Conceits moves with a sense of purpose and direction, even if the map Butcher, Durrant and Russell work from has as many whorls and curlicues as a human fingerprint. The bulk of the album was recorded at South Hill Park Studio, Bracknell in 1987 and released on the Acta label.
It's still full of vitality, zest, wit and intelligence. There's a strong sense of intense real-time listening and analysis on the part of the players; and along with the concord there is also discord: the reeds, string and brass either emulate or starkly caricature each other. The ultimate goal, though, is the pursuit of an acoustic commonality, synthesis.
In terms of dynamics the trio sometimes show great restraint, at others they're relentlessly wild. The music across the 11 pieces of the original album is suggestive of organic forms; as cold and barbed as a thorn bush dusted in frost, or evocative of the gentility, fecundity and warmth of sitting in a meadow in summertime. There's superb interplay between the instruments, with Durrant alternating between esophageal speech on trombone and material physics tests for violin, generating sounds that resemble vocalisations of foxes or light joinery. Butcher is either wonderfully ornamental and lyrical, or hard and punctuative. Russell is a perfect foil for both players, emulating, mocking, shadowing, ducking or contradicting each statement and gesture.
These 11 pieces are appended by Soft Hours And Solidities, a live recording captured by Mats Gustafsson in Stockholm in 1992. It makes for a ponderous and introspective coda. But Conceits itself is more than just a significant work in the canon of free improvising; it's a marvellous document of what humans are capable of when they work collectively.
© Richard Thomas - WIRE 378