38. Creative crosscurrents

All Good Things, from Big Air, 2008

OK, this one was much praised on release, but it’s a while ago now so worth a reminder. Big Air were a UK-US collaboration who combined influences from both sides of the Atlantic unusually fruitfully. It’s a mix we see more often now – before the pandemic anyhow – thanks to the efforts of Michael Janisch and of one or two other US players who have settled here, but was more unusual back then.

Trumpeter Chris Batchelor and multi-reeds player Steve Buckley are two of the horn players from Loose Tubes who went on to contribute so much to the UK scene after that incomparable ensemble dispersed, Oren Marshall on tuba, the prolific Myra Melford on piano and powerful US drummer Jim Black completed the line-up*.

Their shared delight in looking for the sweet spot between structure and freedom permeates this recording, from 2008, and is realised in different ways on each track. The Road, The Sky, The Moon is distinctly reminiscent of Ornette’s Lonely Woman, and conjures a similar atmosphere. There are funky tracks, with fierce Jack DeJohnette-like drumming and punchy tuba lines, airy musings on folk-like themes, and free piano excursions. And this one, which does seem to hark back to Loose Tubes.

The tumbling, stumbling, piece with its gradually dissolving tempo, has a wonderful exuberance and leads into a good-humoured bass clarinet solo from Buckley (with some incidental noises off), then Batchelor, Melford and Black lead into a collective improv which preserves the mood, referring back to the melody and eventually allowing all five to coalesce once more. It’s a small tease of an arrangement that pokes affectionate fun at small band polyphony while also making clever use of it.

All the players here are still variously active, but not in this configuration. I never heard them live, when one may guess they were pretty memorable, but it’s good to have this much of them on record.

Why the No 38? This is one of a series running (in no particular order) through 2021. I explain a bit what it’s doing here.

There’s a cumulative playlist of all the ones that can be found on Spotify.

  • Chris Batchelor commented on twitter: “Big Air was a direct result of the tour that Steve and I did in 1999 with Equal Interest (Myra Melford/Joseph Jarman/Leroy Jenkins) promoted by the much missed CMN, who were responsible for many international collaborations and cross-pollinations”. I missed that one, not sure how – but he’s dead right that the old Contemporary Music Network organised amazing tours from the 1970s right up to early 2000s.

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