Since the late '90s, Emanem owner Martin Davidson has been keen on supporting large free improv ensembles -- no-one else had the guts to record or present in concert such massive, logistically-painful entities. After the London Improvisers Orchestra and the Strings project comes the Gathering, a co-op group of London-based professional and amateur improvisers started in 1991 by singer Maggie Nicols. This debut album was captured in the studio after the recording of the group's performance at the 2002 Freedom of the City Festival was found to be flawed. It features an unusually large version of the Gathering, 25 members strong, including many LIO regulars, like sax player Tom Chant and pianist Veryan Weston. Nine of them are singers, but the remaining instrumentalists also use their voices, since voice is a key feature of this group. It sets it apart from the LIO and most other groups, for that matter (maybe with the exception of the Libera Societa di Improvvisazione). The album begins and ends with half-hour long free improvisations where lush vocal textures unfold over a controlled tempest of reeds, trumpet, piano, guitar, electronics and percussion. Individual contributions are lost inside the group sound, powerful, organic and all-engulfing. Tucked between these two pieces (the latter is indexed in two parts) is a suite of pieces written by Spontaneous Music Ensemble's father John Stevens as workshop exercises for large groups such as this one. The Gathering goes through "Click Piece" and "Sustained Piece" its own way, adding free improv developments and poetry reading. For John Stevens is a beautiful album by itself, and a resounding tribute to Stevens' legacy.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture