Derek Bailey

Duos, London 2001

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"I really hate the (censored). In a duo it is really horrible, he never reacts to anything you play." Since there are enough inner squabbles on the European improvised music scene, the person being quoted here will not be identified. The person being talked about, however, is guitarist Derek Bailey, presented on this disc in the company of three different duo partners. Bailey's recordings are like beautiful miniature hollyhock plants; a gardener might only plan a small patch of these, thinking that will be enough. Soon, thoughts will drift to letting them take over the whole yard. Similarly, Bailey's section might expand to take over an entire shelf if he continues finding duo partners with whom he can create such substantial musical statements. Duos, London 2001 gives us 30 minutes of playing with saxophonist Alan Wilkinson and 14 minutes each with percussionist Roger Turner and the multi-instrumentalist Julian Kytasty. It is Kytasty, a third generation performer on the Russian bandura, who takes Bailey farthest from what he has done on previous recordings, other than philosophically similar couplings with instruments such as the Chinese pipa. Wilkinson's sax can't help but recall two of Bailey's great duo partners, Anthony Braxton and Evan Parker. In some ways, this is a particularly ugly recording of the baritone sax, an effect that eventually will win the listener over. As the piece proceeds, it actually sounds like the saxophone is singing, Wilkinson continually coming up with new sounds and tones. As for Bailey, if his playing is supposedly about not listening and not reacting to the other guy, he then can be said to be doing a brilliant imitation of listening and reacting here. The music kicks off into immediate excitement with simultaneous staccato attacks. Later, the two play slowly and quietly together; they play in a fast and demented fashion together as well. Wilkinson is versatile: He uses both clear melodies and noise, and in the former case, the decisive harmonic touches from maestro Bailey show split-second thinking. With all the many hours of saxophone and guitar duo music that has been both released and tossed off into the air, why release this chunk? Because the piece, titled simply "With Alan Wilkinson" and lasting a bit longer than a television situation comedy, is stimulating from start to finish. "With Roger Turner" is guitar and drums, another familiar Bailey instrumental combination. His great duos with John Stevens, Han Bennink, and Susie Ibarra come to mind, and Turner is a player who can be discussed in such company without a second thought. Again, this is music with a great deal of interaction with mutually held decisions about dynamics and flow that arise out of thin air, and terrific use of space as well as clatter. Kyhasty, unlike Turner and Wilkinson, is not best known for playing on the free improvisation scene. He works with world music ensembles such as the brilliant Silk and Steel and performs a repertoire of traditional as well as original compositions on the bandura, an instrument that is kind of a combination of a harp, zither, and guitar. "With Julian Kytasty" is the sole track where Bailey takes out his acoustic guitar, and it is a performance of great beauty. Kytasty's playing recalls the twisted yet distinctly stringy creations of improvisers on "prepared" guitar, cello, piano, and so forth, so the resulting vocabulary can hardly be considered far afield from the normal sounds of improvised music, if such a description can be taken seriously. The slow sections of this piece make the slow sections of the other duos seem fast in comparison. It is one of those musical creations in which every sound is fraught with meaning, no matter how tiny. One of the great moments occurs following one such extended section, as both the players appear to become agitated, Kytasty finally beginning to let the full, natural sound of his instrument be heard. The resulting rush toward a vaguely East European type of harmony is exhilarating. Kytasty pulls out a wooden flute later in the piece, creating something of a trio sound as he seems to be playing both of his instruments at once. These moments bring to mind Bailey's playing in the '80s with multi-instrumentalist Wadada Leo Smith, who was also fond of wooden flutes.