Along with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble's Karyobin and Tony Oxley's 4 Compositions for Sextet, The Topography of the Lungs is one of the landmark early albums of English free improvisation (despite the presence of Dutch percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Han Bennink), featuring guitarist Derek Bailey and saxophonist Evan Parker in positively coruscating form. This album launched the legendary Incus label in style, and original copies still contain the photocopied typewritten letter announcing the label's manifesto: "The bulk of the revenue from any Incus recording will go directly to the musicians....Once the basic cost of each record is recovered, thus providing the finance for the next, the vast bulk of all income will be paid in royalties to the artists. Incus has no intention of making profits in the conventional sense." (Back in Holland, Bennink had adopted a similar strategy for the ICP label he co-founded with saxophonist Willem Breuker and pianist Misha Mengelberg.) The same sense of commitment is to be found throughout the album, whose ultra-concentrated force marked a clear boundary line between the emerging European free music and its immediate precursor, American free jazz. Despite the music's furious energy -- verging at times on the downright violent, thanks in no small part to the irrepressible Bennink -- proceedings do not lack a sense of humor. Nor does the record's back cover, an almost Monty Pythonesque collage of pages from an old encyclopedia interspersed with brief, enigmatic phrases like "Frederick Rzewski writes about free improvisation and makes sense" and "If you like to draw or paint, this booklet could help change your life." If the booklet doesn't manage it, the music on the album certainly will.
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AllMusic Review by Dan Warburton