on three seminal derek bailey reissues from honest jon’s, in collaboration with incus records

When addressing the histories of jazz, improvised music, and the entirety of avant-garde practice, the looming presence of the English guitarist Derek Bailey is inescapable. He stands among the most innovative and influential creatives voices of the 20th century. Sadly, his remarkable body of recorded output – largely released on tiny independent labels or by his own private imprint, Incus, has been widely overlooked by the vinyl revival. Original pressings have become scarce, commanding large sums on the collectors market, making it hard to hear the sounds which left such radical change in their wake. Thankfully, this is changing with the reissue of three seminal double-LPs from original Incus catalog – emerging in partnership with the London based Honest Jon’s, Solo Guitar Volume 1, Royal, a duo with Anthony Braxton, and his self-titled duo with Han Bennink from 1972, all lovingly remastered by Rashad Becker, positioned to offer crucial access and insight into one of history’s most important and game-changing efforts in improvised music.

Derek Bailey’s creative life began while working within large jazz dance ensembles in the north of England – honing his chops and laying the groundwork for his lifelong belief in the potential of collaboration, but his creative curiosity and ambition quickly pushed him into uncharted realms. Out on his own, and working intimately with others, Bailey sculpted an intellectual practice and approach to the guitar that was so singular, innovative, and principled, that it carved an entirely new musical territory. Particularly within European contexts, his influence rumbles below almost everything which has followed in the field of improvised music.

For Bailey, free-improvisation was the purest of creative expressions. His advocation and defense of the practice bordered on the religious – a passionate and consuming of love affair. Devotion, principle, and care run through every sound he produced, as well as his prolific efforts as a festival organizer, writer, label boss, and collaborator. It was the foundation of the friendships he formed, and, in some cases, the basis for their loss. Fascinatingly, for such a rigorous artist, there is a looming paradox within Bailey’s incredible recorded output. He believed that creation and listening should exist entirely in the fleeting moment – that the recognition of the loss of a sound established a heightened and more meaningful relationship with it – a possibly which he argued records undermined, framing a wry challenge for the listener in the vast canon of recordings he produced, both as an artist and as a figure behind a seminal record label.

The following three LPs, issued now as a collaborative project between Incus and Honest Jon’s – one of my favorite record shops and imprints on the planet, are among the very first of Bailey’s works to officially reemerge on vinyl, the format for which they were conceived. They are also among his most highly regarded, making each about as essential as it comes – among the most important LPs to have been released in the field of free-improvisation, and in 20th century music at large. Hats off to Honest Jon’s for making it all happen, I am grateful beyond words.

 

Derek Bailey – Solo Guitar Volume 1 (1971 / 2017)

The recorded output of Derek Bailey, with and without its inherent paradoxes, stands as one of the most challenging and creatively brilliant assemblies of sound ever produced, something which the reemergence of Solo Guitar Volume 1 quickly lays bare. The LP is among the most important of his career, as well as a crucial document within the history of British improvised music. By the time it appeared in 1971 as Incus’ second outing, Bailey had already featured on a number of groundbreaking releases with Tony Oxley, Peter Brötzmann, Manfred Schoof, The Music Improvisation Company, Evan Parker and Han Bennink, but Solo Guitar marked the debut of the solo approach for which he would become widely recognized over the course of his career. Incredible and engrossing on every count, the album represents a remarkable assembly of works defined by intricacy and sensitivity – clusters of tones, textures, and resonance which entirely rewrote the language of the guitar, his own improvised compositions, paired with three by his friends Misha Mengelberg, Willem Breuker, Gavin Bryars, establishing a startling dichotomy and understanding of his range. Over the years the Bailey included and subtracted varies works in subsequents editions of the LP. Honest Jon’s, with a full second LP, includes all of those previously included, augmented by a wonderful solo performance at York University in 1972, making it the definitive edition. With great relief this edition also features the original cover artwork, featuring the iconic montage of photos taken in the guitar shop where Bailey worked, which led to his dismissal. Dawn from the original master tapes, newly transferred and remastered by Rashad Becker, this is as essential as reissues come. Check it out below, and pick it up from Honest Jon’s, SoundOhm, or a record shop near you.

 

Derek Bailey – Solo Guitar Volume 1 (1971 / 2017)

 

Anthony Braxton / Derek Bailey – Royal Volumes 1 & 2 (1984 / 2017)

In 1974, Derek Bailey was joined for a short tour by Anthony Braxton – the foundation of a collaborative relationship which would span the decades. That first meeting was so fruitful that it produced a remarkable series of live recordings, retrospectively standing as a crucial window into the era, and indication of the global and cross-cultural collaborative possibilities of free-improvisation. In very different ways, both Bailey and Braxton harnessed improvisation as means toward true freedom, political and social as much as creative. Their relationship, unfolding across the recordings they made together, points toward an ever higher potential embraced and furthered by both artists – interactions and organizations of sounds as a means toward open communication, defying the boundaries of geography, culture, and class – a universal collective language. Royal, recorded live at the Royal Hotel, Luton, England on July 2, 1974, encounters Bailey on guitar and Braxton playing soprano and alto saxophones, and Bb and contrabass clarinets. It is a remarkable vision of mutual respect and creative interplay, with each player making space for the next in a remarkable interplay of tonal clusters and space. While recordings of this tour were released almost immediately after by Emanem, those which make up Royal wouldn’t see the light of day until a decade later, initially issued by Incus in 1984. The album featured the first part of a concert, the second being planned for a later release on Incus which was never realized. Honest Jon’s edition includes this wonderful neglected second recording, never released, across a full further LP. As was the case with Solo Guitar, Honest Jon’s has put the work in, creating the definitive version of this iconic release. As essential as they come. Check out an all too brief sample below, and pick it up from Honest Jon’s, SoundOhm, or a record shop near you.

 

Anthony Braxton / Derek Bailey – Royal (Excerpt)

Derek Bailey & Han Bennink – Derek Bailey / Han Bennink (1972 / 2017) 

Of all the fruitful collaborative relationships which occurred over the course of Derek Bailey’s career, the one with Dutch percussionist Han Bennink is among the most legendary and long lasting. Of all the recordings they made together, their duo recordings, taken from live performances at Verity’s Place in London, June 16-17, 1972, and issued later that year as Incus’ ninth release, are among the most coveted and rare. It’s hard to image two players better suited to each other – a guitarist who pushed his instrument into percussive realms and a drummer who drove toward resonance and tonality, criss-crossing in a mutual world of texture and interplay. Looking back through time, it’s easy to spot how innovative the pair were – laying a blueprint for generations following them, and how much they brought out of each other. Whether viewed in its own time, or across the decades since, its hard to find anything like this LP. A rattling, wild, energetic fury which inexplicably displays a remarkable sense of sensitivity and space, intuition, technique, and humor. Every sound is imbued with a sense of how much these two loved to play together. Frankly, it’s a mind-blowing, incredible record. As good as improvisation can get. Originally released in 1972 as a single LP, Honest Jon’s edition expands to a full double, including with a remarkable session made shortly after the original recordings. Wonderful and full of life. I can’t express how happy I am to see this one come back into the world. Check it out below, and pick it up from Honest Jon’s, SoundOhm, or a record shop near you.

-Bradford Bailey

 

Derek Bailey & Han Bennink – Derek Bailey / Han Bennink (1972 / 2017) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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