The vinyl reissue of this masterwork, adding two hitherto unreleased gems recorded solo for Charles Fox’s Radio 3 programme Jazz in Britain, in the same few months of 1980 as the stunning Aida performances.
The phrase ‘in the moment’ is often bandied about with reference to free improvisation, and indeed there’s no better way to describe Derek Bailey’s playing. The acoustic guitar is notoriously lacking in natural reverberation — notes barely hang in the air for a couple of seconds before they disappear — which explains the almost non-stop flow of new material in these stellar performances. Bailey knew from one split-second to the next exactly where to find the same pitch on different strings, either as a stopped tone or a ringing harmonic, and there’s never a note out of place. ‘He who kisses the joy as it flies,’ in the words of William Blake, ‘Lives in eternity’s sunrise’ — and this music is forever in the moment, constantly active but never gabby, kissing the joy.
One of the special pleasures of the BBC set is the guitarist’s own laconic commentary, a deliciously deadpan description of what he’s doing while he’s doing it — “I like to think of it… as a kind of music” — and the interaction between words and music is a particular delight. “You may have noticed a certain lack of variety,” he quips, while unleashing a furiously complex volley. Is it a coincidence that the final seconds recall the famous cycling fifths of the coda to Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight?