Twenty Years On
London Improvisers Orchestra
The New York City Jazz Record Review February 2020

The London Improvisers Orchestra (LIO) is one of the essential institutions of improvised music, a monthly gathering of some 30 musicians that has been convening since 1998, inevitably with some permutations in personnel each time, to explore large-scale, usually
conducted, improvisation. Along the way, it has demonstrated the variety and quality of music that canbe achieved by such an ensemble. With its cooperative spirit, mixed methodology and high level of performance, it has emerged as a model for others, including “Improvisers Orchestras” hailing from Glasgow, Berlin and Toronto.
The LIO dates from a fundamental crisis in group conception, the 1997 British tour of Butch Morris’ “Skyscraper” with an assemblage of British improvisers. There was, to put it mildly, a fundamental disagreement among many of the musicians with Morris’ methodology, from his fixed signals to the notion of an authoritarian head. The LIO has made the process far less dramatic and far more egalitarian. The role of conductor shifts several times in a performance
as do compositional ideas and every performance includes large-scale, conductor-free improvisations.In his liner essay, Evan Parker, a founder of the LIO and regular member for its first ten years, writes “The system of appointing a person with the kinds of power
Butch wanted is, in my view, only justified when a group has reached the size where individuals may have trouble hearing each other across the physical space.”
He adds, “The first concerts made it clear that there was never going to be an agreed system of signals.” Twenty Years On is not an easy work to absorb or even to ‘read’. There are two and a half hours of music here, 14 tracks from 11 different monthly performances
recorded between December 2015 and June 2018. Two (and a half) performances are identified as improvisations; 11 (and a half) are identified by conductors, seven of which have titles beyond the name of the conductor. No conductor appears more than once and the personnel listings—instrument, followed by names (in alphabetical order), followed by
track number(s) on which the musician appears—make it difficult to assemble mentally each individual ensemble. Struggling through the code, one discovers co-founder and pianist Steve Beresford (Parker calls him “at this point…surely spiritus rector [guiding spirit] of the LIO”) appears on 11 tracks, including one he also conducts; soprano saxophonist Adrian
Northover appears on 12; Theo Ziarkis, one of seven bassists, appears on ten, as does violinist Susanna Ferrar and Adam Bohman (objects). Other longtime contributors also appear frequently. Clarinetist Noel Taylor is here for nine, including one he conducts.
Others, often visitors, appear only once, like trumpeter Roland Ramanan, California reed master Vinny Golia and the brilliant Québécois alto saxophonist Yves Charuest; Swiss violist and vocalist Charlotte Hug appears only once as well, but it’s conductor Alison Blunt’s “Concerto for Charlotte Hug”, making it the one piece featuring a singular principal.
Further sorting out the separate lists for each CD to determine how many musicians appear altogether, or who appears on any given performance, would take substantial effort, contributing to a certain sense of anonymity as well as democracy about the music.
It really is the LIO, not a collection of stars but people dedicated to the possibilities (and thrill) of large-scale, relatively free, improvisation, the same thing that inspires groups that have appeared in its wake.
Do pieces and performances stand out? Yes, in some way all of them, but one has to single out some. “Rinse, Rondo for Orchestra”, conducted by Ashley Wales, is brilliantly organized, from the virtuoso violin soloing of Luiz Moretto to the pointillist punctuation of the winds in which high reeds and trumpets merge seamlessly. No one ‘writes’ for a section like the section itself, as Count Basie proved 80-odd years ago.
“Concerto for Charlotte Hug” is spectacular, not just for the irrepressible voice and viola of the subject but for the breadth and power of the evolving orchestration.
The music also lights up whenever the trombone choir, including Alan Tomlinson, appears.
This requires sustained and repeated listening to absorb its layered implications, but it’s also a social document, demanding a certain degree of commitment, even action.
It suggests that if you have a similar ensemble nearby, the least you could do is support it.

by Stuart Broomer

Twentieth Anniversary London Improvisers Orchestra,
Cafe Oto, London, 2 and 3 Decembre 2018
Review by Marcello Lorrai, for Il Manifesto.

For the piece that she conceived and conducted, violinist Alison Blunt distributed to the musicians and the audience some strips of paper with short texts and phrases to be interpreted freely, not necessarily in an integral way; for example, "Anarchism is democracy taken seriously", by the American ecologist/writer Edward Abbey. The musicians performed with vigour, and several spectators joined in a garble of declamations, whispers, shouts... a stentorian voice cried out repeatedly from the audience, convinced that "Nothing is yours!" Without a score, following the indications of Alison Blunt, moments in which the voices were more present alternated with other, more orchestral periods, with great symphonic-contemporary chords, with which the piece then finished. There were about thirty musicians performing, at least half of whom were women. They all came together for two evenings at Cafe Oto to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the London Improvisers Orchestra, playing strings, winds, pedal steel guitar, electronics, percussion, and the mundane objects that Adam Bohman lays out on his table and plays.

The musicians in the Twentieth Anniversary London Improvisers Orchestra have all  collaborated with the LIO at different times over the past 20 years; among them are some of the best-known names of the British free scene: Steve Beresford (piano), John Edwards (double bass), Sylvia Hallett (violin), Caroline Kraabel (alto sax), Neil Metcalfe (flute), the South African Louis Moholo (drums), Maggie Nichols (voice), Orphy Robinson (percusson), Pat Thomas (keyboards), Phil Wachsmann (violin), Annie Whitehead (trombone), Jason Yarde (sax/electronics). Kraabel, Beresford, Thomas and the saxophonist Evan Parker (who was absent on tour) were among the main animators of the LIO experience, born from the reflection of some of the musicians who had participated in a "conduction" tour led by Butch Morris in 1997. Among the improvisers involved on that occasion were some who had not appreciated the element of authoritarianism inherent in the "conduction" concept: in the sleeve-notes of the live double CD released in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the LIO (Twenty Years On), Evan Parker recalls the iconic Derek Bailey getting up and leaving thirty seconds after the start of a rehearsal, after Butch Morris told him that for the music to work, Bailey had to look at Butch. But some of Butch’s group wanted to experiment further with the potential of "conduction", in what became the London Improvisers Orchestra. The LIO has developed a system of conducting signals, but each of the "conductors" also uses their own cues: some direct with a baton, some with various types of gestures, some with small signs including letters of the alphabet, some, like Caroline Kraabel, include facial mimicry, some, like the Swiss Charlotte Hug - and this is perhaps the most unrealistic case - with a kind of action painting carried out with two big brushes; and then there are those, like Philipp Wachsman, who direct the whole group, while Pat Thomas gives more precise indications, choosing some instruments and combinations of instruments in a more selective way, rather than making everyone play.

In the notes to the album Twenty Years On Evan Parker says that a guided improvisation system is only legitimate when the dimensions of the group playing are such that individual improvisers can not hear the interplay of the entire group, whereas a conductor who is listening from the outside can have an overview. But of course things are not so simple: the conductor does not limit herself to "managing" improvisation, she has the physiognomy of a piece in hes head, and also "composes" the moment. This means that the element of individual improvisation is still in play alongside that of collective improvisation, which is fully present only in some passages that are not conducted. If free music is a great metaphor for non-authoritarian forms of society and politics, on an orchestral scale, as here, it touches on the very current theme of the tension between autonomy and its organisation.

London Improvisers Orchestra Twenty Years On 
LIO 001 double CD
28 November 2018
J-M van Schouwberg

The London Improvisers Orchestra is playing at the Café Oto this weekend to celebrate its twentieth anniversary, in honour of which they have also released this magnificent double CD of recent live recordings. Going beyond such institutions as the French ONJ, Barry Guy’s LJCO, Alex Von Sclippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra or the Italian Instabile Orchestra, which are all “professional” orchestras functioning exclusively with support from the state and/or invitations from heavy-weight cultural organisations in the network of European contemporary jazz festivals, the London Improvisers Orchestra defines itself as a communitarian territory anchored in London, with an ever-varying map; they perform live (at least) once each month. The orchestra came into existence in 1998, an initiative of Steve Beresford, Evan Parker and a few other people who had taken part in the 1997 tour by Lawrence Butch Morris’s London Skyscraper large improvising/conducted group, in which many of London’s most active improvisers played. Although most of these musicians had felt limited by Morris’s “conduction” methods, the prospect of bringing together a collective and communitarian orchestra using the basic “conduction” techniques was enough to entice a few dozen improvisers (and not just any old improvisers, indeed!) to come on a regular monthly basis to the Red Rose Club (now sadly defunct). The basic principle on which they operate is that each concert presents the member musicians who have been present for that afternoon’s rehearsal; sometimes these include guests (some from elsewhere) who have been specifically invited. Thus the instrumental composition of the group can vary a great deal from one concert to the next: with or without percussionists, more clarinets or fewer trombones, an added vibraphone or the absence of electronics. There have been occasions whan the group has contained only two saxophones, but a plethora of clarinets, woodwinds and flutes, or a string section of violins, violas or cellos; thus the sonorities of the LIO are very unpredictable. The (elected) co-ordinating committee selects ideas from each “leader” or conductor and determines the running order for each evening’s performance. Generally these “conductions” are directed using two-handed signals like those that were codified and popularised by Butch Morris, himself inspired by the drummer Charles Moffett, who lived in Califiornia at the time. Frank Zappa, who used these techniques as early as 1967, can be seen doing so on a 1968 video filmed by the BBC and available on YouTube. Some LIO “leaders” formulate mad or chance-based concepts combining several points of view, or excluding any notion of form – or they may realise extraordinary concerti, or convincing pieces of “contemporary music”. The LIO’s music is documented by a series of eight albums (on Emanem: and Psi): Proceedings; the Hearing Continues; Freedom of the City 2002; Responses Reproduction & Reality; Separately & Together with the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra; Improvisations for George Riste and Lio Leo Leon, as well as HMS Concert onKurukuku RecordingsAt the beginnings of the LIO, the sax section consisted of John Butcher, Lol Coxhill, Caroline Kraabel, Adrian Northover, Evan Parker and Harrison Smith, and the trombonists were Robert Jarvis, Paul Rutherford and Alan Tomlinson. The trumpets were Harry Beckett, Roland Ramanan and Ian Smith with clarinets Jacques Foschia, John Rangecroft and Alex Ward. Neil Metcalfe and Nancy Ruffer played flutes and the double bassists were John Edwards, Simon H. Fell and David Leahy, with guitarists John Bissett and Dave Tucker, and Steve Beresford and Veryan Weston (when Beresford was conducting) on piano. Cello was played by Marcio Mattos, violins were Susanna Ferrar, Sylvia Hallett and Phil Wachsmann; viola was played by Charlotte Hug, and percussion by Tony Marsh, Louis Moholo, Steve Noble, or Mark Sanders. Rhodri Davies played the harp and Pat Thomas played keyboards and electronics. Terry Day played flutes and home-made reeds, while Adam Bohman was on amplified and prepared objects. The principal characteristic of this extraordinary orchestra (whose personnel would make a continental festival organiser’s mouth water) is their experience of having drawn on the talent and imagination of a large number of different conductors, who have brought the orchestra an astounding multiplicity of ideas, processes and techniques; for example, Steve Beresford, Alison Blunt, Terry Day, Simon H. Fell, Caroline Kraabel, David Leahy, Adrian Northover, Paul Rutherford, Noël Taylor, Pat Thomas, Dave Tucker and Philipp Wachsmann, among many others… The LIO has been performing monthly without interruption until the present day, and has accumulated a stupendous turnover of musicians. My friend, the top-notch Belgian clarinettist Jacques Foschia, played with the orchestra when he was passing through London in June 2000, and was then (thanks to his great talent and enthusiasm) invited to participate in a more permanent manner. The extra value of this orchestra is expressed through the friendship and conviviality among its members, which leads to a quality of mutual listening and a particular receptivity. The group is also careful to allow space for the individuality of each – in ways that can sound playful, serious, improbable, logical, funny,  surprising, “contemporary”, conceptual or minimalist. Their practice has spread within the United Kingdom, for example to Glasgow, whose GIO (with which I’ve had the pleasure of playing) has itself recorded remarkable albums, among which is a joint release with the LIO (cf: Emanem CD Separately and Together)…. But there are also now improvising orchestras in Birmingham, Wuppertal, Vienna etc… During the Freedom of The City festivals that were organised during the 2000s by Evan Parker, Martin Davidson of Emanem and Eddie Prévost, the LIO was generally the centrepiece of the most beautiful evening, the final fireworks displaying with pride and subtlety the centrality of the collective to improvised music.
This is more than an assembly of “personalities”, taking solos – indeed, this is the most remarkable orchestra of its type, focussing on a detailed and interactive group sound and here setting free two hours of music that has never bored me, thanks to the grace in their collective agreement, their razor’s-edge capacity for intervention, the diversity of their approaches and their playfulness… the pleasure they take in playing and in their sounds. After residing at Café OTO for a certain amount of time, they are now at the IKLECTIK, just south of the Thames,  which is where these recordings were made between December 2015 and March 2018; the fourteen documents on this Twenty Years On CD illustrated on the cover by the improviser in drawings, Julie Pickard, who is often present and drawing during LIO concerts. After twenty years the “unstable” personnel of the group has changed a great deal, opening up opportunities for local talented female and male improvisers with vast experience in diverse and interesting musical domains; for example, BJ Cole, a well-known studio pedal steel player adored by rock stars.
Here completely free improvisations alternate with conducted pieces, and it’s often impossible to distinguish by listening whether a piece is a total improvisation or if the orchestra is being directed – all of the individual and collective interventions sound so apt. Therefore I recommend this double album for the good and simple reason that Twenty Years On absolutely illustrates those famous lines by Derek Bailey on the most essential characteristics of free improvisation, as spoken by Lol Coxhill on the Company album entitled “Fictions”, and taken from his (DB’s) book,  Improvisation. Its Nature and Practice in Music.  Evan Parker relates the genesis of the group in his liner notes, although he does not appear on the CD itself – in part because he now lives outside of London. We know that the informed “continental” amateur takes into consideration the presence of “well-known/ notorious” names before allowing herself to be impressed by these kinds of orchestral procedures. It’s true that certain unforgettable personalities from this scene have left the LIO behind: RIP Paul Rutherford, Lol Coxhill, Ray Warleigh and Harry Beckett; others have taken a break because they’ve left London or have other commitments: Evan Parker, John Edwards, Simon H Fell, Steve Noble, Mark Sanders and Pat Thomas. In the context of the LIO, it is now evident that the presence today of talented improvising musicians with a solid foundation of adaptability and creativity makes the group just as effective as did that of some of the internationally respected and “historic” creators in past incarnations of the LIO. Some musicians who may seem less stylistically original individually here reveal themselves capable of making an optimal and instantaneous contribution within such an orchestra by realising or even forseeing the intentions of the conductors. Another important factor is way the weight of ego quickly evaporates once the group gets going. I attended more than ten LIO concerts during the 2000s, and established bonds of friendship with some of its members. In fact, I was invited to perform as a “soloist” in a piece conducted by Adrian Northover in March 2017. Many of the LIO musicians work together in other long-lasting groupings; the orchestra has become the ideal meeting point for new perspectives on creation. Beyong the flourishing individual friendships, an intense and respectful relational rapport and a solidarity of positive intentions have developed over these two decades; all of this is tangible in the living music one sees and hears onstage. I’ve heard many performances by the great “directed” improvising orchestras, but nowhere else have I felt so strongly the intensity of mutual listening, the lived cameraderie and the collective common cause that exist here. For those who are already familiar with all or some of the preceding albums – the last Psi date was from 2010, and the HMS concert from 2012 – these recordings provide complementary documentation. After their sensational beginnings, interest in the LIO may have, for a time, slightly declined in a city where one can often find several concerts of improvised music programmed each evening… But this year has seen a revival of interest, with the LIO being programmed at the London Jazz Festival and the Twentieth Anniversary LIO at Café Oto. So please take the opportunity to discover Yves Charuest, Caroline Kraabel, Yoni Silver, Noel Taylor, David Leahy, Inga Eichler, Theo Zirakas, Ulf Mengersen, Neil Metcalfe, Julian Elvira, Rowland Sutherland, Douglas Benford, Adam Bohman, Ben Brown, Dave Tucker, Jerry Wigens, Cristabel Riley, Terry Day, Dave Fowler, Egesu Kaymak, John Bissett, Paolo Duarte, Sian Brie, Martin Vishnick, Sue Lynch, Adrian Northover, Harrison Smith, Caroline Kraabel, Dave Jago, Ed Lucas, Robert Jarvis, Alan Tomlinson, Loz Speyer, Dawid Frydryk, Roland Ramanan, David Aird, David Powell, Steve Beresford, Veryan Weston, Phil Wachsmann, Alison Blunt, Olivia Moore, Pei Ann Yeoh, Susan Ferrar, Sylvia Hallett and the mnay other musicians who participated in these recordings of improvised music in its purest state. Certain indescribable passages liberate a welcome lunacy in the listener, and others allow one to share in the group’s collective experience and momentum.


The Wire 420, February 2019
review of LIO 20 Years On double CD
by Julian Cowley

  ‘Composer and conducter: king and prime minister.’ John Cage’s deliberately provocative equation, formulated in his 1974 essay ‘The Future of Music’, performs a variation on Henry Thoreau’s well known declaration of American anarchism, ‘That government is best that governs not at all.’ When Californian cornet player, composer and conductor Butch Morris visited London in 1997 and involved local musicians in that practice of steered improvisation that he called conduction, he sparked heated debate on the rival claims of creative autonomy and collective action. Derek Bailey famously packed his guitar and strode away. Others, including Evan Parker and Steve Beresford, stayed and subsequently organised the London Improvisers Orchestra to adapt and further explore possibilities opened up by Morris.
In the 20 years since its inception LIO has attracted numerous and diverse participants while remaining a lively forum for informed debate. A regular social gathering with an unpredictably changing, cross-generational line-up, it has prove to be a fertile testing ground for musical options. This compilation of pieces recorded since 2015 celebrates the kaleidoscopic character of LIO’s large group dynamics and the imaginative sweep of its investigations. The first of 14 varied tracks is an unconducted free improvisation, feeding from its own metabolic energy. Sweet Freedom then sets Terry Day’s euphoric recitation within a coordinated fabric of instrumental crests and curls, punctuated with emphatic ensemble surges. The measured counterpoint and overt musical allusiveness of Ashley Wales’s Rinse, Rondo for Orchestra lead LIO onto terrain that is markedly different from the vortical topology, swirl planes and frictive textures that arise when Philipp Wachsmann is at the helm. The close weave and sinuous interplay of Alison Blunt’s Concerto for Charlotte Hug are quite distinct from the volatile circulation and provisional alignments of contrasting instrumental and electronic voices within Steve Beresford’s untitled contribution.
Of course, those contentious issues arising from composition and conducting, expressed with such aphoristic pungency by Cage, persist. But in this music they are tempered with a degree of self-reflexive awareness that circumscribes the exercise of control. Improvisation, solo or collective, needs to avoid self-replication. Technical self-assurance can easily curb reflection and breed mannerisms. LIO’s identity is refreshed when the presiding personality changes. Potential pitfalls may remain, but these recordings show LIO continuing to fulfil its commitment, making steady yet surprising advances, as saxophonist Caroline Kraabel observes, ‘towards fresh communion, new ways of knowing’.

Friday, February 1, 2019
London Improvisers Orchestra! Twenty Years On!

We have a record in front of us, which was, perhaps ... the most important event of the last year on the European improvised music scene. Extremely surprisingly, it was not visible in the annual summaries and addresses responsible for promoting the genre, going almost unnoticed. Perhaps we are the only ones who noticed its appearance.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen – after almost a decade of phonographic silence – the latest recording by the London Improvisers Orchestra!!! Just what was needed on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of its wonderful existence!
In the extended liner notes by Evan Parker, we read a funny story, about the small protest that arose in the LIO against the conduction methods of Butch Morris himself. During the first decade of the band's existence, its concerts were meticulously documented by EMANEM Records, curated by Martin Davidson, and on his sublabel Psi Records, led artistically by Evan Parker. The musicians played once a month in London’s famous Red Rose Club, and the discs delighted our ears again and again (there were a total of nine of them; the later HMS Concert, released as a CD-r in 2012, is completely unavailable, I never heard it personally – if anyone has, let them share this happiness!). The famous colorful building of the Red Rose was eventually closed, probably in 2007. The orchestra was peripatetic after that, playing in various venues, and after 2010, even (I think?) fell silent for some time.
More or less in the middle of the present decade, the LIO settled in London's IKLECTIK, and the practice of making music in a lifelong way has returned in all its glory. In truth, I do not know who became the main organiser of the project at that time (in the previous decade it was, unexpectedly, Evan Parker himself). The live events were the best way to hear this music, but the phonographic releases were in any case hard to find even in good music stores.
Luckily, to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Orchestra, the musicians closed their ranks and released their own  Double CD, which today – let us anticipate the course of events a bit – delights us from the first to the last sound! By the way, the editorial determination of the Londoners embarrassed everyone without exception among publishers of improvised music on both sides of the Great Water!
On the 20 Years On disc, we find – in contrast to previous LIO albums – a selection of recordings from many concerts. Exactly 14 fragments from 11 concerts that took place in IKLECTIK, between December 2015 and June 2018. Two silver discs, including 67 musicians, almost 150 minutes of great music. Therefore, all devotees, or indeed those interested, almost immediately achieve the state of permanent orgasm (quote the classic). Below we will comment on each of the works included in the publication, indicating its title, the time of creation and the conductor's details, and for a full list of the participants of all concerts, we will recommend the LIO website.
Improvisation, June 2018: A quiet conversation among musicians, good friends from the yard, some rascals, but artistically very responsible. A climate of call & response, quite freely treated. A series of small sounds coming into agile interaction. A party of percussion, a growing wealth of dainty narratives, free and loose statements. Several exhibitions that we could describe, again nourishing the nomenclature of John Stevens, more sustained pieces, and after them the music calms down. London Improvisers Orchestra in a state of pure, free improvisation, meaning without a conductor!
Sweet Freedom, Terry Day, December 2015: A disappointing pass of strings, and the classic melorecitation of British veteran drummer Terry Day – here, almost in accordance with the title, dedicated to Sunny Murray and Albert Ayler. It seems that the whole Orchestra accompanies the temperamental leader. Gentle flutes, cheerful piano, also the power of beautiful, short-lived explosions of collective emotions. Symphonic almost-counterpoint, everything to emphasise the sweet dimension of the verbal message.
Veryan Weston / Improvisation, July 2016. Piano preparations, supported by percussion and the power of electroacoustic objects. The heart-breaking focus of the strings, and then the calm narrative of the detainees, in a delicate opposition to the former. An example of a slightly disheveled land ... gentleness. Also a grammar of fierce violin and swinging saxophone. Clever, strongly controlled improvisation. In the second part, the piano, which comes into a state of confrontation with an extensive pack of deciaks. There are also very active guitars. Right after this, Weston takes his hands off the control panel and lets the ensemble play sweetly, a beautiful picture of the chaos of free improvisation in a large group. And for the final drone, many people.
Rinse, Rondo for Orchestra, Ashley Wales, May 2016. Extensive exhibition of strings performing various techniques – really flashy! Dance on glass! Next comes piano, straight from the keyboard, richly! The whole narrative in a sharp gallop. In the background, a quiet pass of decathors, played as though from a small bunk. Strings in compulsive repetition, worthy of Steve Reich and his trains. After calming down – a gesture, a moving metaphorical philharmonia. It seems that the fragments precisely conducted by the master of drum'n'bass from Spring Heel Jack, Ashley Wales, is the best episode of this album! On the final return of the repetitions, in the background there is a bloody, dying sound, from which the final drone recovers.
Improvisation, March 2016. Another free trip to the forest! The structure of this piece appears more or less as follows: a top layer of detachable instruments, a dry layer of string sonoristics and a low band of detachments. Choices are fully free, but there is also a permanent focus, and sense of responsibility for every sound. A truly collective joy of creation and consistency in action. The entire ensemble plays, with spots for analogue electronics in a gesture like a rapper interacting with the acoustic sound.
Concerto For Charlotte Hug, Alison Blunt, October 2016. Here they definitely take matters into their own hands. United Kingdom strings and beautiful sounds. The narrative is born from the very bottom of silence and glimmers with a strong support of the bass clarinet. The story is woven with feminine affection and a bit of masculine madness. Of course, the role of the titular Hug in this role is important. Sonority of the agile throat, sliding half-limbs on the hot viola fretboard, probably also a pinch of theatrical expression. The band of strings goes for the golden fleece, having an ally in the prepared piano. Wrestling and fireworks, escalation, escalating. Singing of small strings and counterpoints of the bass. On the final straight another sound appears, also voice, with a glare of low sounds. Bravo!
Drone Study, Tasos Stamou, December 2015. A title that promises a lot and delivers everything without blinking. Low murmurs of two double basses and three cellos for a good start. They grow beautiful. Beside this detachment, there are other equally expressive greetings, after which everything deliberately delaminates, to the level of small groups, and even a single instrument. The subsequent return to the multi-star narration is carried out like precision engineering. Conducting here is a really high flight! After another shattering of the formation, strings, wooden and tin platters. In the ninth minute, a small section of sonoristics from the muffled winds. In response, strings sailing in a sad, low baroque – but... miracle! The final gesture is made by the musicians who find another drone. What a game!
Outside and Inside, Adrian Northover, July 2017 Woods and brass in an ecstatic introduction, wide lava goes. There is also a pinch of philharmonic singing and piano, which, together with double bass, is plotting a modest, jazz intrigue. In response, the scissors and saxophones are very painful. Interesting accents of the cello in dialogue with the Northover saxophone (?). The narration is interwoven with rich interactions, stylish call & response, here and there also a portion of individual exposure or duets. Also collective unisons, as proof that the volatility of shares in space and time is the dominant feature of this conducting. Outside and inside, so go again!
Une Note ... Caroline Kraabel, March 2018. Small stocks, agile tips, the dilemma of call & response over search & reflect. At the beginning, only a few instruments ­– flute, viola, piano, guitar ... When the next one comes in, the narrative is built on many levels, as if the number of command posts is growing. Trombone beautifully exposes its sound against the background of the orchestra unison. A few beads from griffins of small strings. Lasting eight minutes, this is a compact formation, marching on the happiness of improvisers. Swinging piano, soprano squealing and murmuring of the tuba. Whatever you want! Meticulous, precise to the millimeter, the completion of a story.
Noel Taylor, February 2017. Percussive introduction to three human beings. Male wooden games with brass; sensuous, stringed drones. Piano flares up against the latter. Also a pinch of melody, woven like a paper dictate. Charmingly beautiful! Deciaki goes into it, like in butter! Next comes the active percussion again, and then a fantastic exhibition of the soprano role. Ten minutes is a moment of real madness on the griffins of small strings that sound like they were boosted by an electric current. Also trumpet and double bass, and a thousand more, but nevertheless successful ideas for the development of improvisation.
Guilherme Peluci, February 2017. A short but quite special item in the set. Enter the foam in the company of the scorcher choir! Small talk, clamor of preparations, also voices! Dry strings in a slow march. Human voices next to us, like a venomous weasel in the hunt. Convulsive percussion and the beautiful chaos of human nature, determined by a scream.
Philipp Waschmann, May 2017. Starting from the sound-level of quiet strings in a sonoristic drift, with percussion and electroacoustic objects. Small sounds, bells, a very active background – noise, shuffling, tapping reeds & brass seem to be embarking on a journey towards acoustic pladhrophony – how sensual! The high temples of the double basses, the symphonic scale of the deciaks. And then everything shifts towards the gestural, through the warmth of the piano. Nine minutes in and the contrabass is playing again, which clears the field with its agile pizzicato. A few comments from other strings, and the trails slowly dissolves in the vapour of growing silence.
Collective / Co-operate, Dave Tucker, December 2017. Trombone grunts from their three large bells. Next comes the percussion and dry sonorities from the tuba. Delicate piano, bells, a kind of calm before the storm. Like the original narrative! A boring saxophone, collective unison on small strings, piano in the role of accompaniment. Great dialogue with the alto sax. Finally, the triumphant return of the trombones, the clarinet band, millions of tiny sounds, change changing. Sad, nostalgic tones and salvos of convulsive laughter.
Steve Beresford, December 2017. Horrifying murmurs from the double bass and the even lower satiated tuba. After several dozen seconds, there are more strings, a trombone retinue, clarinet, as well as electroacoustic preparations. With the entry of the electric guitars a narrative gesture is born, a salvo of percussion is propped up. Currents are pulsating, and inversely oniric passage on the strings. A mysterious, ominous-sounding stage situation. A high alto exhibition, next to the commentary of another clog, and in the background sizzle on the cables. The story grows towards escalation. A pinch of noise and dark ambient reverberation. The effective finale is supported by Klaus Bru on C melody sax and electronics, as we learn from the commentary.

London Improvisers Orchestra
20 Years On
LIO LIO 001 ★★★

Edwin Pouncey , Jazzwise magazine.

In the tradition of such former free music ensembles as John Stevens’s
The Spontaneous Music Orchestra, Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra and Amsterdam’s Instant Composer’s Pool (to namejust a few), London Improvisers Orchestra’s unique brand of (mostly) conducted orchestral improvisation is a highly regarded lasting survivor.
To celebrate their 20th anniversary, they have released a selection of performances, recorded at IKLECTIK in South London between 2015 and 2018. Made up of conducted compositions (or “conductions”, as Butch Morris named them in1997) and flurries of subconsciously crafted improvisation, the pieces push and pull in different directions, each pulsing with a distinctivelife force. Featuring such notable players as Veryan Weston, Phillip Waschmann and Steve Beresford among its ranks, this live (and occasionally lively) two-disc set showcases LIO at the height oftheir creative prowess – as they channel strange strains of modern composition, disjointed jazz, drone music and urgent blasts of noise through their vast arsenal of instruments, objects and voices.
For those who are curious to know where UK improvisation has been and the direction it’s taking today, this sprawling collection is the ideal primer.


London Improvisers Orchestra, Ronnie Scott's,

This night presented two left-field acts, as far from the jazz mainstream as you could wish. Rating: * * * *

16 Aug 2010
Ronnie Scotts famous jazz club has become a stop on the tourists itinerary, but if any tourists had dropped in to this gig in the expectation of an undemanding night out they would have had a very nasty shock. Ronnie Scott;s has been hosting a two-week long celebration of British jazz, and on this night it was the turn of two left-field acts, as far from the jazz mainstream as you could wish.....around 30 players were squeezed on to Ronnie Scott's stage, playing Japanese shamisen, violins, saxes, brass and the odd balloon.
What they do is free improvising, which is the musical equivalent of hang-gliding. The players simply launch off, with no style or pre-set form, no beat to follow, nothing but the billowing currents of everyone else's sound to guide them.
A sceptic might ask what distinguishes joyous anarchy from unholy mess in this kind of music. But these musicians are old hands at this game, and they know that freedom reveals itself best when there's a structure of some kind. Both the nearly half-hour long pieces alternated between purely free episodes and sections where one player came to the front and moulded the ebb and flow of sound with hand-gestures.
Fluttering fingers conjured splintered sounds, like ground glass being scattered, while a raised arm produced a surprisingly grand, rough-edged euphony, as if the earth and air were singing a chorale.
In the second piece saxophonist Jason Yarde was the guest soloist, which brought a new flavour, but didn't alter the joyous sense of total democracy. Anarchy in life would be hell, but in music it can produce a kind of utopia.

By The Telegraph



London Improvisers Orchestra, Ronnie Scott’s, London

Published: August 12 2010 17:49 | Last updated: August 12 2010 17:49
Free improvisation at its best immerses players and audience in an unfolding and all-encompassing collective logic. It is an intensely personal world that can disintegrate into a self-absorbed cacophony, or develop a musical language so idiosyncratic that nobody outside the magic circle can relate to it.
One fail-safe is to keep numbers to a minimum. Matt Bourne and Pete Wareham’s freewheeling piano and saxophone duet, which opened this double bill, was intimate and highly accessible. Spidery thumps and keyboard drizzles were interspersed with diatonic arpeggios and oddly funky bass lines, and there were engaging contrasts between the dynamics of Bourne’s acoustic grand and Wareham’s subtle electronics that made his staccato saxophone shapes into ghostly echoes.
The London Improvisers Orchestra has a different solution. The big band includes electronics, two drummers and the occasional oddity – the 23 pieces included an i-Phone and a balloon. It has been around for 13 years and its members are extraordinarily sensitive to nuance. But by using its own musicians to conduct, the LIO can mould the blares and moans of free jazz into extra coherence and accessibility. At this gig it presented four “conductions”, each spliced together by undirected improvisation. Each conductor had a radically different style, making for rich textural differences.
Violinist Alison Blunt used pointy fingers, puckered lips and waving arms to conjure vibrant contrasts, sharp dynamics and orchestral glissandi. Caroline Kraabel followed, nodding in approval at the space and scamper she created, whereas the finale was as emphatic as the fist that conductor Dave Tucker drove into the palm of his hand.
Saxophonist Jason Yarde joined for pianist Steve Beresford’s precise baton-pointing conduction, firing off ferocious alto. The orchestra echoed, amplified and developed Yarde’s phrases, rustled up riffs and added the occasional roar, though it was Terry Day’s preceding half-sung Bohemian rant at the human condition that stole the show.

By Mike Hobart
Financal Times



Chris Searle
Morning Star



Reviews of "The Hearing Continues", first LIO Cd on Emanem (4203):

"A quick look at the name of this ensemble brings to mind Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers' Orchestra, but then one centres in on a key difference. So what is the difference between an Improvisers Orchestra and a Composers' Orchestra? While Guy pulled together the LJCO and acted as its guiding force, the London Improvisers Orchestra is more of a collective unit with no single leader. They were originally assembled in the fall of '97 to tour a conduction by Butch Morris. The line-up was culled from an impressive range of London-based improvisers, crossing generations as well as stylistic strategies. With a membership of 30-40 musicians, this aggregation meets on the first Sunday of every month at the Red Rose in North London. What this phenomenal gathering of reed players (11), string players (11), pianists (3), percussionists (4), brass players (4), along with various members playing electronics, bamboo pipes, and "objects (some amplified)" offers is a group of open-minded, adventurous artists who are committed to exploring new strategies for large-scale improvisation in a truly orchestral setting. And all of this might easily be undocumented were it not for the grace of Martin Davidson's Emanem label, which has released this, the second 2-CD recording of this startling music. So back to the question; what is this Improvisers Orchestra?
Well, they are certainly an orchestra that dives in headfirst to collective, spontaneous large-group explorations as documented on Proceeding 3 and Proceeding 4 which kick off each CD of this set. These are complexly nuanced interactions full of dynamic modulations that seem next to impossible considering the overwhelming number of participants. Yet they pull it off with impressive collective interplay.
But this orchestra also provides a striking, expanded setting for the members to explore compositional frameworks for improvisation (which kind of gets back to being composers, doesn't it?) Of course with musicians like these, compositional frameworks take on all sorts of guises. A few highlights include Alex Ward's How Can You Delude Yourself? is a piece that has only two 'rules'. The first is that whenever a player hears the smallest amount of silence, they must start playing to fill the gap. The second is that when anyone becomes aware that there are two others beside themselves that are playing, they must immediately stop. With two instructions that constantly cancel each other out, the ensemble is thrown into a dynamic hyper-awareness and the music leaps and lurches around with needlepoint give-and-take until a collective conclusion almost magically emerges.
Simon Fell's Morton's Mobile takes its inspiration from Morton Feldman, and serves to focus around specific sustained chords drawing out an extended sense of harmonic shading and subtly gradated, hovering momentum. Dave Tucker's Red Rose Theme says more about the theme of spontaneously conducted improvisation than it does about thematic material as the foundation of a composition, with its caterwauling sections for Hans Koch's contrabass clarinet, the woody chalmeau of Alex Ward's clarinet, and the grumbled textures of Alan Tomlinson's trombone tumbling over Adam Bohman's 'scraped objects'.
Knut Aufermann's Birthday Piece revolves around the use of numbered cards as a cueing device. The simple rule is to 'play when the number shown is part of the date of your birth'. What this leads to is a constantly shifting transition between sub-groupings of players that ought to be disjointed mayhem but ends up being a study in detailed, conversational pointillism. In lesser hands, these compositional strategies could come off as mere contrivance. Instead, they serve as fertile springboards for collective discovery.
Two pieces for smaller group improvisations provide a chance to focus on particular sections of the orchestra. Dingos Creep for saxophone sextet (Tom Chant, Evan Parker, Caroline Kraabel, Adrian Northover, John Butcher and Garry Todd) bring a compositional sense to the six-way spontaneous interaction as the six horns weave a web of lace-like delicacy. Lines criss-cross and slowly converge on hovering chords, only to arch off again with tightrope control that only comes from the most unwavering attention. Music for Pianos, Percussion & Harp offers the unique opportunity to hear the piano interactions of Pat Thomas, Steve Beresford, and Veryan Weston with harpist Rhodri Davies joined by percussionists Mark Sanders, Louis Moholo, Tony Marsh, and Steve Noble. The piece evolves as a masterful study in textures and contrasts.
Throughout, the crystalline studio recording captures every subtlety while managing to create a sense of the musicians filling the room with sound. So in the end, an Improvisers Orchestra provides a setting for the members to explore and improvise; a setting to test out strategies for guiding a collective ensemble as an organic process; and a vital laboratory for a spontaneously evolving group of dedicated musicians. Kudos of course to Emanem for documenting this amazing endeavour for those of us not lucky enough to make it to the Red Rose."



"This is the second recording by the London Improvisers Orchestra and, as good as the first one was, this one is even better. What is most impressive about this aggregation is its democratic approach.
The two Proceedings here seem to indicate the extra year's existence. The group seems much more focused and well-directed. Ensemble sections tend to emerge and recede into the group as a whole much better than they did on the first LIO disc. Dingo's Creep is an improv for the saxophone section (six members strong) which starts from a series of deliberately pecked phrases from Evan Parker which gradually fill out into a sextet, in which the saxophonists slip unobtrusively in, around and through each other's lines. Music for Pianos, Percussion and Harp uses another subset of the orchestra to create a unique textural exploration. The first section consists of the pianists and Rhodri Davies' harp. With the pianists exploring the insides of the piano as much as the keyboard part, the pianos almost become harps themselves. When the percussionists enter, the piece becomes a barrage of wood, skin and strings. It's a well-modulated improvisation (as are all the unconducted improvisations).
The more formal pieces are no less interesting. Simon Fell's Morton's Mobile was inspired by a hearing of a (composed) work by Morton Feldman where the materials gave the music the impression of the flexibility of an improvisation. Fell attempted to use the same devices for this improvisers' group. The musicians carry it off with aplomb (at least to these ears). For Pat Thomas' Pulse Piece the orchestra is divided into subsections, each being assigned a different pulse (different from a beat or rhythm.. it has more to do with a musician's sense of flow) which at its apex creates a remarkable mass of orchestral tension.
The LIO has in a short time become one of the most formidable large groups working in music. They sound like an edgier version of what has now become the venerable London Jazz Composers Orchestra, with a flexible but surprisingly consistent membership, and a generous approach to compositional chores, they have created a remarkable thing: a contemporary big band capable of free improvisation as well as compositions and conductions. Let's hope the hearing continues even further."



"Highlights include both Proceeding 3 and Proceeding 4, much stronger than the two corresponding pieces found on the ensemble's first album. Weston's Concerto for Soft-Loud Key-Box is a beautiful piece of cynical humour as the orchestra mimics a more traditional version of itself. For How Can You Delude Yourself?, Alex Ward gave the orchestra two simple but counter-effective directives: whenever nothing is played, you must play something immediately; whenever more than two other musicians than yourself are playing, you must stop. The resulting piece evolves from timid staccatos to orchestral punches - very entertaining. The same comment applies to David Leahy's Prior to Freedom, where at one point all musicians are asked to play whatever they were playing before turning to the free improv scene. The resulting cacophony of Beethoven, rock, jazz standards, and miscellaneous bits is simply hilarious.
THE HEARING CONTINUES documents a much stronger ensemble, fully matured, who still follows the 'laboratory' concept but with better results. This album is simply one of the best examples of a creative orchestra and presents one of the highest talent-per-cubic-feet ratio in history."


"The Orchestra improvises piece for the most part within rules or directions set by individual members. Some inevitably work better than others, and it's not always easy to predict which from the instructions. A favourite for me is Concerto for Soft-Loud Key-Box, a piano concerto created and played by Veryan Weston and conducted by Steve Beresford in the manner and form of a classical concerto. Equally effective but strikingly different is Morton's Mobile by Simon H Fell (drawing elements from a piece by Morton Feldman) that calls on the musicians to improvise with minimal material. At the end of the day, however, the most lively and affective pieces are the freely improvised tracks, though the compositional devices offer fascinating oblique views of the Orchestra's collective consciousness and provoke welcome reappraisal of the art of improvisation."



Reviews of LIO CD Freedom of the City 2001

"If there is doubt that improvised music can be successfully performed by Large groups, then the dozen players, 10 strings + two electronic manipulators, that constitute Strings with & without Evan Parker put this conjecture to rest. Trick on the Speed of Making It is half an hour of beautifully sustained motion, serene even. The second piece, with the addition of EP, ups the ante, his free-flowing melodic soprano carrying the orchestra along with new urgency.
The grand finalé is the complete concert of the 39-strong London Improvisers Orchestra. Each of the conductors utilises the orchestra in a quite different manner: Dave Tucker (Flower of Flesh and Blood) establishes the organic p ower, the vibrant character of the orchestra. Gigantic! Simon H Fell's Morton's Mobile, in contrast, is closer to breathing, subdued, the feeling set by two pianos at extreme pianissimo instilling the hushed stasis the composer was seeking. Caroline Kraabel's Group Dynamics Around the Slide is unsettling in its triangulated conduction. Steve Beresford, a talented bloke, always investigating, brings out elements that are not always obvious with his Concerto for Sylvia Hallett, herself the soloist. Superb! Phil Wachsmann's Double Rainbow, a compelling rolling tumble finding crescendos, has a certain spatial urgency involving the conductor as an integral element in the orchestra. The spiky, scurrying drama of Knut Aufermann's Birthday Piece using number boards (1-80) with the players looking for their possible birth dates as a cue, causing an ever changing stream of random sub-groups. In Terry Day's unusual piece he simultaneously conducts and recites his poem/composition An If, But, To and When which he describes as being 'about Dagenhamness; of an attitude born from an impoverished cultural background.' An admission of his roots. Formidable. And the grand finale, apparently a tradition, the London Improvisers Orchestra left to their own devices for a 33-minute free improvisation. To quote Martin Davidson, 'The performance goes through a whole kaleidoscope of aural colours and feelings. It's all to do with listening as much as playing - one of the hallmarks of the London improvising scene.' Couldn't have said it better myself."



"Unlike its companion release, SMALL GROUPS, this double CD only features two ensembles Strings with (and without) Evan Parker, and the London Improvisers Orchestra. In recent years, both have made very significant contributions both to the Emanem catalogue and to improvised music. As with the small groups release, this one provides a good way to sample these two ensembles, without investing in their own multiple disc releases. (Those who have already invested will doubtless want this new material.)
Large groupings are notoriously difficult settings for improvisation; at their worst, they can easily degenerate into a cacophony of individual voices with little or no relation to each other. In two very different ways, these ensembles have addressed and overcome that issue.
Strings with Evan Parker do so by using an instrumentation with its own internal unity; the strings here (including four violins, two cellos, two guitars and double bass) rarely sound in conflict and largely gel together. They sound quite different with and without Parker. Alone, they adopt a slowly evolving, laid-back approach that is occasionally punctuated by Hugh Davies' amplified strings and springs, or by Kaffe Matthews' reprocessed sampled sounds. When Parker joins them, the strings become more animated and energised, in response to the harsher sound of the saxophone.
LIO address the size issue mainly by ceding control to a series of composer/conductors drawn from their ranks. LIO grew out of Butch Morris's visit to London in 1997, in which he fulfilled the composer/conductor role with the large London Skyscraper grouping. Ever since, LIO have met and performed monthly, establishing a variable but largely stable personnel and a great sense of camaraderie. The musicians' familiarity with and respect for each other pays obvious dividends.
The compositions/conductions that the ensemble play are open to great differences in performance, as comparisons between the studio versions and these live renditions of Simon H. Fells Mortons Mobile and Knut Aufermann's Birthday Piece reveal. Rather than being prescriptive, the compositions provide organising principles that serve to tame the grouping's power and prevent cacophony. When they do let rip, as on sections of a recitation by Terry Day, they can be quite overwhelming. However, the closing piece is a long free improvisation that demonstrates the orchestra's particular ability to listen to each other and produce sensitive music without any composer/conductor."



"Emerging from a supportive community, FOTC's participants readily display a willingness to learn from each other as they explore the wealth of possible permutations within their number. For example, the String ensemble opening the LARGE GROUPS set with two length improvisations are sufficiently elastic in conception to incorporate Chris Burn's piano, Hugh Davies on amplified springs and strings, and Kaffe Matthews wielding laptop sampler from a seat in the audience, as well as nine string players. The opener unfurls gradually, a rolling continuum of small gestures with spots of turbulence and stretches of tranquillity, made strange in places by the mournful wailing of Sylvia Hallett's sarangi. For the second piece the string players are joined by Evan Parker, whose soprano sax spins and darts over a steady yet variegated surface of rubbed and plucked sounds.
The remainder of the double-album is given over to the flourishing London Improvisers Orchestra, a massive group that here channels huge energies through seven compositions for improvisers, the shifts into full improvisatory mode for an exhilarating final half-hour. There were 39 members in attendance, but skilled listening, shared understanding and shrew conducting keeps the juggernaut on course throughout. The depth of the total group sound is awesome. Reined in, as on Simon H Fell's Morton's Mobile, the LIO broods magnificently. The entire programme is invigorating, but Terry Day's recitation of his poem An if, but, to and when, punctuated by the return of the fabulous rampaging herd, is specially irresistible."

Reviews of the LIO CD Freedom of the City 2002 (Emanem 4090)

Excerpts from reviews:

"The 2002 festival recording opens with Simon H Fell's Too Busy for orchestra and pre-recorded sound, a requiem for drummer John Stevens. The pre-recorded material includes church bells, electronics, applause and Stevens speaking and playing solo. In recognisable Fell style, the music embraces disparate elements that coincide or collide in rich simultaneity. There's a marvellous translucent quality to quieter passages, like hearing through fine veils of layered sound, something like the hazy evocation that Charles Ives created with The Housatonic at Stockbridge. The voice of Terry Day, a drumming contemporary of Stevens, surfaces to pay tribute near the end.
Day's own Ruthless follows, a shrewd poetic weighing of fame and anonymity. He delivers a memorable performance, enacting the words, activating meaning, and the orchestra responds, repeatedly erupting into turbulence, the setting back into a light and agile percussive continuum. Steve Beresford's Concerto for Paul Rutherford is a 'conduction', with Beresford steering the improvising ensemble while trombonist Rutherford playes without external guidance of any kind. A tribute to Rutherford, Beresford's Concerto also acknowledges the springboard for LIO provided by Butch Morris.
Mamosa, a highly disciplined listening percussion trio featuring Tony Marsh, Louis Moholo and Mark Sanders marks mid-point in the programme. Paul Rutherford's Phone In, for orchestra and mobile phones, follows John Cage's advice that if you find a sound really irritating you should incorporate it into a piece of music. A tapestry of timbral contrasts, including sumptuous bass clarinets, double basses, violins, vibes, clipped trumpet tones, drums, chattering saxophones and razor-edged electronics, suffers unseemly interruption from trite mobile ringtones.
Electric guitarist Dave Tucker's Giallo is a highly effective ad hoc conduction that builds layers of sustained tones gradually and inexorably from hush to the brink of pandemonium. The set closes with violinist Philipp Wachsmann's Fanfare for LIO, alternating lean strings and ebullient wind instruments while making the audience participate in an exploration of shifting moods and spatial relationships."



"The seven pieces presented here have been taken from the performance at the 2002 Freedom of the City festival. Not strong enough to top the studio set THE HEARING CONTINUES, this album still lives up to expectations and delivers a hearty 77 minutes of focused group improvisation to prove once more than this ensemble is unique (yes, the star-studded roaster speaks for itself, although it goes way beyond that) and that large-scale structured improvisation is possible after all. Simon H. Fell's Too Busy adds pre-recorded sounds to the orchestra, but the blend is seamless and the piece ranks as a highlight - thanks to the laboratory that is the LIO, Fell is becoming a first-rate composer for improvisers. Ruthless features an energetic Terry Day spitting out a poem about punk attitude and the temptation of fame. The piece gets almost violently eventful. A bit disappointing is the Concerto for Paul Rutherford, part of Steve Beresford's ongoing series of improvised 'conductions' with featured soloist. The trombonist develops a nice parallel discourse, but somehow the piece lacks some spirit. Rutherford¹s own Phone In is much more interesting, and not only because it takes a bite at the existence of mobile phones by using them - actually, the short phone episode two-thirds in is its weakest feature. The piece has stamina, movement and wittiness, all core qualities of the LIO. Dave Tucker's unusually quiet Giallo, essentially an 11-minute crescendo, also deserves mention: however simple the idea, Tucker leads the orchestra through it with brio, reaching a riveting finale."



"Glance at the personnel on this record and the range of instruments they bring to bear. Expect a thing of great power and beauty and you won't be disappointed. Listen to the way that the softness of the strings follows the slabs of sound on Simon H Fell's Too Busy. Or how the strings, horns and electronics blur on Terry Day Ruthless to create new tone colours and shapes. On the latter, Day assumes the persona of the demagogue-preacher, as he howls his 'punk' poem as the orchestra thunders behind him.
Steve Beresford contributes Concerto for Paul Rutherford to welcome the trombonist's return to health. Utilising Butch Morris' 'conduction' approach, it's most notable as a masterclass in bravura improvisation but the combination of strings and soprano saxes and later the lilting sound of the orchestra rising in unison behind Rutherford are as lovely as any composition. Rutherford's own Phone In sees him take on that 'bloody nuisance' of the modern world, the mobile phone. On this showing, the Luddites have it. On Mamosa, three of our most gifted percussionists unite in improvisation, and later Dave Tucker's minimalist piece Giallo evokes a quiet, brooding melancholia in tribute to a friend. Philipp Wachsmann's Fanfare closes with appropriate joyful majesty. It's a record that reveals the sound and robust health of London's improv scene, but also how improvisation and contemporary classical composition continue to inform and fertilise each other."
"With the orchestra's latest release and others, it's more about the sum of the individualistic parts that round out the base musical concepts. The artists' institute colourific musical scenarios, in a manner unlike the traditional jazz or symphonic, orchestral implementations. Consequently, the element of surprise stands as an inherent attribute throughout, where various artists conduct the orchestra on a per track basis. On Concerto for Paul Rutherford - loosely conducted by Steve Beresford - the listener will notice booming accents, contrapuntal statements by the strings section and polytonal textures. Here, Rutherford weaves in and around his band-mates, via a sequence of thorny lines, interspersed with odd harmonic manoeuvres and more. Other highlights include, a delightful percussion trio improvisation by Tony Marsh, Louis Moholo, and Mark Sanders titled Mamosa.
One of the entertaining aspects of this production is rooted within the listener's ability to hone in on certain sections of the orchestra. Sort of a mind-bending aural experience, strangely enhanced by a smattering of pre-recorded sounds, blithe vocals and use of mobile phones. No doubt, the creative process includes subtle stabs at humour to coincide with the interrelationships of the soloists' respective inventions. It's all integrated into a rather cohesive package. (Recommended.)"



"A wonderful selection of great musicians, LIO is here captured warts and all during a live performance that's as good as you can manage to guess: in fact, the big problem of this kind of setting is that many of the nuances present in the music run the risk being lost in the instrumental mass - and the theatre reverberation doesn't help, of course. That said, there are a couple of fantastic moments that alone are worth this CD, the top being a fantastic Concerto for Paul Rutherford (conceived by Steve Beresford) where the master trombonist draws lots of beautiful sketches, his instrument indicating trajectories and concepts to the very few who will be able to reach such heights. Very nice segments come also from Phone in (and the mobile phones, the great idea for the piece, are barely's what I meant before) and the final Fanfare for LIO where audience participation is direct. What I'm sure I can affirm, the sound of these souls never retreats into a shell but strongly radiates warmth and technical prowess at the same moment."



"The most striking pieces come at the beginning: Simon Fell's Too Busy starts with a burst of frenetic brass and moves through passages of sorrowful violins, Vareseian orchestral textures, and manipulated tapes of John Stevens' voice and bell sounds, in the service of an homage to the late drummer, while Terry Day's Ruthless is a stormy brew of shouted poetry and ensemble swelling on the subject of punk. Percussionists Tony Marsh, Louis Moholo and Mark Sanders get nine of the disc's 77 minutes for a strikingly empathetic and sonically resourceful collective improvisation. Elsewhere, players such as Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill and Paul Rutherford are on hand, but this disc focuses on ensemble work rather than individuals, although Rutherford gets to muse at length on top of the orchestra in Steve Beresford's Concerto conduction."
"Leaderless but hardly rudderless, a massive entity which takes over a London pub once a month, the London Improvisers Orchestra is an ensemble which has limitless resources of talent and thanks to their method could probably do a CD a week for the foreseeable future if their fans had the money to buy them. This is a quick overview of their most recent CD release, FREEDOM OF THE CITY 2002, and an appreciation of their willingness to keep on in the rapidly diminishing arena where new music is welcome. The first thing I like about this outfit is though perhaps they do not have the compositional tidiness of the often equally adventurous and late lamented London Jazz Composers Orchestra, their textures are all their own and after four years of existence they are about as far out as I have heard anyone get in a classical orchestra structure.
This CD gives a very solid idea of what the LIO is capable of and how it maintains its uniqueness. Certainly the improvising talents of all the members are evident upon listening, to say nothing of how well they follow one another and react to performance motions that their fellows haven't yet made; in fact, many I've played this for refuse to believe that literally nothing here is written down, that the compositions really are 'group compositions' or 'conductions,' if you will. A musician with some cogent ideas will stand before the rest of the group and assist them in directing the improv through hand gestures, pre-recorded material and cues.
The opening Too Busy here, a Simon H. Fell conduction, is typical of the group's more technical side. Dedicated to the late John Stevens, Fell's memoriam opens with a manic section for horns - an Irish funeral, perhaps, and you've never heard the like - and then cools down into a recitation for the fine string section, percussion, horns, and all in sequence, all beautifully phrased and executed. Funny how seamless it all sounds. Possibly having a fellow musician at the temporary helm gives all in the pit a confidence they may not feel otherwise, and an 'improvised conduction' can theoretically call on a wider palette of sounds anyway, as a classical conductor is channelling the thoughts of one person while at the LIO it's hardly a free-for-all -well, now and again, maybe - but neither is it a dictatorship. Thus, the possibilities for filigree and detail work are literally endless. Anyone will tell you that it doesn't matter how off-the-wall the composer thinks he's getting. If he or she did their job properly it will hang together in the ear. And this does, in its exquisite sense of segue and landscaping, especially in the closing pre-recorded digital rearrangement of the church bells. Beautifully done, and a fitting send-off for one of the mid-20th century's premier drummers.
Vocalist Terry Day, in his liner notes about his own conduction Ruthless, has a right to talk about punk rock and how early on it refused the tyranny of technological prowess; Day himself has a brawling squawk of a voice not far off that of John Lydon or Kevin Coyne. Reading his poem about the horrors as opposed to the necessity of anonymity, Day banks down and tamps up the roaring furnace that is the LIO in full cry. Not a technician, he knows how to get out of the group what's needed anyway. Good silly fun.
Concerto for Paul Rutherford makes me think of how Duke Ellington would take a soloist in his band and write a ditty for him specifically. Steve Beresford wields a large slapping paint brush of a sound to display Rutherford's trombone against, and the result is a great heaving mass of eddies and smears, raindrops a nd floodtides. Against musical abstract expressionism at its most obvious, Rutherford's trombone blats and flurries, cycles and folds in on itself. Some definite moment-by-moment brilliance here.
Mamosa is a treat as well, an improv for the three drummers: Louis Moholo, Tony Marsh and Mark Sanders. Voracious listeners all, it's clear: the snare and cymbal/gong work cascades, pitters and describes these patterns in the air I simply can't come up with a fancy simile for. Arresting, joyful and declamatory.
Rutherford may have turned out to be the de facto star of this CD but it most probably wasn't planned that way; his Phone In is a lengthy wingding mainly for woodwinds that undulates and bounces like a suitcase full of snakes. Slowly the strings and brass meander in, and we're about to cross over into Robert Browning Overture territory -an evocative interlude for piano and clarinet aside when a slow tidal wave of cell phone noises begins to overwhelm the proceeedings. Interrupted at every turn, the instruments attempt to coexist with the intruders but as they have nothing to say (except the standard ring tone, Old MacDonald and Jesu Joy of man's Desiring, all quite maddening in this atmosphere) - even the implacable bass clarinet, at the end, shrugs its shoulders and gives up. There's a humour here in how a vigorous conversation among programmatic and structural equals in this piece is purposely interrupted and decimated by technical gewgaws which we've come to think are so important, some of us won't switch them off when we go see a concert. Those who don't may imply by so doing that maybe art isn't as important to us as we think it is. In which case, why not stay home, because if we don't, Phone In may be the result. Frustrating, but for a reason. After all, Old MacDonald is puerile enough. When it interrupts Evan Parker it's practically an actionable offense.
Guitarist Dave Tucker's Giallo is diverting in that it begins in what Tucker in his liner notes refers to as a 'minimalist' state, grows slowly over ten minutes through added instruments and twists and shifts into a great swelling crescendo of a wavering drone. But as this is a 'conduction,' not a composition, and as a result there is a treat for the closely listening auditor: a wealth of tonal arrows moving within the envelope of sound created, you will hear a sense of detail within said envelope that few composers could write out in their music rooms.
We end here with Philip Wachsmann's Fanfare for the LIO, a fun if messy close to the CD, which nicely rounds out this program with more tendrils and shoots Roman-candling in all directions.
As I may have implied, I apologise for not being able to single out many of the players in the group, but since it is an Improvisers Orchestra, as opposed to an Improviser's, unison passages are almost always the rule. The LIO's a freight train with many moving parts, and sometimes it slows down to let you admire the scenery. Just not always. See you at the Red Rose the next time I'm in London!"



Reviews of LIO CD "Responses, Reproduction and Reality", Emanem 4110

Excerpts from reviews:

"There is not a single disappointment here, as each piece extensively explores and exploits the possibilities offered by this magnificent improvisers' pool. Dave Tucker, Simon H. Fell, Caroline Kraabel, David Leahy, Pat Thomas and Philipp Wachsmann take turns conducting the behemoth, sometimes using creative forms of scores, at other times simply moulding the sound matter in the heat of the moment. Opening the program, Tucker's Wit's End features an instrument this reviewer had personally never heard in a free improv context yet: the steel pan, played by Orphy Robinson in an eventful controlled chaos of a piece that has nothing to do with the Caribbean. Fell's Improvisation Panels (1) is not as intriguing as his other works for the LIO, sounding a bit too much like building-blocks composition, but it still provides a nice textural moment. Kraabel has been contributing game-like pieces ever since the group's first recording; her Hearing Reproduction 5 asks from the musicians to reproduce as precisely as possible the sounds of the featured soloist, the arguably inimitable vocalist Jaap Blonk, and the results are hilarious. Wachsmann's Fantasy and Reality may follow more serious guidelines, but it turns out to be a highly entertaining piece, rich in sharp contrasts, odd instrument pairings and simply fascinating group playing. RESPONSES, REPRODUCTION & REALITY may be the best place to start in the LIO's discography. It synthesizes all the qualities found in the previous albums."



"The LIO is a phenomenon that's worth documenting in itself, as an index of depth and diversity of improvising musicians in the city at present. Intriguing for example to hear BJ Cole's pedal steel glimmering through the 2004 grouping. And the music is, as ever, full of interest as ways are found to organise collective expression out of an assembly of 30 uncompromisingly independent players. Conducting is Butch Morris's legacy to the ensemble, individuals taking turns to impose degrees of regulation, shaping and monitoring the large group's mobility and density through actions, ideas and even scores. For all that, the track that on initial listening has most appeal is Proceeding 6, freely improvised within its own unambiguous terms of reference. Then again, maybe the discipline of being orchestrated through conduction reverberates through that effective piece of instant composing."



"With over thirty musicians, the orchestra's creative ways are partly signified by call and response dialogues, layered horns, and multicoloured contrasts. Effectively, the artists pursue a stop/start and regenerative process via a community-minded approach. Speckliing their notes with stabs at humour and wit, the musicians also pursue brash cadenzas with asymmetrical percussion grooves. Yet the instrumentalists are apt to splinter off into sub-themes. Part of the fun resides within the fact that they don't always perform as a group. It's akin to a theatrical component, where actors enter and exit a given scene. On Responses, the horns section evokes a sense of yearning, while on Fantasy and Reality, the overall muse is marked by weaving horns and subliminal exchanges, like Evan Parker's oscillating soprano sax lines. Nonetheless, they render a gamut of emotive qualities, as many of us have come to expect. And it's another cleverly articulated entry into this unit's gravitating sequence of musical revelations."



"First up is Wit's End by guitarist Dave Tucker. Here the conduction weaves features for various solo voices against the full ensemble. There is a symmetry that is created, framing the mounting activity with duos by Paul Rutherford and Veryan Weston to open the piece, and Steve Beresford and pedal steel player B J Cole to bring things to a close. In between, the improvisation lurches and jolts from hyperactive density to quieter pools of small-group interaction. Here, the textures of Orphy Robinson's steel pans, Cole's pedal steel, and Adam Bohman's electronics work particularly well against the swirling timbres of the ensemble.
Pat Thomas' Ism also uses the strategy of featured soloists; letting John Butcher, Lol Coxhill, and Alan Tomlinson loose over the energy whipped up by churning drums of Tony Marsh, Louis Moholo-Moholo, and Mark Sanders. Carolyn Kraabel's Hearing Reproduction 5 plays the ensemble off the input of vocalist Jaap Blonk, setting them free against his wild ululations, gurgles, shouts, and glottal splats. Bassist David Leahy's Responses takes a similar approach, with members tossing off musical fragments which are completed by other members, building a collective sense of attack and decay.
Simon Fell's Composition No. 67: Improvisation Panels (1) takes a different approach. Here Fell created a text-based score outlining general instructions for particular sonic events within the piece. He then used this score to conduct the ensemble, cueing the order of events, combinations of instruments, and dynamics. His mastery of structuring sound and silence comes out from the beginning, building up areas of growling trombone, glissed and plucked strings, and reed smears. Over the course of nine minutes, Fell contrasts sections of motion and stasis with blaring intensity and calm, creating one of the disc's highlights.
Proceedings 6, the free improvisation on this recording, is a bit less successful than the composed pieces. But even here, it is clear that this is a group that has spent a significant amount of time working together. It is striking how symphonic the improvisation sounds as the piece develops in sections around the gathering forces of the ensemble's various parts. This was clearly honed playing pieces like Phil Wachsmann's Fantasy & Reality, which works abstract tone clusters across the ensemble, developing a slowly evolving form full of swirling detail and constantly wavering densities."



"The LIO plays monthly at the Red Rose, more often than many celebrated small groups, certainly often enough to ensure that it sounds genuinely orchestral whilst implementing dramatically different strategies. Never more so than on Simon Fell's conduction, which bears the paradoxical name Composition No. 67: Improvisation Panels (1), and proceeds so inevitably that one might think it was completely scored. No one will get that notion from Hearing Reproduction 5, in which Caroline Kraabel bids the orchestra to exactly imitate the utterences of last-minute recruit Jaap Blonk. Give 'em credit, they never flinch, and the results overcome my usually severe reservations about improvising vocalists. But my favourite moment comes from the uncharacteristically expressionistic introduction to Ism, in which conductor Pat Thomas induces saxophonist John Butcher to ride the surf of three energetic drummers."



Reviews of LIO CD Freedom of the City 2005 (Emanem 4216)

Excerpts from reviews:

"An eagerly anticipated annual release, the Freedom of the City CD is an essential complement to the live festival, providing the opportunity to check recalled perceptions against objective evidence and to fill in unavoidable gaps, but mostly - whether or not one was there - to catch some great music.
At the live event, my favourite performances were the two trios of Paul Rutherford with John Edwards & Mark Sanders, and Alan Wilkinson with Phil Durrant & Sanders (again). Listening to the CD reinforces that view. It is rare to hear Rutherford just with bass and drums, and the two tracks here leave me hoping this trio records a full album; they sound made for each other. The inclusion of bass and drums adds variety and depth to Rutherford's solo playing without unduly constraining his soaring, swooping style.
Alan Wilkinson can always be relied on to give an uncompromising, committed performance. Here, Mark Sanders' drumming matches it, serving to drive him even harder. Phil Durrant's laptop is an unpredictable element, throwing in whines and white noise that spur the music on, as well as providing tranquil interludes.
Phillipp Wachsmann improvised to a video by Kjell Bjorgeengen, one that his music affected. Live, it was easy to get too involved in the visuals without fully appreciating the music. Just listening to Wachsmann without seeing the video is a revelation; his playing is a tour de force in which he employs a battery of techniques and effects to build up a kaleidoscopic piece layer by layer.
The London Improvisers Orchestra has long been a highlight of the festival and their three short pieces here emphasise the variety that is possible when different conductors (Simon H. Fell, Caroline Kraabel, Dave Tucker) take control. Kraabel's piece, Hearing Reproduction 7, is a fascinating attempt to repeatedly get players to replicate exactly what they played at the start of the piece. The result is a short, focused piece; it's hard to believe it was improvised by a thirty-strong ensemble.
Most of all, this CD re-emphasises the unbroken high standard of music heard at the festival. Truly, there was never a dull moment."



"There are four trio performances on the set, and it's instructive how different the dynamic is in each of them. The opening trio pits the slippery Paul Rutherford with / against / at an angle to the well-attested John Edwards / Mark Sanders rhythm section: the trombonist's multidirectional and superbly deadpan lines engage only selectively with the scuttling activity of a rhythm section that insists on chasing down every idea right now. With Wilkinson / Durrant / Sanders the saxophonist is the lynchpin, hooking up in traditional free jazz fashion with Sanders but also matching up the graininess of overblown sax to Durrant's buzzes and shrills. It's an intriguing insection of tear-the-house-down free jazz with laptop electronics, even if the contradiction between freely pulsed drums and pulseless (or neurotically vibrating) electronics tends to be highlighted rather than resolved. The performance by Sylvia Hallett, Caroline Kraabel and Veryan Weston has a dappled, teasing quality, the notes darting around like minnows; voices and instruments swap places or double each other so often you can hardly tell where one begins and the other ends. My favourite trio, though, is Steve Beresford, Joe Williamson and Roger Turner, who turn in what's unmistakably a jazz performance, marked by crisp, quick-witted volleys between Turner and Beresford (who at times sounds like a pared-down, lightning-fast Paul Bley) and Williamson's oblique bass work, which flips back and forth rapidly between patient, broken walking bass and roiling, near-directionless masses of bowing.
There are three tracks from the London Improvisers Orchestra: Caroline Kraabel's Hearing Reproduction 7 is a conceptual piece in which the entire orchestra repeatedly 'rewinds' itself like a tape-machine - not really a particularly satisfying piece of music in itself, but I don't think that was the point - while the others are impromptu conductions by Simon Fell and Dave Tucker. Fell's adheres to the traditional orchestral section divisions of strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion in order to bring them into rather ominous dialogue, while Tucker's is more concerned with setting up sharply varied backgrounds behind featured soloists.
The remaining tracks on the album are duo performances. A soprano sax / flute duet between Lol Coxhill and Neil Metcalfe has a now-you-see-it-now-you-don't flavour: ideas are discarded almost as rapidly as they surface, at least until halfway into A Right in Phoenica, when Coxhill switches from wry snippets to reeling lyricism and the music finds a groove that carries them almost to the piece's end. Only one side of the interaction between violinist Phil Wachsmann and video artist Kjell Bjorgeengen is directly audible on CD, though Wachsmann's clear-cut juxtapositions of mood and texture are audibly the result of an unheard audio/visual dialogue. The opening minutes are a superb display of the violinist's wit and balletic grace, an essay of sorts in mixed-messages improvisation: a conventionally beautiful, silken tone, for instance, may be applied to a hopelessly out of tune phrase. The closing sections are something else again: meticulously constructed passages of tenuous beauty or scrabbling density, the electronics overlays at various times suggesting Reichian minimalism, Hardanger fiddle, or even a quiet church organ."



"For me, several combinations stand out, primarily because I wouldn’t have imagined them or thought they’d work. The trio of trombonist Paul Rutherford, percussionist Mark Sanders, and bassist John Edwards kicks off the comp, laying down something so close to jazz as to be shocking. Rutherford, always hilarious underneath all those chops, begins to slide and swoop, interjecting bebop flutters and the rhetorical honks of freedom he pioneered some 40 years ago. Sanders and Edwards glide along, brushwork and quasi-walk being the order of the day, but in the second track of this trio’s diptych, a more 'contemporary' mode of expression is evident, conjuring images of the first Iskra project in all its egalitarianism.
Sylvia Hallett’s work is too broad in scope for any kind of convincing summary. As comfortable in song craft as in the structured spontaneity of 'free' improv, her solo disc for Emanem, WHITE FOG, is one of the label’s best and, so far, Hallett’s most consistently satisfying statement. She has performed sections of that seminal disc during solo sets on FOTC compilations past, but on 2005, she is joined by Caroline Kraabel (saxophone and voice) and Veryan Weston (piano). The results go some long way toward putting FOG in the shade; I’m not sure I’ve heard a group that communicated, listened, and assimilated better than these three, as they produce something that crosses Ligeti with an early minimalist of your choice, eschewing only the pulse patterns. Weston is superb in many settings, but he outdoes himself here, choosing every note perfectly, blending seamlessly with voices, violin, and saxophone, the combinations producing astonishing unity from seemingly disparate source material.
Another trio, Alan Wilkinson, Phil Durrant, and Mark Sanders, surprised me the most. Any skepticism I had about the combination of Sanders’ percussion and Durrant’s electronics was quickly dispelled; the two forces merged so completely that it took me a full minute to be able to differentiate between hi-hat and electrotwitter. Wilkinson’s post-Ayler exhortations exhibit infinite control, even in the throws of passionate expression.
There are so many more things to talk about: The LIO conductions, where they obviously have huge fun, not to mention the astonishing and gorgeous Wachsmann piece with video projection, studies in minimalist tonal scope and maximalist timbre. Needless to say, this compilation lives up to the reputation deservedly enjoyed by its predecessors, and fans of this music needn’t hesitate. It would also make a fantastic introduction for someone new to the many riches this vibrant scene has to offer."



"Due to lack of funds, the 2005 edition of the FOTC festival was reduced to a single-day event, whose testament is this double CD shining with beauty coming from everywhere. Insurrectional quarrels seem to spring out of the first trio, with John Edwards on double bass and Mark Sanders on percussion tumbling over inflammable balloons propelled by Paul Rutherford's trombone, up to those skies where maimed poetry and uninhibited melodicism gleam all day long. Sylvia Hallett, Caroline Kraabel and Veryan Weston (violin, alto sax and piano plus their voices) suffocate joy in a repartition of nostalgic surprises, their grainy atmospheres similar to the dust covering an ancient gramophone trying to play the only melted vinyl that it wants to accept, with the result of evoking sleeping gnomes from the attic. Underlining Kjell Bjorgeengen's videos, the electronically treated violin of Philipp Wachsmann weaves the concrete illusions and oblique fantasies of a kid practicing his grip on a future that's not going to be made of symphonies and quartets, rather of bird watching and progressive isolation.
London Improvisers Orchestra - a 30-piece supergroup this time - follows theoretical dreams of non-conformity: led by Simon H. Fell, it muddies Pendereckian lamentations with percussive clattering and apparent contrary motions; under the guide of Caroline Kraabel, a stop-and-go game of micro-counterpoint is put into action for an all-too-brief enjoyment; finally, Dave Tucker's The Dynamix reminded me of those fantastic East-European cartoons where every character's personality is highlighted by an instrument or a combination amidst continuous changes of perspective.
Only Steve Beresford, Joe Williamson and Roger Turner try to drive their musicianship around jazz: their piano/bass/drums trio sounds like frying popcorn in a room that visitors always forget to visit, yet they finish their performance with a serious spurt of gorgeous free music. Flute and soprano sax (Neil Metcalfe and Lol Coxhill in a two-movement utopian conversation) are the sole protagonists in a sunny world where good ideas not only have the right to exist, but also find their place in the mind of the ruling ones. Finally, Phil Durrant's laptop's shrieks and purrs carve their niche in the middle of furious exchanges between the saxophones of Alan Wilkinson - in torrential post-Archie Shepp eruptive power - and, again, the great Mark Sanders in a frenzy of communicative emotion. A fit conclusion for this indispensable set."



"FREEDOM OF THE CITY's small-group improv offerings are new but fall into familiar categories: energy music (the trio of saxophonist Alan Wilkinson, laptop Phil Durrant and drummer Mark Sanders, with Wilkinson matching the aggression of Durrant's set of shrill noises), elegant, classical-tinged improv (violinist Sylvia Hallett, alto saxophonist Caroline Kraabel and pianist Veryan Weston), a multi-media experiment (violinist Philipp Wachsmann interacting with the video effects of Kjell Bjorgeengen in a 24-minute solo statement) and several sets of ambling, conversational improv. The opening trio provides an especially strong example of the latter - while drummer Sanders drives it along, trombonist Paul Rutherford and bassist John Edwards trade off lead and accompaniment ably. As with prior Freedom Of The City sets, the advantages of free improv (constant conversation, unusual textures, the abundance of information) parry with the risks (the feeling that five minutes may go by with only one minute's worth of ideas emerging). The short pieces by the London Improvisers Orchestra stand out the most; Simon Fell, with his first conduction on record, creates a piece grounded by bass clarinet drones, while the other sections provide fluttering statements on top, winding up with as much organization as many through-composed pieces, while Dave Tucker's conduction is looser but features several amusing ensemble exclamations (like Ornette Coleman hijacking Benny Goodman's band) and the set's only extended glimpse of Evan Parker. Kraabel's Hearing Reproduction 7 features her ensemble playing a few seconds of music before Kraabel cues a halt and then has them attempt to recreate it. It's a pity this piece lasts only two minutes."



Reviews of LIO CD with Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, "Separately and Together", Emanem 4219:

Excerpts from reviews:

"Given the number of musicians involved listeners will be surprised at the coherence and delicacy of much of the music here. As is so often, the pieces mainly consist of 'conductions' wherein one musician directs the orchestra, giving an overall form and structure to each piece - at least, that is the intention. So, Philipp Wachsmann's On the point of influence closes with a long restrained duo for cello and bass, while Ashley Wales' Study for Oppy Wood is an atmospheric tone poem.
In addition to such conductions, there are free improvisations by both ensembles. The LIO use improvisations as bridges between their conductions. The GIO include one long improvisation, Big ideas, images and distorted facts. The GIO argue strongly that large ensembles can freely improvise without degenerating into cacophony - 'the cocktail party effect'; this piece provides compelling evidence that they are right.
On the improvisations, it is fascinating to hear how controlled the players are when given their freedom; far from producing a free-for-all, the improvisations are highly focussed, frequently achieving a poignant fragile beauty through collective negotiation. Indeed, it is ironic that in several conductions the conductor actively encourages a free-for-all - goading the beast rather than taming it - the complete opposite of the original intention of conduction. So, in Hive Life, Alison Blunt's conduction, in addition to some music that (thrillingly) borders on anarchy, the string players are encouraged to use their voices, which they lustily do, at times sounding like a mutinous crew or an angry mob. It is only fair to add that this conduction also contains a prolonged section of subdued atmospheric playing from the saxophones; Blunt was clearly in control throughout! On Too late, too late, it's ever so late, Terry Day incites anarchy to accompany his recitation on global warming.
The final three long conductions, on which the two orchestras combine, involve over forty players. This is a remarkable exercise in coherence considering the fact that this is a combined ensemble, of two separate orchestras with quite different sounds. Again, the overall restraint is commendable, but when the full power of all the players is occasionally unleashed the effects are awesome... made all the more awesome by the contrast with the more subdued passages. This is most starkly illustrated in 1 + 1 = Different, a joint conduction by Glaswegians Una MacGlone and Raymond MacDonald, in which a huge central crescendo is immediately followed by near silence... that then builds to another barnstorming climax.
The entire two discs are a powerful argument for the continuing appeal of large improvising ensembles and of free improvisation, here both thrilling and surprising in equal measures."