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Derek Bailey and the Story of Free Improvisation Hardcover – 24 May 2004
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"I am an enthusiast for the Watson method and I'm prepared to follow him, even to places where I wouldn't under other circumstances go ... I feel profoundly unqualified to promote a text about which I have no specialist knowledge, and for which I have no innate sympathy - being left with unfocused support for the ongoing ever-fecund Watson project. His attack, his singularity. His indecent decency." - Iain Sinclair
Derek Bailey was at the top of his profession as a dance-band and record-session guitarist when, in the early 1960s, he began playing an uncompromisingly abstract music. As the Joseph Holbrooke Trio, with bassist Gavin Bryars and drummer Tony Oxley, Bailey forged a musical syntax which has since operated as an international counter to the banality of commercialism. Refusing to be labeled a "jazz" guitarist, Bailey has collaborated with performance artists, electronic experimentalists, classical musicians, Zen dancers, tap dancers, rock stars, jazzers, poets, weirdos and an endless stream of fiercely individual musicians. Today his anti-idiom of "Free Improvisation" has become the lingua franca of the "avant" scene, with Pat Metheny, John Zorn, David Sylvian and Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore amongst his admirers. Derek Bailey and the Story of Free Improvisation lifts the lid on an artistic ferment which has defied every known law of the music business.Telling the story via taped interviews with Bailey and his cohorts, gig reports and album reviews (including an exhaustive discography of Bailey's vast and hard-to-track output), Ben Watson's spiky, partisan and often very funny biography argues that anyone who thought the avant-garde was dead simply forgot to listen. See all Product description
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Bailey has invented an entirely new way of playing the guitar, very loosely derived from the mature work of Anton Webern but entirely his own. His discography is gigantic, and the one in this book is incomplete (I only know this because a 1998 CD came into my possession after reading this book that isn't listed therein.) He spent roughly 15 years as a purely commercial guitar player, an all-round session man, before deciding that he needed to find a way of playing what he came to realise he really wanted to play. This book tells you how he came to these decisions, and what happened after.
The bits of the book that consist of quotes from Bailey himself are truly priceless (his comic timing can't have been damaged by playing in the pit band for Morecambe and Wise) but Watson's accounts of great gigs make you ache that you weren't there. It is also, almost casually, an argument for the importance of free improvisation as a vital current for music itself. Buy this book and whack your jazz snob friends over the head with it. And then listen to Derek Bailey play - the best way is to trek to Barcelona, where he now spends most of his time, and watch him live. Bailey's distrust of recorded music is genuinely provocative. This book, to paraphrase Deep Purple, might just change your life.
My summary of it would be that the first half of the book is absolutely fascinating, a real insight into Bailey's early years and what motivated him and made him tick, esp the stuff about his session musician days and his 'radicalisation' via the Joseph Holbrooke Trio . Unfortunately the rest of the book isn't so much about Bailey as it is about the opinions of the author, Ben Watson, and basically he comes across as a bit of a c**t. Over and over again we are treated to his turgid 'Marxist' or 'Ardono-ist' (whoever he is??) waffling prose. Free Improv is the most 'pure' and 'highest' form of music! 'Composed' music is selling out to 'the man'! Yes we get it! Feck me do we have to read it over and over again on every other page until our eyeballs are falling out??? And why the constant comparing of apples to oranges by launching into tirades against John McLaughlin, Miles Davis, Evan Parker, Gavin Bryars, Iskra 1903, ECM artists and anybody else who isn't Derek, Frank Zappa or The Sex Pistols at every opportunity??? It gets embarrassing after a while, a bit like those 6th form classroom 'debates' all those years back when we who were 'in the know' with our 'prog' albums would sneer at the kids who were still watching TOTP and dancing to Abba (but were also getting the girls)... Although the most excruciatingly embarrassing bits had to be his long winded 'explaining' of the 'Stock, Hausen and Walkman' group name pun and the name dropping of Johnny Thunders apropos of nothing... Gosh Ben is not only into Derek Bailey, he digs Johnny Thunders too! isn't he catholic in his tastes!
Although it had some very interesting and insightful bits, most notably when Derek speaks for himself rather than being mediated by Watson, the book generally feels like a missed opportunity and could have been half the length. I used to have several back copies of Musics magazine, plus the 'Company Week' issue of Impetus magazine and the 1978 Bailey interview issue of 'Guitar' magazine that Watson refers to few times in this book, these were far more insightful of the free improv movement than this, must see if I can dig them out some time...