Parker Burwell Toop credit Jak Kilby


Karyobin - 50 Years On

If no-one else is going to do it, then I will.

My last few blogs have been a bit pre-occupied with anniversaries - the 100th year of recorded jazz, the fascination with key years. Tomorrow (Monday the 18th February 20i8) will be the 50th anniversary recording of what is probably seen by historians, such as they are, of English free improvisation, as THE key recording of it’s early history. Rightly or wrongly - this is not really the place to debate whether there are more worthy examples. This is Karyobin (are the imaginary birds said to live in paradise). To give it it’s full title, prompted by Japanese Gagaru court music.

Martin Davidson of Emanem Records managed to get hold of the original masters, which had been eventually purchased from engineer Eddie Kramer by saxophonist Evan Parker, who arranged for their remastering for the CD, Emanem 5046.  (I have reverted to nerd-speak to acknowledge the obsessive nature of the previous ruminations about this recording, the LP version of which has always remained  extremely rare and collectible). The Emanem now replaces the 1993 Chronoscope release, with a sound that is much fairer to the rhythm section, and contains “more detail and a better balance” according to Parker, and I am not about to argue with free improv’s most respected and venerable representative, There are some new session photos taken by Jak Kilby in his early days, with particularly good ones of John Stevens’s kit with its small toms and mini-cymbols and of an intense Derek Bailey (called Dennis on the original sleeve) playing in Stevens’s foreground. It is salutary (given the stupendous size of their eventual output) to consider that this was Evan Parker’s very first (just in front of Brotzmann’s Machine Gun) commercial recording, as it was Bailey’s. The original LP came out on Island Records’ Hexagram subsidiary, apparently with the intention of it becoming a free improv feature, but it ended up as Island’s only dip into the nascent genre, once they saw that Traffic, Free and Fairport Convention were liable to shift many more units. CBS Records briefly took up the torch, with two records each by the Howard Riley Trio and Tony Oxley Groups. After that the music was reliant on the world on independent labels such as Incus and, later on, Emanem Records.

I got my book on the early days of English free improvisation out in 2015, just in time for the nominal 50th anniversary of the music, and I have been slightly disappointed about the lack of other books on the subject, which I thought might also come out in celebration. There were David Toop’s book on improvisation and John Corbett’s small introduction to the subject, but nothing else, as far as I am aware. It would be great to see alternative approached and viewpoints on this most creative of periods in English music.

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Banner and book cover photo credit: Jak Kilby