This CD contains nine versions of one single piece, "Face to Face." It is a set-up composition, not written but devised: Drummer John Stevens and soprano saxophonist Trevor Watts were placed face to face and they played at each other, with each musician attempting to become so focused on the other's playing that his own playing happened on a subconscious level. Now, even though all the music is credited to Stevens, who devised the piece, it should be understood that Watts brought just as many ideas. After all, this is free improvisation. Face to Face captures the Spontaneous Music Ensemble in November and December 1973, a moment when the group was reduced to this duo, allowing Stevens to refine his approach to free playing. The music is stripped of any outside reference and emotional background. It may be austere, but it is not cerebral -- no calculations here, only musicians deeply listening to each other's input, understanding each other at a subatomic level. All tracks begin in a similar way: Stevens plays light cymbals, Watts utters quiet staccato notes in the high register -- with one exception, "Face to Face 5," where Stevens takes out his cornet. From this point on anything can (and does) happen. The last recording, "Face to Face 7," remains one of the most brilliant examples of free improv duet playing in terms of absolute synergy. Most of the material presented here was originally issued by Emanem in 1975. The CD reissue adds three short tracks from the same concerts. This album is essential to understand the development of scaled-down free improv in England.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture