Steve Lake (1991)


Stravinsky once said that one can't begin to know if a composition is of any value until one has heard it performed twice, an option unavailable to the free music listener. Improvisation is unrepeatable, "over, gone in the air", when the musicians lower their horns…unless a tape has been rolling. Ideally, of course, the music should be heard live, yet nobody, players included, has sensibilities sufficifiently developed to follow all the details of its textural-rhythmic-melodic unfolding in the moment of its creation. Most of the the living music operates in a speeding sound-world, instrumentalists reacting faster than they can think, trusting to experience, inspiration and reflexes to get them from one end of a gig to the other. Improvisation, by its very nature, has to be concerned with what happens in the next second; there isn't time enough to reflect and weigh up a considered course of action. The records at least give us the chance to examine what has already happened, at our leisure. Inevitably there are longueurs, sometimes interminable stretches where the players are groping for a common understanding - and quite a few of these have been faithfully documented on FMP Records over the years! On the other hand, the richness and complexity of some of the music seems inexhaustible. Nearly three years after the event, I still find new things each time I delve into the 11-CD box called Cecil Taylor in Berlin 88. For example.

With those particular recordings a period of FMP´s history came to an end. In 1969, the label´s first release had been Manfred Schoof´s European Echoes whose title, borrowed from an Ornette tune, has been read as an acknowledgement that this music was initially a shadow of the Black so -called free jazz of the era or, at best, an "answer" to it. This did not stop partisan critics from campaigning immediately on behalf of the "emancipation" of European jazz and drawing up demarcation lines between the territories. From today's perspective it is possible to listen to the early FMP epics - Machine Gun, European Echoes, The Living Music - and hear in them, instead, the building of a bridge that the Americans were not yet ready to cross.

Through the 70s and 80s, Euro-American cooperation gradually gathered momentum with Don Cherry, Frank Wright, Andrew Cyrille and John Zorn appearing with Brötzmann in various combinations, Anthony Braxton and Steve Lacy guesting with Globe Unity, the formation of the Chicago/Wuppertal/Dresden trio of Leo Smith, Peter Kowald and Günter Sommer. Since the watershed Taylor festivals of 1986 and 1988, which proved beyond all doubt that Europe's strongest improvisers could work productively with one of the music's initiators, the collaborations have continued. Cecil's still working with European partners, and other recent FMP recordings have included the half-American, half-European X-Communications group, the piano duo of Marilyn Crispell and Irène Schweizer, and Alex Schlippenbach with Sunny Murray.

Though Free Music Production, in its original incarnation as a musicians collective, was established to document and promote the German-speaking end of the music, events have outdistanced a policy making important contributions to the earliest records. Nonetheless, for 20 years the prefix "FMP" on the spine of a record signified that the date was of German (or Swiss) origin, though the others on a given session (always more than "sidemen" in the new music) might be Zulus or Japanese, and sometimes were. ("Kondo? He's not Japanese, he's Martian" - Brötzmann.) Until recently, projects led by non-Germans (along with various not-quite-free-jazz records and other strange hedged bets) were shunted onto sister label SAJ, a confusing distinction, inappropriate to improvisation's from everywhere, the first compact disc release being a concert recording of percussion music from Africa. What does that have to do with "jazz"? Everything.

Apropos compact discs: at the end of 1991, FMPs entire vinyl back-catalogue will be deleted. It's no longer possible for the company to keep all the old albums in stock indefinitely. Some of them, particularly those of historical importance in the development of the music, will be reissued on compact disc. Others will be consigned to limbo, and second-hand copies will no doubt change hands for large sums of money in a few years.

Perhaps a few of the titles - I'm thinking particularly of the lightweight, joky knockabouts - need not have been released in the first place. Others, it's sad to see them disappear. But too much sentimentality would be out of order. This music can't afford to be too preoccupied with where it has been. No when it continues to move forward.

The sign on the front this particular bus says Further.

From a catalogue of FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION(FMP) 1991/92

The copyrights remain with the aforesaid sources and/or with the authors.