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London Improvisors Orchestra: Proceedings

With the release of Proceedings, the London Improvisers Orchestra all but overshadows its many predecessors, not just by virtue of its size (anywhere from 18 to 30 musicians perform over the course of the two-CD set), but in its representation of nearly every subset and ideological cell of London’s teeming improvised music scene.

First assembled for a ’97 UK tour of Butch Morris’ “London Skyscraper” conduction, the LIO has extrapolated the general proposition of shaping improvisations through various cueing schemes, ranging from the simple “On/Off” signals saxophonist Evan Parker employs on the piece of the same name, to bass player Simon H. Fell’s elaborate methods for deconstructing jazz repertoire on “Ellington 100 (Strayhorn 85).” Violinist Phillip Wachsmann one-ups the rest, however, by using five conductors-four are assigned different sections of the orchestra; they can be likened to submasters on a mixer, while Wachsmann controls the main output.

Some pieces are designed to put virtuoso soloists front and center, like pianist Steve Bereford’s “Concerto for Alan Tomlinson,” which features the esteemed trombonist. Other pieces, like pianist Chris Burn’s “The Barn,” lets a chosen musician (in this case, trombonist Gail Brand) operate unfettered while the subdivisions of the orchestra are cued. Yet in featuring mid-’60s pioneer Terry Day (who, because of a long, debilitating illness, plays bamboo flutes instead of percussion), saxophonist Caroline Kraabel turns the concerto proposition inside out on “Notes for Terry Day,” as the orchestra has to rigorously restrain itself so that Day is audible. The net result of these myriad processes is music that tweaks the senses and challenges even liberal ideas about the gray areas between improvisation and composition, making Proceedings a truly provocative recording.

Originally Published