photos _ london improvisers orchestra
|LIO @ Freedom of the City festival, May 2009|
Since the 1960's London was one of the most preeminent impro hubs in Europe. The Musicians Cooperative and the London Musicians Collective, labels such as Incus, Emanem and Psi, publications as Derek Bailey's "Improvisation - Its Nature and Practice" [Da Capo Press] and LMC's magazine "Musics" were all part of a general vocation to develop proper means of expressions through self-help and sharing knowledges at the purpose.
The history of the London Improvisers Orchestra is more recent, even if many of the musicians involved are well representing the legacies of the local scene, and for a couple of capital reasons. The first is that many of the musicians involved are a constant presence since the beginning: flutist Terry Day, sopranist Lol Coxhill, violinist Phillip Wachsmann, just to name a few.
The second reason is the orchestral size, that from Mike Westbrook's and Chris Mc Gregor's free jazz bands through the Ensembles of Barry Guy and Paul Rutherford - more focused on contemporary composition, until the Continuous Music Ensemble and the Alternative Music Orchestra, seems to be an important reference.
The LIO is composed by about 40 musicians, but usually not all of them are present together on stage at the same concert. As violinist Alison Blunt wrote me today, "There are a large number of LIO members but it's not frequently that everyone is at an LIO gig - that's completely understood and part of the flexibility".
"There are several members who conduct occasionally and some who conduct regularly. Some of our conductors create text or graphic scores for the band to use, other times we've worked with dancers, film makers and poets etc. as co-conductors."
In fact, LIO was formed in 1997 when Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris was performing his "London Skyscraper" in Britain. It's impossible for the moment for me to tell in what Morris' conductions are different to the Beresford's or Ryan's, as an example. Morris is not always using the same musicans, so more that making statements on how Morris' and LIO's records would sound, it would be important to see conducting and talk directly to both about the topic, so I'm opting for digging next time.
"For ten months of the year, the members meet up on the first Sunday of the month (excluding December and January) at Cafe Oto in Dalston [18-22 Ashwin Street]. Meeting prior to the gig for a rehearsal, so anybody who has an idea about how to control a group of individuals who take pleasure in not being controlled, can rehearse what they would like to do. These pieces mixed in with freely improvised sections makes up the performance at 8.30." (from LIO Facebook official page).
During this September Sunday, the LIO divided their concert in two sets. The first one presented clarinetist Dave Ryan's conduction, followed by a violin concerto composed by Sue Ferrar and conduced by Alison Blunt, a freely improvised piece and, before a small lapse, a conduction by multi-instrumentalist Steve Beresford.
LIO's conductions are divided into ensemble and small groups. In Dave Ryan's, every musician is beckoned in turn to create a hushed layering of sound, that at a certain point explode suddenly in a 'tutti' crescendo, just to switch off and reopen in a different spatial and timbric blend, with the lines varying from a single, continuous and soft puff to postbop-like lines.
But the distinctive feature of the orchestra is well displayed by Ivor Kallin and the violins in general, widely reminiscent of Xenakis' operas for ensemble like Kraanerg: if Evan Parker was true when talking in 1980 about the different modi operandi - being the first generation of UK improvisers working on an "atomistic method", "breaking the music down into small component parts and piecing them together again in a collective way, so as to de-emphasize the soloistic nature of improvisation and replace it by a collective process", while the AMM and the younger LMC ones were "laminar", "by contributing layers which would fit together and make a new whole", the LIO can be described as a good synthesis, thanks also to the mixing of acoustic instruments, two electric guitars, one laptop and found objects.
The second half of the concert was made up of a conduction by reedist Ricardo Tejero, and a free improvisation by a small group composed by Noel Taylor (clarinets), David Ryan, Alex Eastley (bassoon, one of the night's guest musicians), Steve Beresford, Guillaume Viltard (contrabass) and Tony Marsh (percussions).