John Edwards, Evan Parker, John Russell + others – Making Rooms (2016)

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Paul G. Smyth and John Russell are the driving forces behind a new label called Weekertoft. Born out of a love of improvised music and Mopomoso, the U.K.’s longest-running concert series.

Curated for many seasons by John with the help and support of many others, Moposomo means MOdernism, POst Modernism, SO what? The concert series was formed to create something different yet exceptional in quality to what was currently, in 1991, a largely ignored sector of the musical landscape and to cock a thumb at the critics who cast a disparaging net over such works. The year 2013 saw a tour, and recordings were made at venues including the Sound Kitchen, Birmingham, Safehouse Friends Meeting House, Brighton, Oxford Improvisers, the Newman Rooms, Oxford, Colston Hall, Bristol and Tuber’s Music in Manchester amongst others. The result is a series of improvised and inspirational recordings called Making Rooms, a four-disc box set released on Weekertoft from the Mopomoso 2013 tour.

The four discs include “Nasqsh,” featuring solo piano from Pat Thomas; “Chasing The Perippanjandra,” which is recordings from the established trio of Evan Parker (saxes), John Russell (guitar) and John Edwards (double bass); “Seven Cities,” including recordings of Kay Grant (voice) with Alex Ward (clarinet); and “Knottings,” which is Benedict Tailor (viola), Alison Blunt (violin) and David Leahy (double bass).

“Knottings” is harsh at times, serendipitous and beautiful at others, and the combination of the three stringed instruments produces interesting, sometimes exquisite intonations. “Nasqsh” is a demonstration of Pat Thomas’ incredible piano playing, from deep dark chords, silences, thunking chord progressions to devilish coverage of the keyboard in a fast and furious style. Thomas does not limit his playing to the keys but plucks strings, bangs and drums the framework on occasion, creating a one-man sound wall. The piano is explored in every detail, making this educational as well as glorious music.

“Seven Cities” is a beautiful disc, with the musicians interweaving, taking cues from each other and creating surreal sounds at times, ethereal sound pictures and beautiful interaction between clarinet and voice. The clarinet echoes the emotion of the singing in ways which are almost perfect. They laugh, they follow, each leads in turn, then follows, mimics and harmonizes, making this interesting listening at every change. “Chasing The Peripanjandra” is improvisation at its best. These are three experts, each with their own virtuosity but here they interact, catch each other’s musical thoughts and create something which, just like their regular performances together, capture what improvisation is all about.

Evan Parker’s saxes contrast well with John Russell’s delicate, gentle guitar work while John Edward’s bass fills out the sound and each get to demonstrate their mastery of their instruments. John believes in individual roles in group improvisation, and this collection demonstrates that perfectly. The musicians are listening, sharing ideas, leading others to create and taking each other on journeys of improvisation. It is wonderful set, whether you are new to improvised music or a regular listener.

I asked John recently why they’d create a new label now in the face of the financial hardships the industry currently is experiencing.

“Firstly, I think that as musicians we need to find as many ways as we can to engage with an audience and I hope our label will become one of those ways,” he said. “A few years ago I had a conversation with Ned Rothenberg (a multi-instrumentalist and composer). He told me someone in the queue outside the Stone in New York said to him, ‘Oh, you’re Ned Rothenberg. I think I have you on my shuffle.’ For me, this is a good example of the distance that can be created between a musician and their work.

“A new label needs to find ways of nurturing a real engagement with the music and the musicians, and we have a number of ideas of how to do this and which we will roll out over time,” he added. “It will be tough but Paul [G Smyth, his partner in the new label] and I are realists, as well as dreamers and I think we have the balance right. The music must always come first, and therefore we have to develop a market for the product we have: In our case, some extremely high quality recordings of improvised music and access to a huge archive of some very rare and exciting concerts.

“In the end, we don’t want to have a musical life leaving everything as we found it,” Russell said, “and I think business models that do that. The so-called ‘industry,’ if you like, just won’t work for this music. The intrinsic value or nature of the music means that the extrinsic financial considerations have to be at the service of the music – and not the other way round. We need to get them right, but we don’t need to be ruled by them. Maybe it is never the correct time to start something like this. The wheels were definitely put in motion when we were putting together the Mopomoso UK tour in 2013, and probably a long time before that in conversations about life, the universe and everything between myself and Paul. The reason for doing it now is that it needed to be done.”

I think he is right, and projects like this are well overdue. As for the Making Rooms box set, it certainly shows how good improvisational music can be, it certainly connects and it is certainly worth more than just one listen. This music has a connection, not only between the musicians but with the listener. It is real, emotive and altogether beautiful.

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

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Sammy Stein
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