Free improvisation’s answer to composer John Cage, British guitarist Derek Bailey (1930-2005) was as much a theoretician as a performer. Someone who inculcated the idea of permanent improvisation, Bailey lived by the credo as well. During the course of his long career he was as open to trading licks with neophyte rock-oriented players as the most respected international jazz figures.
Fundamentally however, Bailey was never more impressive as when he played solo. These memorable eight tracks – all entitled “Play” – conclusively demonstrate this. Recorded in 2003 before illness muted some of his inimitable tropes and techniques, the spur-of-the-moment improvisations are one of a piece, yet also linked to the distinctive FreeImprov modus operandi that Bailey and others evolved and modified in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Manipulating both an acoustic and an electric guitar, all the hallmarks of his mature style are on show. Jagged runs, single-string snaps and below-the-bridge strums share space with chromatic pulsations, percussive rasgueado, animated flat picking and microtonal slurred fingering.
Vibrant and melodic in its own way, there are points when To Play’s playing vibrates as if Bailey is a 1930s big band rhythm guitarist, as well as a specialist in angular contemporary music. In truth Bailey formulated this style through constant improvisation and selective references to what sounds preceded his. Ultimately the most fitting triumph of the CD is that on it he resembles no other guitarist but himself.
For Whole Note Vol. 12 #4
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