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Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra with Lol Coxhill and Evan Parker: Improcherto (for HB) by George Burt (Iorram Records, 2012) ****

If you want to have a description of Improcherto you only have to look at the cover: it is a very simple graphic score (based on the ones Barry Guy has developed for his orchestras) for the piece by the orchestra’s guitarist George Burt, who wanted to write a more complicated composition but also tried to limit melodramatic conduction. According to his liner notes he was “trying to get to the essence of how (these scores) work” drawing little diagrams on post-its. The result is that Improcherto is a really dense nearly 40-minute-orchestral composition with a lot of space for solos and tight group interaction. Sometimes the whole orchestra takes a break to give the soloists space just to come back even more forceful.

What distinguishes GIO from related larger ensembles (like the London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra or the London Improviser’s Orchestra) is its unusual line up, it is less brass dominated and therefore makes room for a more open display of softer textures through its strings, flutes, and woodwinds but most of all because of its strong, yet delicate rhythm section. But don’t be misled: there can be powerful chords and sudden swells to structure the composition. Very often “Improcherto” sounds like classical music, there are allusions to Schönberg or Hindemith, but there is also a great visuality in the piece, an almost soundtrack-like component.

The architecture of the piece follows a similar basic structure: four of the five solo parts start with the soloist completely on his own before the orchestra integrates the player again allowing him to float over the other instruments. Particularly Evan Parker (who simply is a great team player) shows what a great listener he is. Although he delivers his typical Parker specifics and sounds, his solo is a marvelous part in the context of the composition. Even when he is out there all on his own, you can conceive your own score supporting him before the orchestra picks him up elegantly after all. The only exception in this sequence of things is Ray MacDonald’s solo which is only backed up by the rhythm section (the trumpet and the baritone) providing a broken rumba beat. If you want to find a week spot in this composition, you might call this uniformity, although the splendid soloists – besides Parker and MacDonald the late Lol Coxhill, Neil Davidson with his Derek-Bailey-like approach and John Burgess - compensate for that easily. And there is a good deal of humor as well, for example when Coxhill stops his solo abruptly to remind the band: “Don’t forget to stop me”.

The album is dedicated to the British trumpet and cornet player Harry Beckett, an old companion of Parker and Coxhill, who died while George Burt was composing the piece.

Improcherto is a live recording of the orchestra's performance at the Gateshead Jazz Festival 2011.

The musicians are:
John Burgess (ts)
Raymond MacDonald (as, ss)
Graeme (Wilson (bs)
Robert Henderson (tp)
Chris Barclay (tb)
Emma Roche (fl)
Liene Rozite (fl)
Matthew Studdert-Kennedy (fl)
George Burt (g)
Neil Davidson (g) third solo
Nikki Moran (viola)
Peter Nicholson (cello)
Gerry Rossi (p)
Una MacGlone (b)
Achim Sturm (b)
Fritz Welch (perc)
Rick Banford (dr)
Stewart Brown  (dr)
+ Evan Parker (ts) and Lol Coxhill (ss)

You can buy the album from the band’s website.

© stef