Ever played that game where you imagine you can invite a few people from any period in human history to a dinner party guaranteed to produce rich, stimulating, and provocative conversation? Derek Bailey did it for real, musically, in his Company Weeks. In July 1982, his guests at London’s I.C.A. were contemporary classical pianist Ursula Oppens, folk/jazz singer-turned-improviser Julie Tippetts and her partner pianist Keith Tippett, violinist/electronics wizard Philipp Wachsmann, guitarist Fred Frith, trombonist George Lewis, harpist Anne LeBaron, and, from Japan, free jazz bassist Motoharu Yoshizawa and sound artist Akio Suzuki. In addition to the stellar group improvisation Epiphany (HJR 211LP), they also recorded enough material for two more full-length albums, of which this is the first. That line above about conversation presupposes that music is some sort of language — a thorny proposition indeed on which whole books have been written. Suffice it to say that if it is a language — music certainly communicates, that’s for sure — it’s not an Indo-European model: the only way music can express the notion of past tense is by repeating something, so that listeners can identify it as something they’ve heard before. Improvised music, however, is forever “in the moment”, as improvisers like to put it, i.e. the present tense — and the present tense has never been more wonderfully communicative than it is in these six epiphanic improvisations. Yoshizawa and Oppens (both on the keyboard and inside her piano) bounce ideas off each other like ping-pong balls (“First”); Tippetts, Wachsmann, and Bailey do extraterrestrial cubist flamenco (“Second”); Lewis and Frith rumble at everyone magnificently (“Third”); Tippett and Oppens kaleidoscope the entire history of the piano into just over 15 minutes (“Fourth” and “Fifth”) with added seasoning from LeBaron and Wachsmann, and on the closing “Sixth”, Akio Suzuki, despite describing himself elsewhere as “pursuing listening as a practice”, makes one hell of a racket with his self-made instruments: a flute, a spring gong and his analapos (two single-lidded cylinders attached by a long steel coil, which he can manipulate and strike, as well as vocalize into the tube). Yoshizawa and Bailey give him a real run for his money though, and it all builds to an ecstatic swirling, grinding climax, with Suzuki whooping and hollering wildly. Is it language? You decide. Is it rich, stimulating and provocative? You bet. What a dinner party! Bon appetit!