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Monday, February 13, 2023

Barry Guy And Friends - Krakov 2018 (Not Two Records, 2022)

By Stef Gijssels, Eyal Hareuveni, Nick Ostrum

If we can trust the completeness of the Discogs website's archival power, British bassist Barry Guy has been credited on no less than 558 albums, which is impressive enough, and includes 105 albums in which he has a lead role. Classically trained, Guy became rapidly interested in improvisation and jazz, performing with likeminded spirits such as Howard Riley, John Stevens, Trevor Watts and Tony Oxley to name just a few, yet he remained a classical bassist, as a member of The Orchestra of St.John’s Smith Square, City of London Sinfonia, Monteverdi Orchestra, The Academy of Ancient Music, Kent Opera and The London Classical Players.

His interest is in the music itself, not the genre or style, and a lot of his work breaks through boundaries but can also reconcile organically different kinds of music. His work on the double bass is equally innovative, with lots of inventive techniques. His solo work, his collaborations in small ensembles, including the duets with his wife, the violinist Maya Homburger, and his work for large ensemble are all easy to recommend, even if the listening experience and the degree of composition can vary significantly. With Barry Guy, you have no idea what the next album will bring, and that's as we like it.

Not Two records bundled two box sets with concerts, the first one "Barry Guy and Friends", giving us perfromances that took place at the Alchemia Club in Kraków on October 11 and 12, 2018, and on Radio Kraków the next day. In the next days we will als review his performance with the "London Jazz Composers' Orchestra" recorded at Alchemia Club in Kraków on March 6th, 2020, and at Manggha Hall in Kraków on March 7th & March 8th 2020.

The value of both boxes is that you get a brilliant overview of Barry Guy's music and stylistic scope.

Let's get started.


CD 1 - Alchemia Club

The first CD starts with an introductory performance by Percy Pursglove on trumpet, Rafal Mazur on electric bass and Ramon Lopez on drums. Ramon Lopez and Barry Guy released "Sidereus Nuncius - The Starry Messenger", and this trio already released "Threefold" some years ago, and they are excellent to set the scene for the concert. Their interaction is strong on the first long piece, that gives them the opportunity for the improvisation to develop fully. Three masters at work and the result is of high quality.

The next two pieces are by the Aurora Trio, a trio consisting of Agusti Fernández, Barry Guy and Ramon López. The nature of the music is completely different, more welcoming to start, and Fernández leads the improvisation with a post-boppish theme and harmonies, tightly aligned with the rhythm section, and also with the kind of telekinetic interaction that drives the sound through different levels of intensity and intimacy. Their second improvisation is even more astonishing, with a hard-to-believe-that-it-is-improvised intro, so thight is the interaction, now with Mette Rasmussen on sax. The post-bop feel is gone now, and the tone is a free-for-all high energy power play, with the Danish saxophonist leading the assault, leading to an interesting and intense duet with the Spanish pianist in the middle section, until López drives up the power and the volume, which unleashes some ferocious sounds from Rasmussen,. And Barry Guy in this? His playing is of course excellent but he seldom comes to the fore, allowing the other musicians to shine. (By Stef Gijssels)

CD 2 - Alchemia Club

The second CD starts with two relatively short duets between Ken Vandermark and Barry Guy, a relatively unique and rare historical moment in the musical career of both free improv luminaries. Fans will be pleased to hear this, the first of its kind since their duo recording "Occasional Poems" from 2015 (and in trio with Mark Sanders on "Fox Fire" from 2008). A moment to cherish. On the two following improvisations, they are joined by Paul Lytton on drums and Percy Pursglove on trumpet. The first one starts with almost quiet, the sound of air through brass, without voice, leading to some ferocious screams on the trumpet, answered by Vandermark's sax, first isolated, then kicking in some rhythm and longer lines. They play with silence, and leave Guy's bass to lead them back into the start of the real quartet playing, with Lytton driving up the speed, the volume and the energy. What follows is one of those no holds barred free for alls that actually work, with Pursglove once in a while trying to add a thematic line, wonderfully incorporated and transformed by Vandermark. The sonic wall moves in waves with some space for individual excursions, but they are mostly at their highest level of physical possibilities, all four, all the time. Highly enjoyable, as is testified by the enthusiastic audience. The last and shortest track starts somewhat quieter, yet it gradually picks up some momentum into full free improv. (By Stef Gijssels)

CD 3 - Alchemia Club

One way of listening to Barry Guy’s small formations With Friends is interpreting theses improvisations as his way to investigate his compositional ideas or strategies with trusted comrades, live before an appreciative audience in the Alchemia Club in Kraków before the final performance of the whole ensemble in Radio Kraków. Norwegian sax player and trumpeter Torben Snekkestad and Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández are among Guy’s closest comrades and have worked with him in a trio and with his Blue Shroud Band, so, naturally, their 33-minute improvisation emphasizes their strong affinity as well as their gift to translate free improvised ideas into a beautifully nuanced, instant but coherent composition. Their piece is one of the highlights of this box set. The following three short improvisations on the third disc are with Spanish drummer Ramón López, who also played in the Blue Shroud Band, with Guy and Fernández as the Aurora Trio, as a duo with Guy and in the quartet of pianist Izumi Kimura, with Polish electric bass player Rafał Mazur, who played with Guy in Fernández’ 60 Birthday (River Tiger Fire, FSR, 2015). This trio suggests a layered but hyperactive and urgent rhythmic conception that employs an array of extended bowing and percussive techniques and may be implemented later in Guy’s composition for the whole ensemble. (By Eyal Hareuveni)

CD 4 - Alchemia Club

Ken Vandermark hosted Danish sax player Mette Rasmussen in his Entr’Acte ensemble but never recorded before with Snekkestad. This chamber reed trio plays three short, dramatic and highly playful improvisations that highlight the immediate affinity as well as the distinct languages of these experienced and strong-minded improvisers, with Rasmussen even speaking gibberish through her alto sax. Then Rasmussen joins Guy and his long-time comrade, veteran British drummer Phil Lytton for an extended improvisation that begins as a fiery, free jazz improvisation but later accumulates many imaginative, lyrical and poetic twists and turns before its cathartic coda. Rasmussen who is half the age of Both Guy and Lytton feels at home with these experienced lions. This disc is concluded with another extended quintet improvisation with Fernández and trumpeter Percy Pursglove, who also plays in the Blue Shroud Band, joining Rasmussen, Guy and Lytton.This improvisation begins to investigate the complex orchestral outlines of Guy’s upcoming ensemble composition “For To End Yet Again”, but demands individual poetic contributions. (By Eyal Hareuveni)

CD 5 - Radio Kraków

Personnel: Barry Guy (bass, director, composer); Maya Homburger (baroque violin); Agustí Fernández (piano); Percy Pursglove (trumpet); Mette Rasmussen, Mats Gustafsson, Liudas Mockūnas (saxophones); Torben Snekkestad (saxophone, reed trumpet); Rafał Mazur (e-bass); Paul Lytton and Ramón López (percussion)

Disc Five consists of the world premiere performance of the piece For to End Yet Again, which, unlike the other discs in this collection, were recorded at Radio Krakow. Barry Guy is the prime composer, though some passages are miniatures composed by György Kurtág. Unfortunately, I cannot weigh in which these specific ones are, but I can say they blend beautifully into the larger piece. Nothing sounds out of place, despite various constituent dynamic shifts.

For to End Yet Again begins with a lone quavering bass tone. Soon, Maya Homburger’s violin joins in and the two engage in a slow dance of call-and-response, with Homburger forging the melody and bass(es) relying on single drones and a few steady plucks. This sets a melancholic mood. Five minutes in, the rest of the ensemble trickles in, eventually breaking out into some more energetic group improvs (first around minute 15), those even these quickly dissolve in smaller configurations and eventually dilute into the slow, somber dialog between Guy, Homburger and, often enough, Mazur.

This persistent focus on strings really makes this piece. The band, comprising a formidable 11 members (and including some famously heavy blowers) primarily plays a supporting role, and, at many points, a silent role. They intervene to punctuate or fill out the sound, generally sparse small groupings. Only in a few instances, however, do they persist and steer the group from its spare, elegiac core. Around 50 minutes in and nearing the end, the ensemble reaches a point of opening when the band falls into a tone-to-long-tone volley. Almost organically, this collapses into a brief but emphatic free-blow fanfare, which dissolves into a latent hum as quickly as it had emerged.

Especially for those drawn to bigger units, this recording is absolutely worth checking out, as is the rest of Kraków 2018. (By Nick Ostrum)