Cover Notes

by Gavin Bryars


This short piece was recorded in rehearsal in the front room of my ground floor flat at 329 Crooksmoor Road, Sheffield some time in 1965. It was a medium-size living room, carpeted and with an open fireplace, and was just big enough for the three of us to have sufficient space to play. I had lived in the upstairs flat during my last two years as a philosophy student, a period when, in reality, I was spending more time working virtually as a professional musician even before I graduated in 1964.

I met Derek and Tony for the first time when I had been invited to play with them, and pianist Gerry Rollinson. The student trio that I led, with guitarist Eddie Speight, had played during the interval of one of their quartet performances in a pub on Eccleshall Road.

When I came back to work in Sheffield towards the end of 1964 I managed to rent the lower floor flat, which was more practical for a bassist. Throughout the time that I lived there, until the end of the summer of 1966, the three of us would rehearse frequently and try out ideas. Sometimes just Tony and I would practice together, working on complex approaches to pulsed time, especially in order for the trio to become familiar with Tony's increasing interest in subdivisions of triplets (even when we were still playing relatively conventional jazz compositions) . At other times the three of us would rehearse, basically testing possible procedures in our transition from jazz to free playing. We would perform regularly in public, playing each Saturday lunchtime in an upstairs room in The Grapes, Trippet Lane.

The recording

When we had been playing jazz, the last recordings of the Bill Evans trio - with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian - were a useful example of one way in which the concept of a hierarchy of roles could be undermined. Examples of the kinds of ideas we used in the process of evolving from harmonic jazz to free playing are described in Derek's book. A quite early device was to play modally but at the same time not impose any limit on the amount of time that a player might spend improvising. That is, not to proscribe, for example, the number of "choruses" and even to move away from the very idea of "chorus" length in relation to the thematic material (here Miles' Mode) . Even when working with modal material we established very quickly the practice of moving outside the mode established by the theme once we were improvising, effectively negating the very concept of modal playing.

This rehearsal tape starts with a couple of minutes where we work out informally how the theme itself is played. When we begin to play the piece there is always an unmeasured, but quite long, pause after the theme's first phrase before moving on. ( In another recorded rehearsal of the same piece, probably done much earlier, this does not happen and, in that version, the bass and guitar play the theme in unison). For what could be termed the bridge section of the theme there is an improvised bass solo, accompanied only by drums. The improvisation proper begins as if it is going to be a guitar solo, accompanied by bass and drums, but it is apparent almost immediately that this is effectively a collective improvisation which becomes increasingly free, and has little dependence on the source material i.e. the theme and its modality. Occasionally the guitar quotes elements of the theme in a fragmentary way, almost as a parody of how it was being demonstrated in the pre-performance attempts to play the tune!

From time to time the bass moves to arco, playing long sustained notes, slow repeated phrases, playing out of time and independent of the fast rhythmic interplay between guitar and drums. When the bass solo begins (pizzicato) it is completely unaccompanied for a while and indeed long solos of this kind eventually became the norm in the actual performance at our regular venue. Here, however, the other instruments gradually begin to act as a kind of support until the solo becomes a double improvisation for the bass and drums, with discrete touches from guitar. A very slow arco, rhapsodic and out of time, attempted statement of the opening
of the theme appears. This hints at the use of varied tempi that was also developed more thoroughly in the later free playing.

The bass carries on further with its solo playing pizzicato and eventually states the theme giving a new, and different, impetus to the music leading to a drum solo, initially as a duo with the bass. Something which was very particular to Tony's playing at this time, and which can be heard here, is the extreme care with which he would tune his drums - the bass drum, various tom-toms and snare ( with the snares in their "off " position throughout this solo) giving his solos great tonal, almost melodic, variety. Derek begins to restate the theme over Tony's solo and it is interesting that Tony maintains exactly what he was already doing - quiet rolled figures on the higher tom-toms- throughout this initial statement and only plays thematically after the long pause in the statement. Many drummers would have immediately switched to thematic playing as soon as the tune reappeared.

Although this rehearsal performance is based on an extant piece, there is some evidence here of the group's transition towards a form of free playing.


The recorded legacy of Joseph Holbrooke from the 1960s is almost non-existent. Most of the material is located in rehearsal tapes and there are no recordings of the free playing to the best of my knowledge. There are tapes of our playing with Lee Konitz, which are hardly representative of our work, when he toured the north of England in the mid-60s. One of these, recorded at a club in Manchester, appears in the published discography of Lee Konitz where the players are listed as guitar (Derek Bailey), drums (Tony Oxley), bass player (unknown)..

Gavin Bryars, January 1999