Derek Bailey

Fairly Early with Postscripts

Emanem / 4027

Derek Bailey (guitar), Anthony Braxton (flute, sax), Kent Carter (bass), John Stevens (drums)

Not a long-lost quartet session, mouth-watering though that would be, but a selection of out-takes, unissued and long-scarce tracks from almost three decades of Bailey’s epoch-defining career. They run from the early pieces of 1971 to the “Post Postscript” of 1998, recorded specifically for this release.

Those “Six Fairly Early Pieces” are from an Emanem LP issued ten years ago and now unavailable, and it’s good to see them back. They have all the hallmarks of Bailey’s style, using on this occasion a single volume pedal separated from the acoustic sound in the stereo field. Also included is the very short and chaotically funny “In Whose Tradition?” from three years later; again, the stereo effects are used to enhance Bailey’s palette without becoming gimmicky. Perhaps not so masterful as some of his subsequent work, these are welcome documents of his development and still knock most experimental guitar-playing into a cocked hat.

“In Whose Tradition?” was recorded on the same day as Bailey was rehearsing with Braxton, and two out-takes from their rehearsal tapes show a very different guitarist. The oft-made criticism of the Braxton/Bailey duo — that these are two masters from different musical traditions who have very little to say to one another — isn’t supported by their live recordings, but these two tracks are certainly dispensible. Bailey scrapes and saws, going for noise rather than notes, which is surprising when you step outside the rehearsal room and hear them sparring with harmonic complexities far beyond anything resembling changes playing. The result is not terribly flattering for either player, although again perhaps the documentary value of these excerpts justifies their release.

The same can’t be said for the previously unissued solo takes from 1980; this is prime Bailey, and one wonders just how much of this stuff exists given that it’s taken nigh-on twenty years for these to come out. Fifteen minutes of pure magic, followed by two short and exhilarating trios with Carter and a bombastic Stevens, long unavailable and heartily welcomed back to the catalogue. Carter is a bit on the quiet side, but overall these are an extremely involving listen.

The “Postscripts” refer to tape letters which Bailey sent to Martin Davidson (who runs Emanem) while the latter was in the US at the end of the ’70s. They mix guitar playing with talk from Bailey in an engaging and spontaneous manner, making them rather intimate portraits of the man which Davidson must have enjoyed enormously. Bailey plays like an angel — often drifting into uncharacteristically jazzy areas, for satirical purposes but revealingly nonetheless — but his words, taken out of their postcard context, are a little distracting. However much we might agree with him, his political points are heartfelt but there’s not much news here. Edward Heath is “the old twot”; Thatcher is “the evil bitch”; “they really are a pathetic lot this time”, he mutters. Penty of vitriol here but not much analysis, which is perfectly understandable in what he was never expecting to be a public document.

Added to these are the “Postscripts” themselves, the second of which begins with the rather on-point observation that “there must be a limit to how many times we can do this”. But these, I suppose, aren’t to be thought of as completely-realised musical performances so much as spontaneous sketches, highly personal documents, something like a great writer’s diary. On that analogy, then, these are not for the casual listener but will be of great interest to the completist. The disc as a whole, though, has much to recommend it, and one shouldn’t be put off by the quirkiness of the final twenty minutes. Richard Cochrane