to the Wikipedia, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME) was a loose
collection of free improvising musicians convened beginning in
the mid-1960s by the late South London-based jazz drummer/trumpeter
John Stevens and alto and soprano saxophonist Trevor Watts.
Prof. Drew LeDrew (DLD): Is there a "British sensibility"
in jazz? Is it expressed here?
Jay Chill (CJC): To me, the British part of this track comes
across less in the jazz elements than the other sounds. "Oliv
I" has always sounded like it had a strong Brit folk tinge. Some
of the ritualistic textures and droney voices seem straight off
the original Wicker Man soundtrack. There's something
about the whole piece. A strange mix of minimalism and freak-folk.
Like an unholy mash-up of Terry Riley and vintage Fairport
So I guess you could say it's real British roots music.
It's probably easier to hear those elements now than it was,
say, 20 years ago. Especially since the whole folk thing
has come full circle and reissues of avatars like Vashti Bunyan,
Comus, and The Incredible String Band are totally in vogue.
Hmm. Simon Reynolds has this brilliant piece in the new issue
of The Wire (#273) about the Ghost Box label and a tribe of British
electronic musicians who create their pieces by sampling the U.K.'s
pop culture past. They use elements of library music, television
and radio shows, Hammer horror flicks, and crucially, lots of
English psychedelic folk music. I'm not exactly sure it directly
relates to SME, but it seems like they were doing something similar.
Of course SME were 35 years ahead of the curve. And conjuring
their necromancy in real time with actual musicians. Not that
one approach is better, just that the live aspect gives SME's
experiments a different flava.
Okay, so here's the bigger question: Is this even jazz?
Why not? The length and sprawl of the piece - it travels for almost
19 minutes - certainly come straight from jazz. Ditto for the
the free improv elements and the interactions between the musicians.
After the steady vocal/sax drone begins, "Oliv I" actually starts
to remind me of the soundtrack to 2001. Those haunting Ligetti
pieces. Space is the place, except this piece is grounded by Wheeler's
endlessly inventive playing and Bailey's sensitive interpolations.
Wheeler almost singlehandedly keeps things interesting. I love
how he blends a natural lyricism with an acute awareness of what's
going on around him.
John Stevens said he selected the performers for the piece and
then began to organize the music around them "with the hope that
they could contribute fully to the music as a whole and also retain
Which reminds me: There's no better source of SME-related information
than Martin Davidson's remembrance of John Stevens, hosted at
the European Free Improv pages. Go check it out.
to download Spontaneous Music Ensemble MP3s.
While Chilly Jay Chill and Prof. Drew LeDrew are the mainstay
of the Chemistry Class blog (chemistryclass.blogspot.com
- "You must give props to whom props is due"), they also run Destination
an mp-free jazz blog focusing on rare or out-of-print music. As
they say, requests, rants, and rights issues to [email protected].