This one caused me a lot of problems. In my time as a promoter I got to know Mark and John really well, seeing them several times a year. I'd booked them with a whole host of national and international figures, including Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann and Elton Dean. Building an audience for avant-garde improvised music eventually defeated me, sapping my energy as I tried unsuccessfully to establish sufficient interest to support it.
By the time I got to review this CD I was already out of sympathy with European Free Music, and it probably shows. Phrases like 'abstract yet somehow well mapped terrain' summarise my feelings. This should be the ultimate music of surprise, unique in every performance and made without rules or careful planning. Yet so often I simply heard the same range of small noises, played within the same basic structure of quiet-crescendo-quiet, players unable to escape habits formed by memories of past musical experiences. For the few genuine moments of magic, the many longeurs no longer seemed to be worth the effort.
That should take nothing away from Mark and John's unique talents in this field. As long as there's an audience for this undoubtedly challenging music, both will represent the best that it can offer. Finding that audience may well be the intractable problem. Part of my review made it to the Emanem website, and I wish them both well.
JOHN EDWARDS & MARK SANDERS
The Nisus Duets
Pointing; Painting; Panting; Peeling; Peering; Pouring; Parting.
John Edwards (b); Mark Sanders (perc). Recorded 7/02
As leading players of European improvised music, Sanders and Edwards are used to working in a non-hierarchical musical system, where choice of instrumentation matters less than the process of improvisation itself and the sonic potential available. The two work together so often and in so many different ensembles that a duet recording comes as no surprise, and whenever they play together in larger formation, a moment always seems to occur when other players drop out and the are left to take centre stage.
Unlike William Parker and Hamid Drake’s Piercing The Veil (AUM Fidelity), which used the same instrumentation to strikingly different effect, The Nisus Duets stick to the abstract yet somehow well-mapped terrain of free improvisation. Close listening, rapid interaction and accumulated musical experience all combine to shape unique but somehow familiar musical landscapes.
Selected and edited by minimalist electro-acoustic composer, and occasional collaborator, John Wall, the duets nicely cover the full range of current trends in improv - from ‘new reductionism’ to old school bubble and squeak. Only during the very brief ‘Panting’ do they sound anything remotely like a conventional rhythm section. Wall’s composerly hand doesn’t seem to shape the duets into any logical sequence, though each performance taken in isolation would get through even the most demanding listener’s quality control.
Edwards and Sanders are two of this music’s best, most in demand, and most uncompromising improvisers on their respective instruments. You’d expect the very best that the genre can offer from such a blue-chip pairing, and this is exactly what you get. If you find improv to be pure anathema, though, don’t expect these duets to make you a convert.
One final but intriguing possibility should also be mentioned in connection with this recording. Given that Jamey Aebersold is, to my knowledge, yet to produce a free improv play-along tape, why not buy this disc and use it as an alternative to the tedium of solitary woodshedding?
(Jazz Review, October 2003)