Iain Cameron's Diary
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2004-08-27 - 5:26 p.m.
I sent Andrew Keeling some papers – a transcription of a John Coltrane solo from the Giant Steps album and some exercises which have been prepared to develop competence in handling the kind of harmonic changes that the tunes on that album tend to use. Giant Steps comes at the point in his artistic development just before he embarks on a pathway – starting with the formation of his “great” quartet – which led towards a much greater degree of freedom and abstraction.
I also read carefully an interview with Derek Bailey and wrote an introductory paragraph to the Little Theatre Club piece. Here it is:
‘Derek Bailey, the veteran British free music guitarist currently domiciled in Barcelona, was interviewed in the September 2004 by David Keenan, in the magazine the Wire. Ben Watson’s superb biography of Bailey (74) was published this year by Verso. In the Wire article, Keenan explains that the Little Theatre Club in St Martins Lane “is widely regarded as the birthplace of free improvisation.” Indeed according to Bailey the period from the late 1960s to early 70s – when the Little Theatre Club flourished - was the revolutionary period of free improvisation. Bailey explains:
“I think improvisation’s great era is over – its time has gone. My impression that for any music to be really vibrant, it lasts about seven or eight years and after that its over. Bebop, Dixie, whatever……There was a very good period in New York in the late 70s and early 80s but that was that.”
Many might think that the genre simply withered away after is vibrant period – media coverage was always limited and it is a notoriously difficult genre to record. Bailey believes that there have been musical consequences – but they have been outside jazz in genres like rock, folk, noise and electronics.’
This framework looks promising to me – a node of free music, in its heroic age (surprisingly) happened just up the road from St Martins in the Fields. So how did that come about and what were the consequences? I was particularly interested to see The Wire/Bailey raising the issue of the migration into other genres. And of course – interested to see Bailey talking about a second great period about ten years later in NYC – with Laswell and Zorn. I have mentioned a few times the sensation that I got once or twice in NYC that there was a continuity between some NYC acts and venues now and London thirty odd years ago.
The article I am writing has stumbled on two points of transfer of free music “operating procedures” out of the jazz ghetto into folk rock and progressive rock. The collaboration between John Martyn and John Stevens around the One World album and Jamie Muir’s contribution to Larks Tongues In Aspic – a recording that Andrew has written about. This helps of course with linking the Lullabyes Concert (St Martins in the Field 27 Nov 2004) with the musical history of the area. Gilbert Isbin is the performer who has played most within that tradition.
The interaction between free improvisation and the US experimental music tradition is a never ending source of fascination to me.
I have started on the e-interview with Gilbert. So far so good. We are looking at the Snake Song on the new Gilbert Isbin Group CD – which is one of my favourite songs. I was really surprised to hear that it started out as a blues.
Vita’s exam results arrived to great relief and celebration. She did expecially well in the subjects she is going to start studying next week.