By Dan Coffey
Lindsay Cooper, like contemporaries Fred Frith, Tim Hodgkinson, and John Greaves, cut their avant-garde teeth in the uncompromising leftist band Henry Cow. Cooper had been playing with the progressive rock band Comus when she was invited to join Henry Cow. The rest really is history, but not a well-known one. After Henry Cow’s demise, Cooper started a band called News from Babel. Both the Henry Cow and News from Babel material are fairly well-documented, but there is so much more to Cooper’s musical legacy that remains largely unknown to any but the most diehard fans. Rarities, Volumes I & II attempts to redress the various oversights in Cooper’s eclectic career as composer and improviser on some of the toughest instruments to bring to any kind of combo – jazz, rock, or improvisatory – mainly the oboe, bassoon and sopranino saxophone.
Cooper suffered for many years from Multiple Sclerosis and had to retire from playing before her time. After succumbing to the disease in September, 2013, plans were made to hold a concert in her honor, with various combinations of musicians performing Cooper’s compositions. Thankfully, there’s a recorded legacy to go with that concert. This 2 disc set is full of treasures. Not all of the tracks are previously unreleased, but the ones that aren’t are extremely rare. Throughout the span of this set we get to hear songs that were originally released on limited edition cassettes or as bonus LPs that came with a subscription.
The set starts out with a suite of 26 short songs written for films and television shows. Other highlights feature a “piano roulette” that was previously unreleased. Also seeing the light of day for the first time is a performance by the band Trio Trabant, formed by Alfred Harth, who invited Cooper and Phil Minton to join. Trio Trabant have only ever released one CD; the music here is from a live performance made available for the first time.
This is an essential album that fills in the cracks between the Lindsay Cooper that most people are aware of, and at the same time is not esoteric enough to be a “collector’s only” item; although labeled as “rarities,” it is an excellent introduction to the varied career of the sadly missed Cooper.