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John Stevens (percussion, cornet, voice), Nigel Coombes (violin), Roger Smith (guitar). The 1981 London concert features two of John Stevens didactic pieces performed by nine or ten Musicians, plus a Trio improvisation. Another (previously unissued) Trio set can also be heard - the excitement of the music overcomes the imperfections of the recording on this half hour from 1978. Reissue of SFA LP 092 with extra Trio material.
"Sometime in 1976 the SME became a trio made up of John Stevens, Nigel Coombes on violin and Roger Smith on guitar. This release features recordings of the group during two concerts from 1978 and 1981, with the '81 concert showcasing a much-expanded Spontaneous Music Orchestra playing two Stevens compositions. This concert was originally available on a by-now-very-hard-to-find LP.
The first, and longest, of these orchestra pieces ("Triangle") is a study in the rapid-fire style of much British improvisation of the time, with all the players contributing short sounds to build a constantly changing tapestry of sound. Stevens sticks to cornet on this piece, and it doesn't detract from it at all. around the mid-point the sounds start lengthening a bit, but everyone's still listening intently and circling around each other. A fascinating 24 minutes.
"Statics", the other orchestra piece, is only a fragment, with Stevens back on drums. Airy, long tones are adorned with pointillist spikes and bits of slowly forming melody. There's a lot of pitch sliding which develops into quavering Ayler-esque sounds before sliding into silence. From the same 1981 concert (at Notre dame hall in London) "Reciprocal" is by the trio alone. As the string players are unamplified this is generally quiet interplay, but very busy, often sounding like more than three people. Bits of rhythm rise up and are abandoned, bowed melodies float above quiet storms, and the occasional loud crack of snare drum. Definitely sounds like the violin is at the forefront much of the time.
The remaining two pieces come from an earlier concert by the trio, at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in November of 1978. The liner notes state that this recording comes from a distorted cassette, and while not of the same audio quality as the first three pieces, it doesn't sound bad at all, the trio encased in the ambience of a very resonant room. Some of the detail is certainly lost, but what remains is very live sounding, with vocal interjections sounding like ghostly horns or whistles off in the distance. When the three men really get going, it's a beautiful mesh of string filigree and percussive thwack. A fine addition to the ever-growing SME discography, and kudos to Martin Davidson for uncovering these gems. " (Jeph Jerman)