Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra: Flying A Kite On An Empty Beach

Unlike some, the GIO takes a homely approach to avant-garde improvisation, espousing a diverse range of genres, with and without grooves


The GIO’s latest album is dedicated to bassist George Lyle, who died in 2016 at age 76. A musical hero in his home city of Glasgow, he remains relatively unknown outside Scotland, yet in 1960s London he witnessed the birth of British free improv, sharing a house with vocalist and fellow Scot Maggie Nicols.

Returning to Glasgow in the 70s, Lyle joined the radical 7:84 Theatre Company. In 1979 he toured with Trevor Watts’ Amalgam, with AMM’s Keith Rowe on electric guitar and Liam Genockey on drums. 

Lyle joined George Burt and Raymond MacDonald’s band in the mid-90s, which led to the founding of the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra in 2000. MacDonald saw Lyle as a hugely influential member of GIO. His approach to improvising [was] always warm and inviting, gently encouraging others into new places.

For Glasgow-based writer Stewart Smith, GIO’s homely avant-gardism involves a socially minded, interdisciplinary approach to improvisation. GIO today is a large improvising ensemble of around 20 musicians from diverse genre backgrounds.

Bill Shoemaker’s article in his online magazine Point Of Departure is the best resource on the GIO. There, Raymond MacDonald comments that “We’ve had very intense discussions about the utility of conductions as a way of structuring large group improvising, and we’ve had a commitment to free improvising that most other large ensembles don’t have.”

The GIO’s avant-gardism is certainly homely, and involves an engagingly diverse range of genres, both with and without grooves. Belmont Street has a gentle, rather ambient groove, while For GL is a fiery free improvisation. Another Room features a vocalised version of Monk’s Mood. Shuffle begins with a shuffle groove, then becomes free; A Sonic Meditation for George Lyle opens with the orchestra vocalising, before instrumental freedom takes over.

A long and eventful release, beautifully-produced and packaged. 

Belmont Street; For GL; Another Room; Shuffle; A Sonic Meditation For George Lyle (80.56)
Selected personnel: Raymond MacDonald, Sue McKenzie (s); Catriona McKay (clarsach); George Burt, Peter Nicholson (clo); Atzi Muramatsu (clo, elec); Corey Mwamba (vib); Una MacGlone (b); Cliona Cassidy (v). Glasgow, 27 November 2016.
New Jazz and Improvised Music Recordings NEWJAiM15