J A Deane: Out of Context
J A Deane (conducting, electronics, bass flute), Stefan Dill (guitars), Steve Feld (euphonium). Tom Guralnick (soprano sax, electronics), Katie Harlow (cello), Rod Harrison (acting), Joseph Sabella (drums), Courtney Smith (harp), Alicia Ultan (viola), Jefferson Voorhees (drums), Mark Weaver (tuba)
It's not often that people try conduction; it's an odd endeavour, after all. You take a fairly large group of good-quality improvising musicians, who have spent much of their careers developing their own voices with which to express their own ideas. You then make them take their cues from one person, the conductor, who tells them, by means of a series of gestures, what they ought to be doing. There's a huge ego problem to be overcome there, and also the question of whay one would bother; this disk's ensembles of eight or nine are hardly orchestras, and could doubtless make competent music without the aid of a baton.
Well, that may all be true, but conduction does create a completely different kind of music from group improvisation. The semi-orchestral textures which can be obtained from the technique are nigh-on impossible without a conductor. The conductor must be a good one, of course, but Deane is, and the music here doesn't falter for a moment.
The disk contains three pieces spanning over two years, and each has its own flavour. The first is a sweeping, delicate piece which would work as a soundtrack or a piece for dance; for this listener, it was the high spot. The second is dominated by the presence of Rod Harrison, reading a weird collage of Marat/Sade, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and a selection of other texts, his voice ducking in and out of the music which swirls around him like rough water, threatening to drown him out but never competing too strongly. It works much better than one might have imagined, although Harrison does get rather excitable at times, and it's a pretty confrontational performance. The third is more textural, with a dark, amorphous quality; it requires a little more work from the listener, but rewards it well enough.
The performances documented here are quite different from Butch Morris's, and quite different from one another. Anyone with an interest in conduction would be well-advised to seek it out; this is top-quality stuff, from a practitioner who ought to be better known, and it's pretty clear that there are some strong talents on the sharp end of the baton, too. Good stuff, but not (apart from the first track) easy listening.