MAGGIE NICOLS - ARE YOU READY

MAGGIE NICOLS - ARE YOU READY

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Released: 21/10/22

While she might be best known as an improviser (most notably in the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, the Feminist Improvising Group and more recently with the likes of Les Diaboliques), Maggie Nicols’ talents stretch into song, dance, poetry, performance and composition. When Cafe OTO was shut over lockdown we invited her to follow up the wonderful solo ‘Creative Contradiction’ with some time spent singing alone at the piano. ‘Are You Ready?’ comprises an LP of songs and a 2CD edition which includes a companion disk of freely improvised meditations entitled, ‘Whatever Arises.’ Songs - seemingly contradictory to the practices of free improvisation - have been a vital part in Nicols’ relationship to music. It was singing bebop with pianist Dennis Rose which nurtured and challenged Nicols, allowing her to develop her own skills and sound amongst a repertoire of standards sung in clubs and pubs. Singing alongside Julie Tippetts in Centipede showed her how heady experimentation could be woven into composition, and a more recent gig with pianist Steve Lodder played out ‘The Maggie Nicols Songbook.’ Are You Ready? recalls Nicols’ own compositions from memory, working out tunes and turning them over. New routes down old paths form in moments of improvisation and all wrong turns are played out with joyous discovery. What John Stevens dubbed Maggie's “ability to find the ‘rhythmelodic’” meets a willingness to be understood and to understand. Solo at the piano, Nicols is still firmly rooted in the collective however - “Sans Papiers” sets the words of poet Vicky Scrivener to tune; a story of migration and struggle which is as important to Nicols as the songs her mother wrote. Such an intimate recording of her own compositions came with a certain amount of reflection and anxiety - best confronted with time spent freely improvising. ‘Whatever Arises’ - a companion disk to the ‘Songs’ - is a meditation of sorts, a process of ‘following the energy’ which has its roots in John Stevens’ work. “Improvisation gives the confidence to compose,” Nicols told us in an interview about some of her archival tapes, and here the two are as important as each other. Beginning with breath and repetition, ‘Whatever Arises’ allows Nicols’ to find new voices, accompanied by the piano and over dubbings of her tap shoes on the concrete floor. Brilliantly she is able to share her moments of discovery with the listener, finding comfort in vulnerability. Whilst rooted in Stevens’ work, Nicols’ improvisational techniques also remind us of Pauline Oliveros’ Sonic Meditations. They are what has allowed Nicols to find her own sound, to ‘teach herself to fly.’ They have allowed Nicols to grow and share and to be able to keep close the songs that mean so much to her, now shared with us. Recorded at Cafe OTO on July 15th, 16th and 17th 2021 by Shaun Crook.