There has to be some degree, not just of unfamiliarity, but incompatibility [with a partner]. Otherwise, what are you improvising for?” — Derek Bailey, Jazziz, March 2002

Michael Edwards: soprano and tenor saxophones, laptop and MIDI wind controller
Paul Elwood: banjo
Jean Marc Montera: electric and 12-string guitars
Karin Schistek: piano, nord rack 2 synthesiser

Download a draft of the the paper on this project.

These four musicians are all from different countries and have quite distinct musical backgrounds. Michael Edwards, English, initially a classical oboist, composer, specialist in computer music, and more recently a saxophonist; Paul Elwood, American, composer and Bluegrass banjoist; Jean-Marc Montera, Corsican, originally a rock guitarist and chitarra player; Karin Schistek, Austrian, classically trained pianist and synthesiser player. Of course, there is overlap: Paul and Michael both compose what is (awkwardly) called contemporary classical music, so know and respect the same repertoire, even if their music is quite different. Paul and Jean-Marc both play plucked/strummed string instruments. Karin and Jean-Marc both have a taste for ebows and torturing their instruments with kitchen equipment. But the difference in the players’ backgrounds is clearly audible on this recording: Paul’s bluegrass rooted plucking patterns in beard and pipe; Karin’s Second Viennese School inflected harmony in karibo; Jean-Marc’s heavy, distortion-saturated axe in shark guitar; Michael’s spitting digital signal processing in zank, or his jazz-scented saxophone in scales and whales; not to mention the austere discontinuities of the banjo/sax/piano trio instant helmut versus the comparatively easy listening of any more toto? Like Karin and Michael’s Edinburgh trio lapslap the group can range from the completely acoustic sax/banjo/guitar/piano to the electric laptop/electric banjo/electric guitar/synthesiser.

And the meeting point? The almost chance first encounter of the group in Cassis in 2006 revealed a common love for the art of free improvisation; a tendency to reach for the extremes of musical expression; aesthetic pluralism; pleasure in the performative listening and interaction processes; a respect for each other’s musical space, each idea and its development. Muddled? No. Eclectic? Certainly. This is 2008.

If Derek Bailey originally saw his music as “non-idiomatic”, i.e. not in any recognisable style (for him a strength), he later admitted that free improvisation had itself become an idiom. Perhaps this is testament to the strength of his playing and the free improvisation movement which he helped spawn. But perhaps the way out of the free improvisation idiom impasse, if it exists, is to reinject some of the foreign elements that many of its practitioners work so hard to avoid.
Just be careful with jazz.

Michael Edwards — Edinburgh, August 2008