Boomkat Product Review:
Knife-play strings meet dusted and dervishing strikes on an utterly spellbinding set of early 1990s recordings of Bailey & Motian in Groningen and NYC, prised from the Incus archive for a first time release by Frozen Reeds - properly absorbing, compelling gear bound to upend expectations.
At Groningen’s Jazz Marathon festival in 1990 (on vinyl), and the New Music Cafe, NYC in 1991 (on digital), we’re witness to a remarkably lissom, even melodic performance by Bailey, the grand master of contrarian shred, caught in devilish syncopation with drummer Paul Motian, an ECM regular and jazz legend renowned for his nanometric time keeping. On both counts the pair pull each other into a unique, idiosyncratic temporality that elegantly pinches, ruffles and stretches the fabric of space and time. The recordings make an ideal addition to Frozen Reeds, a cherry-picking label harbouring mind-blowing releases by Julius Eastman, Roland Kayn, and Morton Feldman - an incomparable bunch whose iconoclastic work sheerly resounds with the magic billed here.
While most notable for depicting some of the most enchanting, lissom and fractal play by Bailey, who is notorious as improvised music’s most difficult, uncompromising performer, the recordings would be naught without Motian’s breathtaking percussive harness, which warp and wrap around Bailey's guitar with a quiet/loud dynamic and anticipatory suss that leaves us on the seat edge and in awe. As the label point out, Motian’s drumming on the recordings, while deeply rooted in jazz improvisation, uncannily preempts or parallels the development of post-rock in his ability to temper and guide their jams between sublime tensions and raptures. We’re not sure how many post-rockers were actually aware of this, but it’s not hard to hear.
Their Groningen performance is surely the one. For 45 minutes, including an encore, they conduct a vibrant, intimately intense dialogue that effortlessly flows without the sort of ruptures one might expect of Bailey, whose playing feels deliciously aqueous, like a flowing stream of water glittering in the sun and struck with the rain of Motian’s percussion. As such, like staring at moving water, they overlap and diffract in fleeting raptures that make you want to dive in. The NYC recording is discernibly more lo-fi, room recorded, and laced with menace, supplying a fine contrast to that Groningen work that we could happily rinse and repeat for days.
A masterclass in improvisational principles that one should play to naysayers or fence sitters with glee.