Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings

Ian Brighton
Now and Then
Confront Collectors Series CCS 62

Evan Parker + John Russell + Ian Brighton + Philipp Wachsmann + Marcio Mattos + Trevor Taylor
Reunion: Live from Cafe Oto
FMR Records CD430

In the past few years, guitarist Ian Brighton, a musician active in English free improvisation from the early ‘70s to 1990, has been re-emerging. Brighton studied with Derek Bailey and played in numerous groups in the ‘70s, including the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and the Tony Oxley Quartet, releasing his own LP, Marsh Gas, on Bead in 1977. One of his most significant partnerships was the quartet String Thing with violinist Philipp Wachsmann, bassist Marcio Mattos and percussionist Trevor Taylor. Brighton’s last recording with them was released in 1989.

In 1990 his regular employment took him abroad, and when he returned, family responsibilities kept him from devoting time to music. He occasionally recorded solo pieces, hoping to return to music when he retired in 2009. He was in touch with Karen Brookman about a tribute he wanted to record to Derek Bailey and learned that Oxley wanted him to appear on his 75th Birthday album. After that came out in 2013, Brighton started recording solo pieces in the studio of his son Paul, a dance music producer; however, prostate cancer intervened, further delaying his return. Late in 2015, Brighton was back in the studio and posted his Bailey tribute, “A Voice You Left Behind,” on Soundcloud. Mark Wastell offered to put out Brighton’s recent work on his Confront label: Now and Then on Brighton’s 72nd birthday in 2016 and led directly to the performance at Café Oto released as Reunion. The two CDs provide complementary views, the former spanning 29 years, the latter an evening.

Now and Then is a kind of self-portrait in time, ranging through tributes to departed friends, a piece recovered from 1986, another assembled with tapes provided by an old associate, and recent collaborations with his son. What emerges is a sense of a musician who is keenly involved, however far he might have been from a current scene. The CD opens with the Bailey tribute, “A voice you left behind,” a piece that begins with Derek Bailey speaking in an interview about the implicit irony of recordings of improvised music, setting the stage for a Brighton solo that demonstrates both the similarities and differences of his approach to that of Bailey. He has a quick mind and hands, dancing on the strings with aplomb, with rapid movement among approaches and registers and a keen sense of the unlikely detail as a bonus. Perhaps inevitably, Brighton’s playing is more congruent than Bailey’s, more lyrical, its gestures seemingly more connected, less random, less dissonant, less scattershot. Another tribute to a deceased friend, “Chasin Lol” for Lol Coxhill, is as delicate as wind chimes, alive with bright ellisions and rapid, muffled picking. An earlier solo, “Alive and Well” from to 2004, is Brighton’s most sustained performance here, with enough animated and glassy pitch bending to suggest the sound world of Harry Partch before shifting to a sparse and subtle reverie that disappears into sparking highs.

                                                                                                                          Courtesy of Ian Brighton

Other figures from Brighton’s past, the members of String Thing, appear on a 1986 recording that gives a real sense of Brighton’s strengths as an improviser in a group, feeding and shaping the parts around him. Those qualities are apparent as well in a work of assemblage, Frank Perry and Trevor Taylor supplying Brighton with percussion sounds for the recent “Percussion discussion.” The portrait is completed with two tracks in which Brighton duets with his son Paul on live electronics, the two developing the kinds of close dialogue that only arise with the most familiar partners.

Reunion:Live from Cafe Oto, recorded in August 2016, presents four pieces, each distinct in personnel. The opening “Here, and Hear” is a slippery guitar solo, an ever-evolving, treble-bright exploration in which Brighton shifts rapidly amongst harmonics and glissandi with sudden fingerboard movement and alterations in dynamics and attack. It’s a festival of unlikely connections and dissociations, a genuine homecoming.

The recording’s centerpiece is the half-hour “Why did we leave it so long?” by String Theory, the long dormant quartet’s original personnel reassembling for the occasion. If comparison between composed and freely improvised music is rarely apt, here it’s irresistible, the music sounding like something crafted by Boulez, Brighton’s subtle, sustained intrusions marking bar-lines in the arco dialogues of Wachsmann and Mattos, all of it framed and highlighted by Taylor’s orchestral percussion. There’s a certain intensity of listening and a lucid alteration of clustering and spaciousness of sound, each musician attuned to the possibilities of design, and each sharing a determining focus. Even occasional vocal interjections sound like they appear on a score.

“Walthamstow Cheesecutter” is a duet by Evan Parker and John Russell, two musicians whose collective creativity hardly needs further recommendation. This episode is very good indeed, a warm turn by familiar figures that has a sharp focus on the work at hand. As random and insistently guitaristic as Russell’s plectrum scratches and splatters are, there’s something of the “bee-loud glade” as the two gather intent, a mind-meadow of insect and plant life suggesting Russell’s notions spread from the spruce and maple cells of his guitar, while Parker’s soprano saxophone hosts large insects and tiny birds.

The final “What else did you expect?” is a riveting piece by all six musicians, and there’s a definite difference in dynamism here, the music darker, denser, less polished-on-the-spot than the quartet of “Why did we leave it so long?” This is more alive, with a special bustle, a loose and lively tumult of voices. At the heart of the ensemble, pulling others into the vortex, is the dense weave of Brighton’s electric guitar and Russell’s contrasting acoustic.
–Stuart Broomer

New World Records

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