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13,508 (and counting) posts since we started blogging 13 years ago. 926 of them this year alone and, so far, 90 this month (July 27).

Friday, April 23, 2021

Album review: The Spontaneous Music Ensemble - Question and Answer 1966

The Spontaneous Music Ensemble enjoys mythical status, not least among free jazz devotees. Its driving force, drummer John Stevens, determined early in his career to focus upon 'free' and 'improvised' music. From the mid-sixties until his untimely death in 1994, Stevens' story is one of creative achievement with little in the way of financial reward. 

London's Little Theatre Club supported the attempts of Stevens and others to forge a new music at a time when precious few other venues were willing to do so. The Prince Albert in Greenwich did offer the SME a gig (June 22 to be precise), the session was recorded and it forms the basis of Question and Answer 1966, a two-disc release from Rhythm and Blues Records. Stevens teamed up with like-minded souls Trevor Watts, alto sax, Paul Rutherford, trombone, and bassist Bruce Cale to explore the possibilities of a new approach to music first signalled by Ornette Coleman. Their efforts on the night of June 22, in a typical pub setting, were committed to tape and it is only now that we can hear the previously unreleased material. 

Disc one comprises some thirty eight minutes of music followed by a lengthy Q & A played out against a low level hubbub punctuated by the ringing of the pub's cash register. The music comprises four tracks: two by unknown composers (the first of them titled Unknown) and two by Watts. If you were present on the night and didn't take notes it's unlikely that some fifty five years later you'll be able to recall in detail the titles of the improvisations! The music could be described as regulation high octane free jazz interspersed with moments of quiet reflection. 

Disc two features more from the Prince Albert and a session at an unknown London recording studio dated August 30, 1966. A lack of discographical information adds to the romance of it all, The question and answer session will appeal to the serious student of improvised music: a combination of earnest, inquiring minds and the musicians' considered, yet informal responses, sketch a picture of musician and audience experiencing a counter culture happening. The SME's improvisations will meet with the approval of the free jazz/improv aficionado.  
Russell

Question and Answer 1966 is a two-CD release on Rhythm and Blues Records (cat no. RANDBO68).     

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