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Wednesday, April 6, 2022

This Friendship Is Sailing – Live on Curious Ear Radio (Beartown, 2021) ****½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

This amazing, cassette only, release, came to my attention through the total randomness of searching through the internet for new, improvised music. Same goes for the eclectic catalogue of Beartown records, a small label definitely worth checking out. It’s funny, though, that the totally improvised nature –and the DIY aesthetics of it- of this recording matched perfectly my internet endeavor for new music.

This short lived, up until now at least, quartet consists of David Birchall on banjo, Spanish guitar, various amplified objects and flutes, Great Buitkute and Maggie Nicols on various voices and sounds and Sam Andreae on alto saxophone, electronics, whistles and voice. It is a recording of live concert broadcast as part of the Curious Ear series of radio shows. Each side of the cassette is covered by the two sessions recorded.

Live on Curious Ear Radio is a treat, something that anyone who has been drawn to the weird, eclectic and edgy sounds of modern British improvisation shouldn’t miss out. Actually, to be more exact, anyone interested in modern improvisation. The origins of this music, if that has any historical significance for the here and now of all of us, come from the early days of British improvisation and everything (like the Company nights that were curated by Derek Bailey) that happened around the radicalism of Incus Records.

There’s an obvious thread, a historical lineage that links this cassette with the urgency of those, now, old days. You can track down the same feeling of outsider music, of a music that knows no boundaries, has limited technical means and a few will listen too. Does it deserve more? You bet it does, at least if you are interested in any kind of audio challenging stuff.

I’m going to complain a bit by stating a general remark that the medium here, the cassette, is not 100% adequate for a music that needs your attention in order to grasp it’s foolish seriousness, it’s murky sounds that are totally unwilling to present themselves to the easy listener. If vinyl is out of the question financially (and it probably is, no reason to get into that right now), maybe the cd is more suitable for This Friendship is Sailing.

In any case, the music is great. Both sessions, on both sides, are refreshing attempts on anything goes free collective improve, a mix of older generation improvisers (like Maggie Nicols who has been a pioneer working with a lot of important musicians) and a newer generation of improvisers. The pairing is amazing, because they share the same ethos in music making, one that it seems that has never died but still remains alive within the wide variety of musics that can be called free improvisation.

Both sessions feel like long stories that follow a thread that comes into being at the spot. Gurgles and voices, homemade junk (either be it “real” instruments or electronics), reed noises and a constant chatter of ideas and irony. One the best albums I’ve heard in a while. Don’t get fooled by the comparisons to the past, I only tried to provide an aesthetic lineage. This music stands on its own and is, absolutely necessary to be heard.

A link for the release: