There are keynote recordings throughout the history of jazz and improvised music - Louis Armstrong's 'Hot Fives', Charlie Parker's recordings for Dial, Miles' Birth of the Cool... When we think about these recordings, the SME's 'Withdrawal' should be listed among them.
Marking the point where British improvisation effectively split itself away from the jazz tradition that first spawned it, Withdrawal started life as a soundtrack for a film based on a short book by the obscure writer David Chapman which focuses on his time spent in a mental institution for drug addiction. Unlike the lung-ripping ferocity that was coming out of mainland Europe at the time, through the likes of Peter Brotzmann and Willem Breuker, Withdrawal is a much starker affair. There isn't the furious blast that you get with Machine Gun - instead, you have an almost child-like fragment of melody played on a glockenspiel bringing the music in. The players, all of whom play fantastically throughout, build their way in, break out and build freely. Of all the players, Evan Parker is probably the weakest, this being one of his earliest recordings, and Derek Bailey only plays on half the tracks, but the core trio of John Stevens, Paul Rutherford and Trevor Watts work constantly as feeds and foils for the others.
Unlike many of the releases on Emanem, the liner notes could be considered as borderline-sumptuous, being filled with photos taken from the sessions, giving a great feel for the time.
This is an essential recording on several counts and should be part of every serious jazz/improvised music collection. It may not be something you listen to very often - especially if your taste lends more towards Parker and Armstrong - but listen to it you must.