Monday, January 02, 2006

Derek Bailey, R.I.P.

British guitarist Derek Bailey passed away yesterday at 75. One of the foremost exponents of the style of free improvisation that emerged in the 1960s and '70s, Bailey was a remarkably industrious musician, churning out dozens of albums and performing at a harrowing pace that only seemd to increase in his old age. He had incredible technique, summoning sounds from the guitar that had never been heard before and forged a highly personal style utterly devoid of sentiment. He could play spontaneously in real time material that other avant-garde composers would have had to labor for weeks to produce. And he developed a circle of dozens of musician collaborators that encompassed such musicians as Anthony Braxton, Evan Parker, Han Bennink, John Stevens, Steve Lacy, John Zorn, and Pat Metheny.

The NY Times obituary included the following description: "Mr. Bailey explained his art unpretentiously, often simply as a matter of personal choice, but his style of playing guitar was a kind of reaction against all systems in music. By the 1970's it had become a system unto itself - a virtuosic, physical one, of clicks and chimes and harmonics and aggressive bursts of volume, arrhythmic and nonlinear but still coherent and powerful." (Read it in its entirety here: )

His music posed as many questions as it answered, and remains a provacative legacy for many of us. For me personally, it sparked a questioning of the notion of notation that I struggle with to this day. In addition to his many albums, he also wrote a fascinating book on improvisation. It's nearly impossible to recommend anything, but for the interested, check out his 'Ballads' disc on Tzadik (where he refracts jazz standards into his own fragmentary language), his duo work with Evan Parker, or the amazing three-disc set that he made with Pat Metheny and two percussionists, 'The Sign of Four.' I admire his solo recordings on Incus as well.

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