** Edition of 500 + 20 pages booklet ** A More Attractive Way is a comprehensive study of live performances made by IST between 1996 and 2000. This set begins at the very outset of the group's career and features their debut concert at Club Orange in London and charts its way through further gigs in London, Billericay, Norwich and Cambridge. “A completely different intensity, but an intensity nonetheless,” Jo Fell reflects in notes accompanying A More Attractive Way. Her husband Simon, to whose memory this very welcome box set is dedicated, had established a reputation as a dynamic, visceral and muscular double bassist, more than capable of underpinning a group that included high-octane saxophonists such as Alan Wilkinson and Peter Brötzmann. When he joined forces with harpist Rhodri Davies and violoncellist Mark Wastell, Fell found himself faced with a different range of challenges and possibilities, but as Jo Fell recognises there was no slackening off in this remarkable string trio. The intensity of IST was a matter of concentration rather than projected ferocity. Their music, bristling with inner tension, had a clenched feel , a grip that makes listening a particularly involving and suspenseful experience.
Hearing the performances gathered here, recorded at various venues between 1996 and 2000, it’s striking how tightly integrated the trio were from the outset. Noting that IST were the only group to be fully incorporated into Derek Bailey’s Company, on several occasions too, Wastell speculates that the guitarist may have been attracted by an opportunity to mesh with other strings. Surely, he would also have been attracted by the fact that IST were truly a unit. It’s easy to imagine Bailey relishing the test to his own resourcefulness posed by the trio’s integrity.
Others have risen successfully to that challenge too, as can be heard from guest appearances in this compilation by violinist Phil Durrant and saxophonist John Butcher. Despite the intensity of its synergetic coordination, IST was certainly not a hermetically sealed entity. Even when, as a trio, they had grown increasingly familiar with each others strengths, tendencies and preferences, Fell, Davies and Wastell were neither predictable nor formulaic. Preparations of various kinds and unorthodox techniques were used to dislodge their stringed instruments from conventional roles. Compositional structures were sometimes introduced, for further variety, but also to counteract the risk that persistently confronts any dedicated improviser of lapsing into habit, or automatic response. So although a sense of purposefully contained internal combustion is a constant, this compelling music varies considerably in character. As documentation of a vital phase in the evolution of improvised music A More Attractive Way is invaluable. As music it is simply exhilarating. On the final disc, IST interpret Stockhausen’s “intuitive music” score Intensität. Its inclusion fills out the picture: a different intensity, but an intensity nonetheless. - Julian Cowley, The Wire