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Spontaneous Music Ensemble

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The Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME) was a loose collection of free improvising musicians convened beginning in the mid-1960s by the late South London-based jazz drummer/trumpeter John Stevens and alto and soprano saxophonist Trevor Watts.

SME performances could range from Stevens-Watts duos to gatherings of more than a dozen players. One can loosely divide the group’s history into two periods: the more horn-oriented earlier ensembles (typically with some combination of Watts , Evan Parker and Kenny Wheeler), and the later string-based ensembles with guitarist Roger Smith (who became as central to the second edition of SME as Watts was to the first) and violinist Nigel Coombes. (The transitional point is the quartet album Biosystem (Incus, 1977), which also featured cellist Colin Wood.) Countless other musicians passed through the SME over the years, including Derek Bailey, Paul Rutherford, Maggie Nichols, Dave Holland, Barry Guy, Peter Kowald and Kent Carter. The final edition of the group was a trio of Stevens, Smith, and the saxophonist John Butcher, a configuration documented on A New Distance (1994).

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