Agile Experiments ‘Alive in the Empire’ LP (Dave De Rose) 3/5

Dave De Rose, London based Anglo-Italian drummer and multi instrumentalist is the force behind Agile Experiments, a loose and changing collective of musicians committed to spontaneously created free-form music. For these recordings at the Empire Bar Hackney, from November last year De Rose was joined by John Edwards (double bass) Dan Nicholls (synths samples and FXs) and George Crowley (sax and FXs).

The origins of Agile Experiments lie in the Agile Rabbit, a pizza restaurant in Brixton Village. De Rose had the idea of bringing unsuspecting consumers of pizza face to face with free-form jazz musicians, thus going against the grain of targeting people with exactly what they want. Instead he offered them the excitement of an unexpected encounter, music they might not ordinarily come across.

Agile Experiments Volume 1 and 2 were culled from these encounters with unsuspecting diners at the Agile Rabbit. The only rules laid down by De Rose for the band were; no discussion about what they would play and the set would be one hour straight with no break. Someone from the British Library was impressed enough by these off the cuff volumes of creativity to include them in the library’s sound archives of cultural achievement.

De Rose has toured with and played on an impressive roster of other people’s records including Mulato Astatke, Jamie Cullum, Bastille, Scroobius Pip and Vula Veil to name just a few. The record is released on 27th March on vinyl only and is produced, mixed and mastered by De Rose himself.

Alive In The Empire consists of excerpts from longer performances, there are seven pieces in total. Some tracks almost flow into each other, others have a very different mood or pace. They’re simply titled Alive Ⅰ-Ⅶ, the longest almost ten minutes in duration.

‘Alive Ⅰ’ is introduced with short and breathless notes from the sax, the music then meanders in a sonic territory that made me think of Miles’ On The Corner album, this was reinforced later when the electronics kicked in with ferocious snarls and growls along with an inspired level of percussive energy.

‘Alive Ⅱ’ moves at a different pace altogether, with an almost 70s funk feel, allowing Crowley’s sax to take centre stage with a potent energy. As the rhythm breaks down Crowley echoes much further back in the mix before Edwards’ double bass comes to the fore as the track fades out.

‘Alive Ⅴ’ at the extended ten minutes length gives a better impression of what the music is about. Ominous bowing by Edwards introduces some satisfying interplay between his bass and Crowley’s sax. The underlying structure makes this part of the recording easier on the ear than other parts of the album. De Rose increases the pace and intensity which gradually dismantles the hypnotic sax structure of the piece.

Finally, ‘Alive Ⅶ’ is pleasingly ambient, akin to a retro sci-fi movie soundtrack. Though brief at three and a half minutes it has some intriguing electronic texture.

Is there a contradiction at the heart of a recorded free jazz concert? Knowing what’s coming next in that moment of spontaneous creativity certainly changes the experience and provides a useful reference for posterity. I watched a performance on YouTube recorded earlier this month with the band performing as a trio, (minus sax). This twenty-five minute piece was also recorded at the Empire Bar. What’s missing from the album is the amazing visual spectacle and physicality of John Edwards’ bass playing, the drama of which draws attention to the stunningly agile interaction between him and De Rose. The fluidity of this performance somehow works better as an extended audio visual experience rather than the shorter excerpts on the album.

James Read

Live Dates at The Empire Bar, 291 Mare St, London E8 1EJ
11 March – Ruth Goller elec bass & FX / Tom Challenger saxophone / Dave De Rose drums
1 April – Tom Herbert elec bass & FX / Dan Nicholls synths, samples & FX / Dave De Rose drums
13 May – Colin Somervell double bass / George Crowley saxophone & FX / Dave De Rose drums
3 June – Dave Smith drums / Marius Mathiszik guitar, loops & FX / Dave De Rose bass & FX