Derek Bailey
(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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In the 1970s British guitarist Derek Bailey (1930) became synonimous with wildly dissonant music. His unconventional methods evoked John Cage's dadaistic provocations, but Bailey was less interested than Cage in the process and more interested in sound for the sake of sound. In his hands the guitar mutated from a melodic and rhythmic instrument into a non-rhythmic percussion instrument. Of all the British musicians who turned soundsculptors, Bailey was the most obviously removed from the traditional approach to musical instruments. His guitar was merely a medium to produce sounds that were "not" musical. He was not interested in romancing the human race, but in cataloging what sounds the human race can produce and what happens when they are combined.

He played in four of the pioneering free-jazz acts of Britain (Joseph Holbrooke in Sheffield in 1963, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble in London in 1966, Tony Oxley's sextet in 1968, Peter Broetzmann's group in 1969, Paul Rutherford's Iskra 1903 in 1970, Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers' Orchestra in 1972). In 1968 he founded the Music Improvisation Company with Evan Parker on soprano saxophone, Hugh Davies on live electronics and Jamie Muir on percussion, as documented on The Music Improvisation Company 1968-1971 (june 1970).

The Topography of the Lungs (july 1970) with saxophonist Evan Parker and percussionist Han Bennink, the Improvisations for Cello And Guitar (january 1971) with David Holland on cello, and Solo Guitar (february 1971) were the albums that provided a shock therapy for the world of improvised music: nobody had ever abused the guitar like that. By comparison, Jimi Hendrix was a classical musician.

More solos followed: Lot 74 (may 1974), Improvisations (september 1975), Domestic & Public Pieces (january 1976), the live double-LP New Sights Old Sounds (may 1978). Bailey called for "non-idiomatic improvisation," or improvisation that did not hark back to any pre-existing musical genre. Thus he was aiming for improvisation that would be as personal and subjective as possible, completely removed from the cultural conditioning of history.

Tony Oxley (percussion and electronics) and Derek Bailey (guitars) recorded the three lengthy pieces of The Advocate (1975): Sheffield Phantoms (14 minutes), Medicine Men (4 minutes) and Playroom (12:30 minutes). The 2016 reissue includes Oxley's tribute to Bailey, a live piece for electronics and percussion, The Advocate (2016).

His international fame was attested by a series of collaborations: the double-LP First Duo Concert (june 1974) with American saxophonist Anthony Braxton, The London Concert (february 1975) with Evan Parker, Duo (february 1976) with American cellist Tristan Honsinger, Drops (april 1977) with Italian percussionist Andrea Centazzo, Duo and Trio Improvisation (april 1978) with Japanese musicians including trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, Aida's Call (may 1978) by a drum-less quartet with Kondo, Japanese altoist Kaoru Abe and bassist Motoharu Yoshizawa, Time (april 1979) with clarinetist Tony Coe, etc.

More 74 (1974), released only 26 years later, documents solos from 1974. Dynamics Of The Impromptu (january 1974) contains six improvisations on the same theme with Trevor Watts (soprano sax) and John Stevens (drums and cornet).

Extending the idea of the Music Improvisation Company, in 1976 Bailey founded the Company, an "orchestra" of free improvisers like him, with a fluctuating line-up. Company 1 (may 1976) featured four trio pieces by four different combinations of Dutch bassist Maarten van Regteren Altena, Honsinger, Parker and Bailey taken from their first concert. That concert also consisted of a quartet piece and of all possible duo combinations. Company 2 (august 1976) was instead a trio with Parker and Braxton. Company 3 (september 1976) was a duo with Bennink. Company 4 (november 1976) was a duo with American soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, another master of noise. Company 5 (may 1977), perhaps the best of the series, contained the 25-minute LS/MR/DB/TH/AB/SL/EP for trumpeter Leo Smith, Braxton, Parker, Lacy, Bailey, Honsinger and Altena. Company 6 (may 1977) also featured soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill, pianist Steve Beresford and Bennink. Fictions (august 1977) was for Bailey, Coxhill, Beresford and pianist Misha Mengelberg, but was ruined by spoken-word sections. Fables (may 1980) employed Bailey, Parker, Holland and American trombonist George Lewis. Epiphany (july 1982) was a 47-minute improvisation by Bailey, Lewis, classical pianist Ursula Oppens, rock guitarist Fred Frith, glass-harmonica virtuoso Akio Suzuki, harpist Anne LeBaron, pianist Keith Tippett, violinist Phil Wachsmann, bassist Moto Yoshizawa and vocalist Julie Tippetts. Epiphanies (same session) was a set of brief sketches by the same musicians organized in smaller groups. Concert In Milwaukee (march 1983) contains four lenghty solo guitar improvisations. Trios (may 1983) contained trios, a duo and a collective improvisation by musicians such as Bailey, Muir, Reijseger, Parker, saxophonist Peter Broetzmann, trombonist Vinko Globokar, bassist Joelle Leandre, electronic musician Hugh Davies, etc. Once (may 1987) collected a 22-minute guitar-less Quartet (for keyboardist Richard Teitelbaum, saxophonist Lee Konitz, basssist Barre Phillips and percussionist Steve Noble), a twelve-minute Sextet (for Bailey, Teitelbaum, Konitz, Phillips, violinist Carlos Zingaro and cellist Tristan Honsinger), and a Trio 1 with Konitz and Honsinger.

Two lengthy improvisations by Derek Bailey (guitar), Joelle Leandre (double bass), Evan Parker (tenor and soprano saxes) and George Lewis (trombone) were collected on 28 Rue Dunois Juillet 1982 (july 1982).

Collaborations of the 1980s included: Views from 6 Windows (february 1980) with vocalist Christine Jeffrey, Arch Duo (october 1980) and Compatibles (july 1985) with Parker, Dart Drug (august 1981) with percussionist Jamie Muir, Cyro (october 1982) with Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista, Yankees (1982) with Lewis and saxophonist John Zorn, Outcome (june 1983) with Lacy, Han (march 1986) with Bennink, Figuring (september 1988) with bassist Barre Phillips, Pleistozaen mit Wasser (july 1988) with American pianist Cecil Taylor, etc

The solo albums (never his favorite format) were: Music and Dance (july 1980), Aida (august 1980), perhaps the best of the decade, with the 19-minute Paris, the mediocre Notes (july 1985), Lace (december 1989), with the 30-minute Let's Hope We're All in the Right Place, and Solo Guitar Volume 2 (june 1991).

During the 1990s the Company moved further away from the stalwarts of British improvised music that had created its reputation. The triple-LP Company 91 (1991) featured Bailey, John Zorn, electronic musician Pat Thomas, trombonist Yves Robert, violinist Alexander Balanescu, bassist Paul Rogers, percussionist Paul Lovens and vocalist Vanessa Mackness, The double-CD Company in Marseille (january 1999) merely documented a quartet with harp, bass and cello. The last Company festival was held in 1994.

In the 1990s Bailey began to release an amazing number of really terrible recordings: Village Life (september 1991) with percussionists Louis Moholo and Thebe Lipere; Playing (august 1992), One Time (november 1992) and Hello Goodbye (october 1992) with drummer John Stevens; Wireforks (october 1993) with American guitarist Henry Kaiser; Banter (september 1994) with percussionist Greg Bendian; Saisoro (september 1994) and Tohjinbo (april 1997) with bassist Masuda Ryuichi and drummer Yoshida Tatsuya of the Japanese rock band Ruins; Harras (september 1994) with John Zorn and William Parker; The Last Wave (april 1995) with bassist Bill Laswell and drummer Tony Williams under the moniker Arcana; Guitar Drums'n'Bass (september 1995) with DJ Ninj; Trio Playing (november 1994) with saxophonist John Butcher and tuba player Oren Marshall; Close to the Kitchen (august 1996) with guitarist Noel Akchote; Drawing Close (november 1996) and Songs (november 1996) with Japanese rock guitarist Keiji Haino; the triple-CD The Sign of 4 (december 1996) with Pat Metheny and two percussionists; Viper (december 1996) and Flying Dragons (november 1999) with Chinese pipa virtuoso Min Xiao-Fen; No Waiting (may 1997) with bassist Joelle Leandre; And (august 1997) with sampling musician Pat Thomas and turntablist Steve Noble; Departures (may 1998) and Traces (may 1998) with the Vertrek Ensemble (percussionist Ron de Jong and guitarist Vadim Budman); In Concert & Studio (november 1998) with percussionist Robyn Shulkovsky; LOCationAL (october 1999) with clarinetist Alex Ward; Daedal (february 1999) and BIDS (june 2001) with drummer Susie Ibarra; the two "post improvisations" with Han Bennink, When We're Smiling (june 1999) and Air Mail Special (june 1999); Mirakle (november 1999) with bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer Calvin Weston; Ore (march 2000) with percussionist Eddie Prevost; Llaer (october 2000) and Seven (february 2002) with percussionist Ingar Zach; Fish (june 2000) with percussionist Shoji Hano; Right Off (july 2000) with flutist Carlos Bechegas; Bailey/Hautzinger (january 2001) with trumpter Franz Hautzinger; Barcelona (november 2001) with pianist Agusti Fernandez; Soshin (march 2003) with guitarist Antoine Berthiaume; Nearly a D (august 2002) with reedman Frode Gjerstad; Under Tracey's Bed (november 2002) with bass saxophonist Tony Bevan; Scale Points on the Fever Curve (march 2003) with clarinetist Milo Fine;

He finally returned to the solo format for Takes Fakes & Dead She Dances (september 1997) and the DVD Playing for friends on 5th Street (december 2001), which were jewels compared with the collaborations of that decade. But then, again, Bailey engaged in truly pathetic collections such as String Theory (january 2000), that used only feedback, Ballads (february 2002), a collection of pop and jazz standards, Poetry & Playing (june 2003), on which he also (gasp) read poetry, At the Sidecar (february 2004), and Carpal Tunnel (2005), that was simply amateurish because Bailey suffered (for real) from carpal tunnel.

Derek Bailey and bassist Simon Fell recorded the lengthy Pre-Tea live, as documented twelve years later on The Complete 15th August 2001 (2013).

Bailey also formed Limescale (december 2002) with bass saxophonist Tony Bevan and clarinetist Alex Ward.

The solo All Thumbs (july 2004) and the duet A Silent Dance (may 2005) with pianist Agustì Fernandez document his last live performances.

Out Of The Past (february 1999) documents a collaboration with percussionist Steve Noble.

Scrutables (march 2000) documents the trio of Derek Bailey (guitar), John Butcher, (saxophones) and Gino Robair (energised surfaces).

Fairly Early With Postscripts (2015) collects solo pieces dating back to 1981.

Bailey died in december 2005.

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
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