|A three-disc monster collecting the first two Incus LPs by the improvising collective Iskra 1903 along with several unissued performances (some of it of dubious sound quality). But don't let the rather workmanlike titles (or my comments about sound quality) deter you from investigating this magnificent release posthaste.
The amazing thing is how amazing it all sounds nearly 30 years on, not just fresh but genuinely head turning in places. As is immediately evident in the opening improvisation from 1970, each musician was in possession of a completely commanding instrumental voice even at this relatively early point in his respective career. Bailey and Guy in particular play with jaw-dropping intensity throughout this very long creation, from swooping non-tonal noise to the most delicate water drops of tonality. And on this initial track, we hear a lot of Rutherford's piano as well as his superb trombone work. However, Iskra's is primarily a group language, often resulting in a collective sound closer to a Morton Feldman realisation than to anything in the Jazz tradition.
It's difficult music to absorb, even for those familiar with these players and this music. On the one hand, there are moments of immediacy and accessibility - such as the sparse chiming and moaning of Improvisation 8 or the delicate piano of Improvisation 0. But the exchange of ideas is so rapid, and frequently so dense, that processing it makes multiple listens. Despite this, though, there is a directness of communication that is palpable in this group, an almost loving attention to spontaneous sound itself. Hear it in the lyrical work of Bailey's volume pedal, soaring with Guy's often effusive arco. Hear it in Rutherford's vocalisms on trombone, at times mimicking Bailey's feedback pitches and at other times growling and slurring his way through the proceedings. Up and down the dynamic range they travel, from the super silent Improvisation 6 to the often violent, slashing gestures of Extra 2.
In both concentrated miniatures and perambulatory 20-minute pieces, Iskra's focus never wavers. There are times on disc 3 that sound quality becomes an obstacle to listener appreciation, but the importance of the recordings and the quality of the music supercede such concerns. If it's true that European improvisers helped to establish a language, or a series of idioms, outside of the Ayler / late Trane discourse, then this release is an opportunity to hear that language in one of its first mature statements or expressions where it displays not only eloquence but poetry. - Jason Bivins