Emanem owner Martin Davidson concludes his liner notes for Responses, Reproduction & Reality by stating that "the London Improvisers Orchestra keeps evolving." This is the ensemble's fifth album (counting the various-artists release Freedom of the City 2001: Large Groups, which is actually two-thirds LIO) and new ideas -- and new improvisers -- just keep pouring in. It features excerpts from the orchestra's performances at the 2003 and 2004 editions of the Freedom of the City Festival. More material to choose from translates to a significantly sharper, better album than Freedom of the City 2002. There is not a single disappointment here, as each piece extensively explores and exploits the possibilities offered by this magnificent improvisers' pool. Dave Tucker, Simon H. Fell, Caroline Kraabel, David Leahy, Pat Thomas, and Philipp Wachsmann take turns conducting the behemoth, sometimes using creative forms of scores, at other times simply molding the sound matter in the heat of the moment. Opening the program, Tucker's "Wit's End" features an instrument basically unheard thus far in a free improv context: the steel pan, played by Orphy Robinson in an eventful controlled chaos of a piece that has nothing to do with the Caribbean. Fell's "Improvisation Panels (1)" is not as intriguing as his other works for the LIO, sounding a bit too much like a building-blocks composition, but it still provides a nice textural moment. Kraabel has been contributing game-like pieces ever since the group's first recording; her "Hearing Reproduction 5" asks the musicians to reproduce as precisely as possible the sounds of the featured soloist, the arguably inimitable vocalist Jaap Blonk, and the results are hilarious. Wachsmann's "Fantasy and Reality" may follow more serious guidelines, but it turns out to be a highly entertaining piece, rich in sharp contrasts, odd instrument pairings, and simply fascinating group playing. Responses, Reproduction & Reality may be the best place to start in the LIO's discography. It synthesizes all the qualities found in the previous albums.
AllMusic Review by François Couture