This year was bookended by two deaths of two brilliant English free improvisers: Hugh Davies (self-made instruments mostly) at the beginning of January, and Derek Bailey (guitarist) just on Christmas day. Bailey is far more documented than Davies, but they shared amongst themselves much more of a lack of complacency than many of their peers. With Evan Parker and Jamie Muir (also briefly of King Crimson) in the Music Improvisation Company, they made some of the furthest-out music of the late-60s/early-70s British free improv period.
I saw Davies once a few years back, where he played, among other things, a ridged 3-d picture postcard and I recognized the sound before I even saw the instrument. And Bailey, besides his obvious achievements of being one of the most distinctive and influential guitarists of his time, an intimidating influence for any guitarist, provided inspiration to me in other fields. One of his last albums was named Carpal Tunnel, documenting his (rather quick) readjustment to playing after falling prey to the disease. Having had carpal tunnel syndrome myself at age 19, I figured Bailey was made of strong enough stuff to go on for another 25 years if he had staved off hand injury for 75 years. Alas, it’s not to be. I’ll still remember the day I got “Aida” in the mail and upon listening it, said, “I will never be able to get into this.” (I would have had the same reaction to Davies at the time.) Three years later I decided that his “String Theory” album was the most careful, interesting record of guitar feedback I’d ever heard. Here’s to slow mills.