Quite a number of species residing on Canada's west coast have a tendency to hibernate throughout the winter months. Energy storage is the secret to it all, and the month of November, with some travel, supplied us with enough improvised music to fill us up and tide us over.
An assortment of reasons drew us to TIME flies presents COMPANY in Vancouver (November 2-4). The chance to spend time with old comrades Derek Bailey and Gunter Christmann; one more opportunity to hear the rarefied music of saxophonist John Butcher, and the first experience of hearing Vancouver musicians Peggy Lee and François Houle involved in totally free improvised music. As Bob Kerr stated in his announcement - a situation not so common in this city.
COMPANY, formed in 1976, is the brainchild of guitarist Derek Bailey, who was regretfully taken ill and unable to participate in this edition. It has continued, with a couple of exceptions to be an annual event. Initially taking place in London, it has in recent years been presented in Japan (1993) and now in Vancouver. The basic concept of COMPANY is that a group of invited players create different improvising units performing together over a number of evenings. "Everything is designed to avoid any preconceptions as to what the music might be, to make improvisation a necessity..."
If jazz, thought of in its traditional sense has a formality built on song form, overall structure and rhythm, then improvised music could be said to exist in the same state, or operating from similar concepts. The song and rhythm have become considerably more personal and flexible, and the structure is the agreement between the performers. As in all musics of quality, the instrumental abilities, experience of performance and the need to play, are what ultimately allow the musicians to bring about its success. There is one more important element that existed on these three nights at the Glass Slipper, only two of which yours truly really attended due to an extended dinner party - so good to see old friends, and that was the listeners are not a removed audience at a show, but rather we are all experiencing it all together, musicians and listeners, for the very first time.
So what is the language applied to describing such an event? For me, preparing as I am to hibernate, just the energy of the whole occasion elates me; the gathering of friends, many who are musicians that I rarely see or hear, is almost enough. Of course there are special moments that remain ingrained; cellist Peggy Lee in duet with Gunter Christmann, and in string trio with guitarist Erhart Hirt and bassist Matthew Sperry; and Peggy earlier on in the evening at Western Front with Talking Pictures. This band became caught up in the idea of free improvised music and instead of presenting their normal formal program just jumped right in. Wonderful moments to try again. I would however have to say that the most focussed moments came from the two Europeans John Butcher and Gunter Christmann. But then again, improvised music, just like jazz, has different schools of thought, and my preference is represented by these two players.
© Bill Smith / CODA