The SMALL GROUPS sessions were convened by Emanem proprietor Martin Davidson, an urban cartographer for the enquiring ear. A well-matched trio of trumpeter Ian Smith, trombonist Gail Brand and Oren Marshall kick off with confidence, exploring brass options from the declamatory and dignified to the grossly flatulent, from squeals to low moans. The next three tracks present the well-established trio of pianist Veryan Weston, drummer Mark Sanders and bassist Jon Edwards. Weston has a singular knack of never sounding definitive; each statement, however vigorous, seems provisional, implying other routes the music might take, placing brackets around the tough decisiveness of Sanders and Edwards. Three further tracks bring together singer (and tapdancer) Maggie Nicols, altoist (and vocalist) Caroline Kraabel and Zurich violist Charlotte Hug. The voice sets a flexible and wide ranging agenda; sax and viola enhance and embellish.
The second disc opens with a pair of piano improvisations by Pat Thomas, the first a chunk of jagged granite, the second mysterioso cut through with hints of stridency. Two tracks feature Charlotte Hug with violinist Phil Durrant, cellist Mark Wastell and bassist Tony Wren (a quartet which recorded the excellent CD ANGEL GATE. It's intensive listening music, packed with eloquent details and delicate intersections. Three compelling duets couple John Butcher's visceral yet sensitised saxophone playing with Steve Beresford's fabulously off-centre cliché-free electronics. Lol Coxhill on soprano, trombonist Paul Rutherford, guitarist John Russell, percussionist Roger Turner and vocalist Phil Minton bring proceedings to an unhurried close. Well, freedom can be comfortable too. - The Wire