Friday, January 29, 2021

Derek B. Is President

We'll follow the birthday of one paradigm-shattering guitarist with another, then.

The two could not be more different: one played all the notes, where this one tried to break the instrument free of the concept of "notes" entirely.

As extreme an avatar of the 1960s cultural revolution as ever existed, today's b'day boy began as a traditional Jazz guitarist before deciding that the role and expectations of the instrument were just too facile and limiting.

He began to explore a music completely broken from traditional forms, which as the Sixties progressed came to be termed non-idiomatic improvisation.

Flowing alongside the Free Jazz sounds of the time, these explorations created a whole tide of experiments in totally free improv that continue to the present day... essentially an entire genre of music sprang from the brain of today's hero.

In 1980, he set his ideas down in a book, which became a Bible for improvisers of all stripes from regular 1-4-5 Blues people to Jazz cats to everybody else.

It was translated into a whole slew of languages and is now a textbook in music schools and even in some high school music programs. I read it in my 20s and it changed my whole perspective on what music was and could be.

His music isn't for everyone. It might be the least tonal music ever attempted on an instrument usually prized and fetishized for its easy access to tones.

A great pathway into the universe of Derek Bailey -- born this day in 1930 -- is to be exposed to him in a more traditional context, where he can be heard doing his (recognizable by one scrape) thing surrounded by sounds a bit more familiar to the ear.

Take this (omg!! it's a beastly bitch) hour of insanity, stemming from one of bass & producer supremo Bill Laswell's rotating projects of the 1990s.

This one has Laswell himself manning the low end, plus his pal DJ Disk scratching away at the contents of his trusty vinyl crate and drum deity par excellence Jack DeJohnette supplying the grooves... with Derek Bailey going out of his mind over the top of it all for the whole set.

If I had to describe this show, I'd say this is what it might have sounded like if DB had been the guitarist on Bitches Brew, and not John McLaughlin! I hear you laugh, but you ain't gonna be laughing long once you paste your ears to this particular brand of marvelous mayhem.

Bill Laswell's Transmutations
28th Deutsches Jazzfestival Frankfurt
HR Sendesaal
Frankfurt, Germany

01 What's the Day Today? I
02 What's the Day Today? II
03 What's the Day Today? III
04 drum solo
05 What's the Day Today? IV
06 What's the Day Today? V
07 What's the Day Today? VI

Total time: 53:56

Bill Laswell - bass
Derek Bailey - guitar
Jack DeJohnette - drums
DJ Disk - turntables

448/48 audio extracted from a digital satellite TV broadcast on the Alpha channel
spectral analysis goes strong to 20 kHz, so this is equivalent to a preFM source
converted to 16/44 CD Audio and tracks (arbitrarily) indexed by EN, January 2021
this music is 100% improvised

This headnodic hour has circulated for years as a hissy FM capture missing the first few moments of the set. But because it deserves better than that, I took the liberty of busting out the .ts file of a capture of the accompanying video, which was broadcast on European satellite TV and had an alternate audio stream that went to 20 kHz in the spectral analysis, making it essentially equivalent to a pre-FM source.

Before I forget, in 1992 the Improvisation book was made into a four-hour BBC-TV series that is seriously hard-to-find, and begs for a real reissue harder than a crackhead at the rock spot. This (yes, it's indispensible to the power of essential) show can be watched here.
Anyways like I said, if you don't know Derek Bailey -- he'd have been 91 today -- this is a great set to wet your toes. If you already know him, this is a superior-sounding document of one of his finest -- and funkiest --  hours. Either way, it's the perfect thanks for the life of this seminal player and theoretician, who in turn enriched the lives of so many people with his unprecedented and essential ideas.--J.

1.29.1930 - 12.25.2005


  1. thank u for this i am suprised there are no comments. this is a fucking ( can i say that?)
    great post.

  2. listening now this is fantastic first part sounds like miles 74 or 75 one of my fav groups of all time. and derek sounds like john mcglauglin strangely

    1. like I said, it's the alternate universe in which Derek Bailey plays on Bitches Brew and not J-Mac