Reissue This Now: Derek Bailey's 'On The Edge'
by Lars Gotrich
What do Mozart, John Zorn and Gaelic psalm singers have to do with each other? Part one of a 1992 film explains:
OK, so it's an hour-long documentary on improvisation. But if you catch even the first few minutes, you'll be treated to this pearl from guitarist Derek Bailey:
In the lack of indigenous music, [the record store is] where [people] find their roots. And in music, whatever you're looking for -- whether it's authenticity, or originality, or transcendentalism, or traditionalism -- the best place to look is in a record store. But you won't find -- or you'll rarely find -- mention of improvisation. It's not a term which has become part of the record industry's promotional vocabulary.
In recent years, the negative stigma around "improvisation" has diminished, perhaps due in part to bands like Animal Collective, a polyglot of cosmic music, particularly flexing its improv roots in concert. Jazz folks have been on this tip since day one, but I'm sure Bailey would be happy to know that his statement becomes less and less the case as people discover music with an expansive approach.
The above quotation comes from On the Edge, a four-part U.K. Channel 4 TV series based on Bailey's book, Improvisation. It wasn't a how-to on improvisation, but a look at its history and cultural importance.
Why On the Edge deserves the reissue treatment, after the jump.
I was reminded of the series via Tweet, and re-watched my totally legal (ahem) copy of the long out-of-print program. Thankfully, Ubuweb has parts I and III for on-demand viewing, but I can't help but think On the Edge deserves the full DVD treatment.
While the series features music literally from around the world -- Indian classical, Spanish flamenco, Egyptian gypsy music and American blues -- jazz folks will undoubtedly be excited about the performances and interviews with drummer and educator Max Roach and conductor and composer Butch Morris, which you can watch below.
What makes On the Edge so timeless is the notion that improvised music shares a community -- everything from a Lebanese organist living in Paris (Naji Hakim, my personal favorite) to qawwali from the Sufis in New Delhi to Chicago trombone/video-manipulation via George Lewis -- a cross-pollinated sonic world based on spontaneous interaction.
2:51 PM ET | 05-26-2009 | permalink