Album Appreciations: Agile Experiments

I have been sitting here for some time starting at an empty screen wondering how to start this piece. I want to cover so much, four album’s worth of music. But I am also aware that those four releases represent many hours of improvisations distilled into something that has been released over the past two years, but that I have discovered all at once over the past couple of weeks.

I think that the best place to start is to go back to how these remarkable recordings came about. Dave De Rose is a Londer-based musician, perhaps principally known as a drummer; but also as a multi-instrumentalist, producer and sound engineer… all of which he brings to these recordings. In 2015 he contacted the owner of The Agile Rabbit Pizzeria about programming a series hour-long of concerts with some of his favourite, mainly jazz, musicians in what was an open air marketplace in the heart of Brixton (London, UK). These became known as the ‘Agile Experiments’. As De Rose comments:

We implemented two simple rules for the performances: 

1. We wouldn’t discuss or plan anything around what we were going to play. 

2. We would play for an hour straight with no breaks. 

Dave De Rose Bandcamp

These performances took on a life of their own, and De Rose invited his fellow players to repeat the experiment in the studio, eventually distilling each hour session into single tracks of between four and six and a half minutes in length. The resulting ‘Agile Experiments Vol.1‘ is a wonderfully coherent and superbly played album that still captures the excitement of improvisation despite it being reduced from eight hours to much less than one.

What I particularly like about these recordings is that while the musicians clearly have the freedom of improvisation, they also seem to have a responsibility to each other, and also a oneness that creates that coherence. This is perhaps underlined by the manifesto that De Rose sets out in relation to ‘Agile Experiments Vol.2‘; which seems to boil down to the notion that it is essential to capture the moment, and keep going whatever happens.

This, it seems to me, cannot be achieved without a great deal of trust. Trust between the musicians, and trust in the process… but also trust in every step of the journey from the mind of the player to the interpretation of the listener. That certain ideas are not lost in the process, while other interpretations are added through such as production, mixing and editing; and through the sheer act of listening.

This point is nicely made by the notes for the third in this sequence of four albums ‘The Ultimate Guide to Avant​-​Garde​-​Step – sides A & B

Dave De Rose drives this project, combining the musicians, selecting cuts from the improvisations, at times recording, mixing and mastering the audio, ultimately organising the practical distribution of recordings and performances. All these tasks, however, require the input of countless other humans who lend their ears, eyes and ideas out of their own generosity and love for this communal project. These mostly uncredited people greatly influence and ultimately lead the ineffable world of these sonic creations from their temporary existence to your ears. 

Dave De Rose Bandcamp

These recordings have at their source a mixture of studio and live improvisations, which does mark a slight departure; and there is arguably a greater sense of scale in terms of the latter… it may just be my mind suggesting it to me but there does seem to be a detectably different atmosphere… not better, just different.

I really like the title of this album too… it is descriptive, but also slightly tongue-in-cheek… and in itself it helps the listener to set off in the right way with this music, which I feel is more leftfield and avant grade than the two previous offerings. There is still that firm sense of coherence, but it also feels like a few more risks are being taken… a confidence to take things a little farther and try new things.

This is one of the many things that I like about this series of albums… that at no point can they be said to be in anyway the same… each is a new challenge to musician and listener alike… and each subsequently rewards that commitment. What particularly struck me when listening to these records back to back was that the was a certain progression to them… these are not post-modernist cut and paste recordings but something far more (to repeat myself) coherent.

Which brings me to the final one of these albums ‘Agile Experiments Athens’, which probably marks the most conspicuous change in the project thus far. Again in the notes for this album De Rose suggests that the London jazz scene, part of which I did a short piece on earlier this year, is in many ways an exciting place to be, but that this has a down-side:

The city has a grip on us because of the infinite possibilities and incredibly dense pool of fantastic musicians available from all over the world. There are also many venues in which to perform all styles of music. However somehow, it can feel extremely tired and saturated. 

Dave De Rose bandcamp

As a result he felt both a push to leave London for a while, and a pull from the growing music scene in Athens; which some commentators are referring to as the ‘new Berlin’. Whether or not that is the case, the resulting album marks a terrific next step for this project by taking the manifesto to a new set of musicians in a different cultural setting. I’m not sure that I can put is better than De Rose himself:

Agile Experiments had an opportunity here to expand its palate beyond the jazz sound of the London recordings. Eastern tonalities and sound mastery in the hands of heavy-weight modern day musicians with these influences in their blood, blend both explicitly and implicitly, creating strong textural soundscapes and moods I had hoped for but not had the ability to come anywhere near imagining. 

 Dave De Rose Bandcamp

Indeed there is a different feel to these improvisations which, and I guess this is an obvious remark, more distant and less familiar… the Eastern tones that are evident here do, though, add a new dimension to this project… again there is no sense of absence, nor am I as the listener mourning the loss of anything that has gone before. These sounds really are about the moment, and I feel that this is communicated clearly here as everywhere.

For me this is a lot of what music should be for the listener… the relationship with that music at that time. Yes we can wonder about influences and what those musicians have put out before, but that instant is the most important. For me though this is only achievable if the musicians are also feeling that too… and this is the essence of the Agile Experiments project for me. Wherever and whenever you step into that sonic stream there is no other moment like it. It seems to me that all those involved are respectful of the process, and this in turn allows the listener to develop a very special relationship with this music.

All four ‘Agile Experiment’ albums are available for digital download from Dave De Rose’s bandcamp here, some are still available on vinyl here too, including a repress of ‘Agile Experiments Athens’.

In the course of writing this De Rose also released a limited edition cassette EP, ‘The Day Goes‘ with Dario Rossetti-Bonell and Yusuf Ahmed; which sounds terrific on first listen.



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