Freedom of the City 2002 presented a small number of groupings, including two solo performances. Some of them enjoyed over half-an-hour of disc space and most were represented by several tracks. This time around, the two-CD set documenting the "small groups" evening of the 2003 edition of this London-based free improvisation festival focuses on duos, trios, and quartets -- eight of them -- each one represented by a single piece ranging from 11 to 25 minutes in duration. Compared to some big names like Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, Paul Rutherford, and Trevor Watts, who participated in the event the previous year, this album may seem to lack panache at first glance (many listeners will only be familiar with Steve Beresford, John Butcher, and Simon H. Fell), but don't be fooled: it is filled to the rim with fascinating music, mostly from musicians who don't get enough exposure outside the London scene. The trio of Alan Tomlinson, Steve Beresford, and Roger Turner has a CD out on Emanem. Their 18-minute performance here explores the same kind of abstract playfulness. Stefan Keune and John Russell's duet runs longer than anything they have previously released, and hits higher peaks than their studio album Frequency of Use. Singer Vivienne Corringham and violinist Angharad Davies make their recording debut with "Beta Pleat," a gripping piece revealing a deep understanding between the two improvisers. Disc One concludes with a vehement and eventful piece by Free Base (Steve Noble, Marcio Mattos, and the towering Alan Wilkinson). Compared to this muscular finale, the opening track on Disc Two, courtesy of Milo Fine, Hugh Davies, Paul Shearsmith, and Tony Wren, sounds slightly thin and uneven. John Butcher and John Edwards deliver another strong improvisation (do they ever have a bad day?), while IST offers one of the most immersive and challenging moments of the album. The quartet Lunge (Gail Brand, Phil Durrant, Mark Sanders, and Pat Thomas) conclude the album with a piece in the vein of the most electronic material presented on their debut album Strong Language.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2