POINT OF DEPARTURE review of Scrutables

Derek Bailey / John Butcher / Gino Robair

By virtue of its instrumentation mirroring that of the archetypal Topography of the Lungs (Incus), Scrutables is a viable measure of how the priorities of improvised music had evolved in the intervening 30 years. By 2000, improvised music was no longer a push-back against Americentric free jazz, its sovereignty having long been recognized. The role of energy had been refined; once a constant source of heat, it now provided light in a more tactical manner. And, most importantly, the advents of Bailey and his contemporaries had shaped the aesthetics of a generation of improvisers who were creating new international networks, a process exemplified by the collaborations of the saxophonist and the Bay Area-based percussionist.

By the time of this studio session, Butcher and Robair had established a working trio with the late bassist Matthew Sperry and had worked in ad hoc settings deserving of working band commitment - particularly the trio with electronicist Tim Perkis documented on Robair's compilation, Buddy Systems: selected duos and trios (Meniscus). They were touring the UK as a duo, playing Liverpool the night before their session with Bailey (try finding Liverpool (Bluecoat) Concert, issued by Limited Sedition in an edition of 241 CD-Rs). Therefore, the right chemistry of familiarity, anticipation and fatigue was in play, the latter being an underappreciated precursor. Throughout the album, the trio balanced otherworldly sounds and athletic movement, "Teasing Needles" being a case in point of how they accelerated iridescent washes of bowed and rubbed surfaces, pedaled harmonics and soprano multiphonics to an endorphin-producing pace. When the velocity of their exchanges is most ferocious, the trio's abilities to produce sounds well outside the normal parameters of their respective instruments make identifying individual sounds treacherously difficult.

Repeatedly, Scrutables leaves one with the sense that the sound of breaking glass has been replaced with the sound of splitting atoms.

© Bill Shoemaker - Point of Departure (Issue 37 - December 2011)

Taken from a larger article looking at Derek Bailey recordings.