All previously unissued recordings, mainly made up of the duo of John Stevens (percussion) and Evan Parker (ss, ts), with Peter Kowald (b) on about a third of it. This marks the earliest to date recordings of Parker and is a tremendous snapshot of some ancient history. "Parker and Stevens seemed to break through to a deeper level of hearing, where a sound was not set against other sounds but rather against the silence around it, so that one gained heightened awareness of its growth and decay, its special colour, and of the vibrant stillness in which it took place." Victor Schonfield/Downbeat/1968.
Early in 1967, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME) (1966-1994) was a septet comprised of Kenny Wheeler, Paul Rutherford, Trevor Watts, Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Barry Guy and John Stevens. They mainly used compositional frameworks and much instrumental doubling to make music with a large variety of colours, but had already moved a long way from the world of jazz in which they had started. On their recordings (issued in 1997 for the first time as WITHDRAWAL on Emanem 5040), Parker's presence is hardly noticed - he says he felt overawed in such company.
During the spring of that year, Stevens took over as sole leader, and instigated a change of direction towards a conversational type of free improvisation which put everyone on an equal footing. The emphasis was for each musician to listen to the contributions of the others rather than concentrate on their on their own playing - the antithesis of most of the then (and now) prevailing trends in music. This required Stevens to move from a conventional drum kit to a quieter collection of small drums and cymbals and other percussion - allowing other instruments to be able to converse on the same level.
Not all the other musicians immediately went along with this change of direction, and by the start of the summer the only full time members of the SME were Stevens and Parker, with Wheeler and/or Bailey added from time to time. In the autumn, Barre Phillips (on an extended stay in London) was often added, and in the winter, Dave Holland joined in, resulting in what was the second published SME recording - KARYOBIN (not currently available).
This disc contains the only known recordings of the duo of John Stevens (1940-1994) and Evan Parker (b. 1944) made during the nine months or so they were a trailblazing working duo. They subsequently made excellent duo records for Ogun in 1976 and 1993 - but that is another story. The first duo session here is superb in both contents and sound (albeit in mono). The second is a concert recording with ghastly echo, but the music manages to shine through.
The trio session with Peter Kowald (b. 1944), who was in London for a short vacation, was recorded at Les Cousins coffee bar. It also suffers somewhat, this time from an imperfect recording of the bass, and from a noisy audience. What were they talking about? Was it really more important than the music? Again, one has to live with these defects in order to hear the only known recordings of this significant meeting - the occasion being the first time the three played together.