Oliver Messiaen's "Chronochromie", which inspired him to reflect on the construction principles on antique odes. However the title and principle of construction bear at best only an associative relation to the dimensions of Messiaen and certainly only very vaguely to the chorus of Greek tragedies. The music seems to be equally far from the subtitles, which were named for painters and paintings of the surrealistic school: Part 1: "The End" – Edgar Ende, 1931; Part 2: "Memory of the Future" – Oscar Dominguez, 1939; Part 3: "Exact Sensibility" – Oscar Dominguez, 1935; Part 4: "Indefinite Indivisibility" – Yves Tanguy, 1942; Part 5: "According to the Laws of Chance" – Jean Arp, 1917; Part 6: "Presence of Mind" – RenŽ Magritte, 1958; Part 7: "Melancholy Departure" – Georgio de Chirico, 1916. All of this hardly allows an association with concrete references to pictorialness, but rather indicates contours of a reality not yet seen or heard, at least not in this form. It corresponded with Barry Guy's adventures in the area of musical improvisation – be it with Paul Rutherford, Trevor Watts, John Stevens, Tony Oxley, in ensembles with Bob Downes, in groups around Evan Parker, in trio formations with Howard Riley, in the group Iskra 1903 (at first with Barry Guy, Paul Rutherford and Derek Bailey) .... The unknown , Derek Bailey once said, cannot be reached with a compass. The atmosphere of the late Sixties and early Seventies, the questioning of social structures and the breaking open of encrusted traditions all seemed to give the musical "Sturm und Drang" processes more drive. Barry Guy wanted to melt his apparently disparate experiences together orchestrally in the medium of music, or , as he once explained, to make the paradox of joining together composition and improvisation productive. There was a further related motive for "Ode": Barry Guy wanted to point out the variety of musical styles that had developed in the English improvising music scene and present them, so to speak, under one roof. The different stylistic onsets proved to be a driving force, at the same time also creating a tension of collective effort that stretched to the breaking point. In a conversation with Rosmarie A. Meier and Patrik Landolt, Barry Guy admitted: "We were all steering towards something yet unknown. We were working towards it together as part of a process. We tried to clarify the details, to tie together the various musical disciplines. It was also about finding forms of a musical discourse in order to be able to coexist with the others. Through destroying the conventional patterns of communication, we wanted to achieve an even more intense communication."
4 .... to be able to feel free within the structure
In the liner notes accompanying the recording of "Ode" under the Incus label, Barry Guy complained that the orchestral aspects had remained statistically underdeveloped in relation to the enormous expansion and differentiation of the musical vocabulary through the instrumentalists of improvised music. He is not only referring to the Big Bands of Jazz that were caught in conventional traditions and idioms, but also to the works of New Music. Although it did pay attention to the structural aspects, New Music had largely left the specific individuality of the players unconsidered. What is new is char acterised on the one hand by using the language of music developed by modern Europeans and on the other by the creative potential of improvisers in the field of tension between concept and spontaneity. This should not be confused with a third way in the traditional sense of "third stream". Thanks to his studies in composition, Barry Guy was able to organise and structure what he played with his improvising colleagues, forming "Ode" into a manifesto. The orchestral dimension literally cried for a composer if the playing was not to end in endless passages of power or overflowing surfaces of sound. At the same time, the variety of individual voices proved to be a kind of palette that challenged creative fantasy. When he writes for an ensemble or an orchestra with "classical" musicians, Barry Guy once said, he imagines a certain sound that he wants to achieve. For the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, on the other hand, he sees faces. Even in this piece, which is far from Jazz, Barry Guy follows the principle of orchestral thought that was developed during the history of Jazz: Taking into consideration the mentality, the personality, the stylistic characteristics of the soloists. He lets them inspire him without reducing his total concept. He challenges the individual, but does not force them to deny their own characteristics. Ekkehard Jost described the complex working relationship of the orchestra: "put together from the imagination and competent craftsmanship of the composer Guy;the notions that he forms of the musical characters of his partners;and the performances that these then give – reacting to the events of his imagination." Very clearly Barry Guy and the participating musicians are no longer interested in provocatively standing out from the encrusted traditions of Jazz and /or New Music, but are more concerned with a principle of construction. The analogy to social structures and processes was in the air. Barry Guy speaks of the composition as a "social framework", for the participating musicians; and he accentuates that he wants to design the score so freely that all of them can actually "feel free within the structure". This was not always the case in later phases of the Orchestra. The solution to the paradox or the insight gained in the process of the dialectic of composition and improvisation, however, can only be thought about and brought about as a process. "Ode" made this problem transparent and at the same time held it up so it could be clearly seen: in the acoustic room, in the cultural landscape, in society.
5. With the composition "Ode" I found a first solution
In this piece density does not necessarily mean tutti. Barry Guy works with the most diverse gradations and overlapping of density and degrees. He introduces "solo groups", which to a certain extent negotiate between the soloist and the orchestra, confronting them with each other as the concertino and the full orchestra do in the concerto grosso. And he uses all these means undogmatically, he combines, complicates and untangles, he also allows stylistic varia – from reminders of melodic ballad improvisations to a feeling of strict dodecaphonic playing, from individual and collective bursts of energy to comparatively calm surfaces of sound, from associations with "classical" music to Jazz gestus. The latter however, only appears very occasionally. This is certainly connected with the fact that in this phase Barry Guy and most of the musicians gathered around him were greatly concerned with disassociating themselves from the image and idiom of Jazz. Only in the final movement, Part 7 which is entitled "Coda", did Barry Guy attempt a compromise with Jazz's Big Band traditions. Significantly enough , this part was left out of the Incus production of "Ode". In the liner notes Barry Guy indicated that he was not satisfied with the result, that he had asked too much of the soloists who had otherwise worked themselves so well into the language of the other parts and that several "blunders" had occurred. Nonetheless he regretted, that "Coda", which contained good solo and ensemble passages and had been a success with the audience, had not been documented. Ekkehard Jost quoted a critique by Derek Jewell that appeared on 2 May 1971 in the "Sunday Times" where he stated: "This wonderful 'Coda' in Guy's piece, in which Bernard Living's revolutionary alto saxophone and a blindingly beautiful bass trio stood in the foreground, was a conclusive plea for the cause of the Jazz avant-garde ....". As Barry Guy had conceived just this part as a compromise, one cannot help but confirm a misunderstanding in the reception of it. However, from a different perspective "Coda" can be considered a part that exactly because of its contradictions does not take a back seat to the others in terms of brisance. Once the disassociation from Jazz had taken place and did not have to be emphasised all the time, the exchange of views between the creative means and the means of expression in Jazz once again became attractive.
Although "Ode" is fascinating, especially because of its tonal dimension which, in lack of a different or more succinct expression, could be called "European", Barry Guy was concerned at the same time with the model of structure and with a model of communication: "I was looking for possibilities of combining the contrary moments of freedom and control with each other. With the composition of "Ode" I found a first solution". And so "Ode" is still shining a quarter of a century after its creation – similar and yet at the same time also different to "Globe Unity" with the Orchestra around Alexander von Schlippenbach, to "Machine Gun" with Peter Brötzmann's octet, to "European Echoes" with the ensemble around Manfred Schoof, to the recordings with the Jazz Composers' Orchestra around Carla Bley and Mike Mantler. Or, to risk a comparison and carry it further, to John Coltrane's "Ascension" or Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz", to the significant works of Anton Webern or Yannis Xenakis. "Ode", in short, falls in line and out of the frame: a milestone and a manifesto. In the London Jazz Composers Orchestra the music has freed itself from the subaltern mediator. New productive powers were kindled by the attempt to resolve the paradox. Thus, the sound of "Ode" is at the same time highly personal and yet goes beyond the individual, the concrete expression of a phase of uprise, to a certain degree timeless, characterised by systematic intellect and yet full of sensuality.
That the London Jazz Composers Orchestra has survived for a quarter of a century despite unavoidable crises and continues to stride towards the future, that seven of the founding members (Marc Charig, Paul Rutherford, Trevor Watts, Evan Parker, Howard Riley, Paul Lytton and of course Barry Guy himself) are still part of it, underlines the forbearance expressed in the quotation that the whole thing is the start of something.
(Translation: Susan Kaufmann-Guyer)