Barry Guy New Orchestra (small formations) | Mad Dogs | Not Two Records

Not Two, 2013 | MW 902-2 | CD

Barry Guy – bass | Maya Homburger – baroque violin | Raymond Strid – percussion | Paul Lytton – percussion | Per Âke Holmlander – tuba | Johannes Bauer – trombone | Herb Robertson – trumpet | Hans Koch – tenor & soprano saxes, clarinets | Mats Gustafsson – baritone & tenor saxes, fluteophone | Evan Parker – tenor & soprano saxes | Agustí Fernández – piano | Trevor Watts – alto sax


Recorded during the 5th Krakow Jazz Autumn Festival, Alchemia, Kraków, Poland, November 16-19, 2010. Recorded, mixed and mastered by Rafał Drewniany (dts studio). Compilated and edited by Barry Guy. Produced by Marek Winiarski. Layout by Małgorzata Lipińska. Photos by Krzysztof Penarski (KP) and Lars Jönsson (LJ). Liner notes by Maciej Karłowski. English translation by Philip Palmer

Album 1 | Recorded November 16, 2010 (Total time 53:20) 1. Agustí Fernández [15:40] 2. (Annalisa) Agustí Fernández / Barry Guy [11:05] 3. Mats Gustafsson [11:20] 4. Johannes Bauer / Per Åke Holmlander / Hans Koch [15:15]

Album 2 |  Recorded November 16, 2010 (Total time 38:21) 1. Evan Parker / Barry Guy / Paul Lytton [06:34] 2. Evan Parker / Barry Guy / Paul Lytton [07:42] 3. Evan Parker / Barry Guy / Paul Lytton [06:16] 4. Evan Parker / Barry Guy / Paul Lytton [07:36] 5. Evan Parker / Barry Guy / Paul Lytton [05:25] 6. Evan Parker / Barry Guy / Paul Lytton [04:48]

Album 3 | Recorded November 17, 2010 (tracks 1-4); on November 18, 2010 (tracks 5-6) (Total time 60:15) 1. Trevor Watts / Johannes Bauer [06:14] 2. Hans Koch / Per Åke Holmlander / Raymond Strid / Paul Lytton [13:00] 3. Hans Koch / Per Åke Holmlander / Raymond Strid / Paul Lytton [06:58] 4. Trevor Watts / Barry Guy / Raymond Strid [04:50] 5. (Celebration) Maya Homburger / Paul Lytton [04:58] 6. Agustí Fernández / Mats Gustafsson [24:15]

Album 4 |  Recorded November 18, 2010 (Total time 69:31) 1. Mats Gustafsson / Barry Guy / Raymond Strid – TARFALA Trio [19:11] 2. Mats Gustafsson / Barry Guy / Raymond Strid – TARFALA Trio [12:07] 3. Mats Gustafsson / Barry Guy / Raymond Strid – TARFALA Trio [05:06] 4. Agustí Fernández / Evan Parker / Barry Guy / Paul Lytton [24:44] 5. Agustí Fernández / Evan Parker / Barry Guy / Paul Lytton [08:23]

Album 5 |  Recorded November 19, 2010 (Total time 55:50) 1. Evan Parker / Paul Lytton [17:33] 2. Trevor Watts / Herb Robertson / Hans Koch [13:02] 3. Agustí Fernández / Johannes Bauer / Raymond Strid / Trevor Watts / Herb Robertson / Per Åke Holmlander / Mats Gustafsson / Paul Lytton [12:26] 4. Agustí Fernández / Johannes Bauer / Raymond Strid / Trevor Watts / Herb Robertson / Per Åke Holmlander / Mats Gustafsson / Paul Lytton [12:49]

“For me that’s where the music always has to be – on the edge – in between the known and the unknown and you have to keep pushing it towards the unknown. Otherwise it and you die”.

These words were spoken many decades ago by Steve Lacy, a musician whose commitment to the art of improvisation was almost without parallel in the world of jazz. The interview that this comment was taken from took place many years before Barry Guy called his New Orchestra into life. Even so, like many of the points Lacy made about music throughout his career, it still rings true, beautifully illustrating on the one hand, an extremely important aspect of improvised music in and of itself and on the other, what is quite possibly the most important component in the creative disposition of every true artist.

When we first had the chance to observe the Barry Guy New Orchestra close up just over two years ago, Lacy’s concept of this special place in music between what we know and what we simply cannot predict returned with renewed vigour. For surely it is at such moments as these that the unique temptation presents itself to view the whole phenomenon that is BGNO as a hive of activity operating within a border zone as mysterious as it is fascinating, somewhere between the known and unknown.

From this perspective, every concert given by the Barry Guy New Orchestra would appear to be an extraordinary musical event. In Kraków, however, we were fortunate enough to get something more than this “familiar extraordinariness”. Here, the opportunity presented itself to observe the protracted birth of the grand finale, the circuitous routes taken to reach that point and probably most importantly – and particularly thrillingly – glimpse the elements from which it would be woven.

These elements can be sought out and at least a few of them can be successfully tracked down when the New Orchestra is viewed from various structural levels.

On the one hand, there is the orchestra and its music, supplemented by the leader’s knowledge of the architecture of the whole and his conceptual intentions. On the other, there is the building material, i.e. the small groups composed of varied combinations of musicians from the orchestra and the whole spectrum of surprising relationships between these groups. This is the macro level.

When we scale things down further and hone in on each of the small group lineups, we can perceive yet more groups. Extremely well-known ensembles that helped to create the original free improvisation scene, such as the Parker/Lytton/Guy Trio, or maybe contributed to its later history – like the Tarfala Trio (Guy/ Gustaffson/ Strid) – are paired up with musicians who have quite possibly not been associated with Barry Guy for long or whose collaborations with him are yet to be thoroughly documented in the recording studio (for example, Per-Åke Holmlander).

Finally, on a micro scale, the separate experiences of each of these group members, whose careers we have been following for years, collide with other in a new act of creation. By shepherding these experiences into a new group-based conception of music-making in which so much depends on Agustí Fernández, does Barry Guy have any intention at all of questioning where all this will take us? Could this approach in fact result in that particular “something” which we have never known and could never predict?

Each of the musicians in the New Orchestra and each of the small groups contained within it bring along their own music. They are all used to playing with each other in various configurations outside the orchestra and have struck up close musical friendships. So, quite possibly, when we listen to the Barry Guy New Orchestra, we are actually listening to the sum total of experiences of twelve people combined together as if they were part of an impressive architectural design, a design which can accommodate the soloist’s passion for improvisation, subdivisions and the whole grand ensemble. I somehow intuitively sense that these elements are like a set of sub-totals which enable us to become more knowledgeable or aware and are by no means less important than the end result.

For years, we have known that Barry Guy’s imagination is not only occupied by music, but also by architecture. There was even a time, as a young boy, when he used to work after school hours at an established London workshop involved in the restoration of churches and historical monuments from the Tudor period.

Rather than allowing myself to get bogged down in an attempt to formulate an appropriately wise point, I will hand the floor to one of the grand masters of this discipline. As Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Ensure that you know the structure of anything you wish to represent”. Barry Guy knows this for sure, and now we are in a position to preserve a portion of this knowledge for ourselves. — Maciej Karłowski. English translation by Philip Palmer

I’ve been listening to Mad Dogs for three days straight

and I’m still giddy and disorganized in my thinking about it. My mind gets pulled into ruts when I try to find some clear expression of the music it contains. Sometimes I feel as though clichés are the only way we can get everyone sufficiently close to a piece of music. At least, they’re what we struggle to stop returning to when we brush up against the limitations of language, especially when faced with music that really connects. I’ll only let one really easy one go for you: embarrassment of riches. Five discs and over four and half hours of music captured at the 5th Krakow Jazz Autumn Festival in 2010. Calling this the Barry Guy New Orchestra is sort of misleading, but forgivably so. “Small Formations” is offered as a qualifier, and the smallest formations on display are as small as they get: solo sets by Agustí Fernández and Mats Gustafsson. It may just be that the New Orchestra name is the easiest rubric to jam the musicians of Mad Dogs into, though they all certainly interface in a world much more expansive than that.

You see, there’s a great thing that happens when the New Orchestra is broken down into small subsets: you get all kinds of other high-profile, well-received groups like the Parker/Guy/Lytton trio, the Tarfala trio, the Gustafsson/ Fernández duo, Fernández /Guy duo, and on and on (see full list of line-ups below). What makes Mad Dogs such a resounding success is that any of the five discs could easily have stood as a solid album on its own: the restless clatter of Parker/Guy/Lytton, who claim the entirety of the second disc; the absolutely balls-to-the-wall fourth disc, which features a surprisingly emotional set by the Tarfala trio, followed by a reprise of Parker/Guy/Lytton, this time with Fernández added; or the wide-ranging third disc, which features Hans Koch and Per-Åke Holmlander with a subtle dual percussion backup, a beautiful duo with Maya Homburger and Lytton, and the truly critical mass of Fernández and Gustafsson, who build to an almost unbearable crescendo.

This is not the world of microsound or the quiet smears of instruments and electronics that mark more recent branches of improvisation. This is the physical, acoustic collision of virtuosity and musical ingenuity, the raw synergy of musicians recognized as masters of the form. There’s an urgency spanning across these discs, as though Mad Dogs is making a case for the very legitimacy of free improvisation itself. Intentionally or not, the set is presented in an expanding fashion, building in both size and intensity, launching with the dull, muted thuds of Fernández’s solo piano set and culminating in a cathartic orchestral blowout with an octet whose bombastic density would make Varèse blush. In between, all manner of duos, trios, and quartets make their showings. Especially interesting is the opportunity to contrast the three different sax trios present throughout (Parker/Guy/Lytton is a whole different beast than Gustafsson/Guy/Strid).

In László Krasznahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance, the defeated musicologist Mr. Eszter, distraught at the fraud of equal temperament (which fakes the elegance of pure tuning), decries that the “world […] was too full of the noises of banging, screeching and crowing, noises that were simply the discordant and refracted sounds of struggle, and that this was all there was to the world if we but realized it.” It may well be that the world can be heard in bangs and screeches and crows; however, not all are the product of struggle. Some arise from the joys of cooperation, exploration, innovation, even downright Dionysian celebration and excess. These are the bangs and screeches of Mad Dogs, and they are a rallying cry for a world (or at least music) we can be proud of.– Dan Sorrells


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