Album reviews

Moss Freed & Union Division: ‘Micromotives’

Moss Freed & Union Division: Micromotives

(Discus CD147. Also mentioned is the album launch Vortex Jazz Club 25 January. Album review by Tony Dudley-Evans

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In his very informative notes on the CD sleeve, Moss Freed talks of how, in creating music for a large improvising ensemble, he wanted to set up an environment that facilitated the personal freedoms, the spontaneity and communication in the moment that characterise small group free improvisation.

His approach to achieving these goals was to devise a series of hand signals to guide the improvisation and enable it to change direction at any given point. In this, he was following the model known as conduction originally established by Butch Morris, but the important difference in Freed’s method is that any member of the ensemble has the right to intervene, and through the agreed hand signals shape the direction of the improvisation.

All this was apparent in the album launch at the Vortex. Without any pre-planning virtually every member of the ensemble took the initiative at a certain point, and guided the ensemble into a different direction through the established signals. No explanation was given of the signals, but they seemed to focus on whether the change involved either the whole ensemble or certain sections of it, and also referred the ensemble to part of a score outlining suggested patterns for the improvisation.

The result at the album launch at the Vortex was an engaging, free flowing, rapidly changing set of improvisations that retained their spontaneity throughout, and blended the individual voices of the musicians into a coherent whole. The music proceeded through short punchy, overlapping phrases played by different members of the ensemble; at times certain individuals dominated for a short period, but others entered, and this was very much an ensemble performance. The process was clearly enjoyed by the participating musicians, and by an enthusiastic audience.

The Micromotives album presents on a double CD two performances recorded in 2018 and 2021. The music is in its overall impact very similar to that heard at the album launch, and the same methods are used. Listening to the Cds, as opposed to being present and witnessing the hand signals, it is difficult to work out exactly where the transitions in the music come, but the same variety and changes in direction are clearly there. Moreover, the music has the same free flowing spontaneity observed at the album launch.

On CD A there are three tracks, one from 2018 and two from 2021. On the first track, Union Of Egoists (for Anthony Braxton), the music proceeds in accordance with the band’s philosophy through a series of rapidly changing passages; it begins with the full ensemble, moves into a passage with saxophones and drums which the trumpets enter after a short while, then into a passage led by guitar with the backing of fanfare sounds from the brass, then a series of ensemble passages, then alto sax plus rhythms and so on. Unprecedented (for Pauline Oliveros) is gentler, moving through an arc in which the intensity grows before it winds down back into the more contemplative mood. Left-Leaning (for Louis Andriessen) seems to capture somethingof Andriessen’s music with its rhythmically assertive approach. It includes a short feature for George Crowley on clarinet.

CD B has three tracks from the 2018 session and one from 2021. The music follows a similar pattern to that on CD A, but the sounds and interactions are different. There are some splendidly anarchic ensemble passages on Killer (for John Zorn) with one short passage sounding like a crazy dance band and Hidden Hand (for Terry Riley), and rather more ruminative ensemble sounds on Starlings (for Christian Wolff) and Hung Parliament (for Barry Guy).

The personnel varies across the two performances on the Cds and at the launch, the lineups are listed below. Five players appeared on both recorded sets and at the album launch: Sam Eastmond (trumpet), Chris Williams (alto sax), Pierre Alexandre Tremblay (electronics), Will Glaser (drums) and of course Moss Freed on guitar. Those appearing on one or two of the sessions include established improvisers such as saxophonist Rachel Musson, trumpeter Charlotte Keeffe and pianist Steve Beresford, but, interestingly, a number of players more associated, though not exclusively, with contemporary composition-based music, e.g. trumpeter Laura Jurd, pianist Elliot Galvin, saxophonist George Crowley and drummer James Maddren played one or two of the sessionsThis is an indication that the contemporary jazz and improvised music communities are more integrated than has been the case in the past, and are effectively one community.

The free jazz /improvised music scene in the UK seems to be particularly healthy at the moment with many excellent small groups and a number of larger ensembles working out interesting experimental ideas. This double album of Moss Freed’s is an important contribution to the scene, and it is to be hoped that Moss is able to continue to work with the ensemble. 


Recording 1 (2018): Moss Freed, electric guitar, Charlotte Keeffe, trumpet Sam Eastmond, trumpet, Tullis Rennie, trombone, Chris Williams, alto saxophone, Rosanna Ter-Berg, flute, piccolo, Brice Catherin cello, Otto Wilberg, double bass, Elliot Galvin, piano, Will Glaser, drums, James Maddren, drums, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, electronics, electric bass

Recording 2 (2021): Moss Freed, electric guitar, Laura Jurd, trumpet and cornet, Charlotte Keeffe, trumpet, Sam Eastmond, trumpet, George Crowley, tenor saxophone, clarinet, Chris Williams, alto saxophone, Otto Wilberg, double bass Steve Beresford, piano, Will Glaser, drums, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, electronics, electric bass

Album Launch (January 2023): Moss Freed, electric guitar, Sam Eastmond, trumpet, Alex Paxton, trombone, Rosanna Ter-Berg, flute, piccolo, Chris Williams, alto saxophone, Tullis Rennie, trombone, Rachel Musson, tenor saxophone, Tom Ward, saxophones, Charlotte Keeffe, trumpet, Steve Beresford, piano, H V Williams, double bass, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, electronics, electric bas, Will Glaser, drums

Link to album at Discus Music’s Bandcamp

Categories: Album reviews, Reviews

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