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JJ 08/70: John Stevens – Spontaneous Music Ensemble

Fifty years ago Graham Boatfield, ready to dismiss John Stevens' SME as rubbish, realised "it needed very careful attention". First published in Jazz Journal August 1970

The producer of this musical experience considers that all it requires is an open mind. I think it requires the same capacity for appreciation as those who sit and listen to Aeolian harps, or sea-watchers. It is tuneful, rambling, unorganised, intense, obviously passionate.

My first thought was ‘neatly packaged rubbish’. But most musical rubbish belonging to today is pretentious and surrounded like a cocoon by the outpourings of verbalisers. This is not pretentious, although Mr. Gomelsky’s few words on the album sleeve could with advantage be deleted.

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Nor is ‘rubbish’ normally associated with the work of Kenny Wheeler, whose horn here sounds sad and enormous like the little-mad-bull blarings of a younger Miles Davis at his bluesey best.

I don’t know what to make of it. But from getting ready for a quick listen and a rapid consignment of this record elsewhere l real­ised it needed very careful attention. Unlike some fashionable, and often ill-mannered, bits of musical self-expression this is at times magical, introvert, and entirely self-contained.

The duet between Maggie Nichols’ husky, abstracted voice and Trevor Watts’ fluid, yelping alto in ‘Oliv II’ is memorable, music for a secret dream. Or, if you insist, non­sense; but that opinion, while tenable, is one I reject.

Self-contained is the operative phrase. What goes on here is a private pleasure, a musical back-water. This is no new thing, no way forward. Like the work of Moondog, it is for a few addicts. The rest should disregard it.

Discography
(a) Oliv One (18 min) – (b) Oliv Two (16 min)
(a) Kenny Wheeler (flg-h); Trevor Watts (alt): Derek Bailey (el-gtr); Peter Lemer (pno); John Dyani (bs); John Stevens (perc/glockenspiel); Maggie Nichols, Carolann Nicholls, Pepi Lemer (vcl).
(b) Trevor Watts (alt); John Dyani (bs); John Stevens (perc/glockenspiel); Maggie Nichols (vcl).
(Polydor Standard 2384.009 29s 10d)

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