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Monday, January 16, 2023

Spaces Unfolding – The Way We Speak (Bead Records, 2022)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

One of the most fortunate events of 2022 for jazz based music and free improvisation is the resurrection of Bead records. Bead had been one of the most important second wave independent labels that, especially from the mid-1970’s up to mid-1980’s, championed new sounds, configurations and, in general, battled against any preconceived ideas about music. Some highlights really worth seeking, downloading, searching and listening: the Chamberpot quartet of Richard Beswick, Simon Mayo, Phillip Wachsmann and Tony Mayo, the Ashbury-Stabbins duo, Cholagogues by David Toop, Nestor Figueras and Paul Burwell, the first Alterations LP and Fonetiks by John Butcher and Chris Burn.

The list, of course, is much bigger than my totally subjective choices, but we have to get back to the future, meaning today. With founding members Phillip Wachsmann and Matthew Hutchinson still around, drummer/percussionist Emil Karlsen has joined, bringing the extra drive and energy (fresh blood if you want to cal it this way) needed for a label with such a great tradition behind it, to start again. And it has, already, produced some fine results.

The trio of Spaces Unfolding is Wachsmann on the violin, Karlsen on drums and, another mainstay in improvisational circles, Neil Metcalfe on the flute. It seems quite odd, but even after we have listened to almost everything coming out from improvisers, this instrumentation still sounds unfamiliar. The violin’s history in classical tradition could be the answer here, but maybe not the only one…

Recorded in the summer of 2021 in a church, The Way We Speak definitely proves that it is a well defined and chosen title for those dialogues between the three musicians. Having no prior ideas on how to play and interact, the cd (which consists five long tracks) is a great documentation of that performance. Everything feels in the right place at that day. The space of the church provides enough room for each of them to breathe artistically and for the group to demonstrate its collective ethos. They freely improvise based on interaction and willingness to listen to each other.

My limited knowledge allows me to make the hypothesis that Wachsmann’s violin balances between melodic phrases and total impromptu improvisations. Karlsen’s playing (I’m a fan by now and it must be said) never conjures volume as a choice of playing, never saturates his two fellow players. Karlsen comes from a much younger generation of improvisers but he absolutely understands the collective ethos of improvisation. His playing is egoless. Metcalfe’s flute adds sparse notes, melodic phrases and improvisational gestures throughout this recording. His playing is the glue that keeps everything together, he seems absolutely concentrated in –along with his playing- listening and reacting to the others.

To be really honest, I’m not sure if the cd is divided into tracks to help the listener, because it feels like a big long improvisation with some pauses. This is by no means nostalgic, but The Way We Speak engulfs the edginess of those early 80’s recordings by the same label.

You can listen here: