You, me, the music, and me.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


Incus 34 (1979)

Christmas Day was a little sadder this year as it marked the passing of legendary British guitarist Derek Bailey. To call him an innovator seems like faint praise; just as Charlie Christian adapted and defined traditional jazz music for the guitar, so did Bailey with avant-garde improvisation, creating a language that thwarted cliche and expectation at every turn. Bailey once remarked that he wished to avoid playing in the key of C major at all costs, and most of his music avoids any traditional Western tonality whatsoever. In his hands, the guitar became more of a percussion instrument (which is really what it has always been... only by striking the strings can a sound be produced); his music was full of arhythmic slashes, biting clusters, and searing harmonics, and, as with most freely improvised music, it seemed to ask more questions than it answered.

Time was released on the British improv label Incus and features ten duets with British hornman Tony Coe (ironically enough, listed in the credits as playing "Clarinet in C"). I was amazed to find this in a box at Loyalist City Coin & Collectibles right here in Saint John for something like four or five dollars; Incus albums are rare enough in Britain, let alone Canada. Sonically, the pieces have more in common with twelve-tone serialism or Oriental music than with most people's idea of jazz, yet the music swings in its own way. Coe's clarinet soars in and around Bailey's acoustic guitar like a fly pestering a cranky tiger, with Bailey swatting back with choppy chord clusters and skittering single-note lines.

Bailey was not a big fan of recording; he believed that improvisation depended on the moment in which it was produced, and that to make a document of it to be listened to later was somewhat foolish and contradictory to the nature of "free" music. Luckily, he left behind a massive discography for those of us who were not lucky enough to hear him perform live (myself included). If you've never heard him, go here to listen to a three-hour tribute to Bailey's legacy (courtesy of John Allen at WFMU) and introduce yourself to a truly original artist.


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