Moss Freed / Union Division
Discus 147CD
Available formats: 2xCD/DL

“The energy of a self-organising collective is the very essence of jazz, and with Freed and Union Division, the baton seems safely passed to a newer generation.” – Andy Robson, JAZZWISE

“The result is a remarkable conceptual advance, that further narrows the divide between improvised and composed music.” – Andy Hamilton. THE WIRE

“An engaging, free flowing, rapidly changing set of improvisations.” – Tony Dudley-Evans, LONDON JAZZ NEWS

Moss Freed – electric guitar / Laura Jurd – trumpet / Charlotte Keeffe – trumpet / Sam Eastmond – trumpet / Tullis Rennie – trombone / Rachel Musson – tenor saxophone / George Crowley – tenor saxophone, clarinet / Chris Williams – alto saxophone / Rosanna Ter-Berg – flute, piccolo / Brice Catherin – cello / Otto Wilberg – double bass / Steve Beresford – piano / Elliot Galvin – piano / Will Glaser – drums / James Maddren – drums / Pierre Alexandre Tremblay – electronics, electric bass

Six years in the making, Micromotives represents a dynamic and empowering vision of real-time collective composition, created by composer Moss Freed and showcased by large ensemble Union Division. With improvisation and sociality at its core, this is dazzling and surprising music that shifts nimbly between materials and structural events, encouraging synchronicity and collaboration while giving unusually high levels of creative control to individual performers.

The aim of the project was to engineer an large-scale environment that both maintained the personal freedoms, sense of ‘nowness’ and modes of communication that improvisers commonly experience in small groups; and produced distinct and distinguishable compositions that were audibly impossible to achieve through improvisation alone.

Freed established Union Division early in 2018 to workshop these ideas, bringing together some of the UK’s top improvisers from a range of backgrounds. Through a shared language of hand signals, the collective practice that evolved enables large numbers of players to self-organise easily and transfer detailed information between themselves directly and inaudibly. There is no demarcated leader and any attempts to coordinate the group are invitations only. Each piece within Micromotives has a unique set of compositional materials that guide players towards particular activities and soundworlds but, critically, there is no obligation for performers to use these: improvisation is always the default position. Players, then, have power to determine their roles and integrate improvisation with predetermined elements fluidly, as they see fit, from moment to moment.


Two splendidly ambitious yet separate recordings marking the development of his Union Division project. One says ‘his’ guardedly of course, as Freed emphasises that, in the tradition of large scale ‘free’ groupings, there is no leader. But there’s no doubting that for all the individual talents on display (and there are some sparky ones, notably Crowley and Jurd), this is very much Freed’s vision. Freed gaily wears his influences on his sleeve, with tracks variously dedicated to the likes of John Zorn and Terry Riley, while it’s good to see Barry Guy recognised on the suitably garrulous ‘Hung Parliament’. Goy’s work…. especially underwrites the Union Division. Another hero of certain free vintage, Steve Beresford, also lends unfettered piano, an unleashed crawling Caliban, on ‘Unprecedented Times’. The energy of a self-organising collective is the very essence of jazz, and with Freed and Union Division, the baton seems safely passed to a newer generation. – Andy Robson, JAZZWISE

Moss Freed/Union Division Micromotives Discus 2xCD/DL For improvisors who pursue radical spontaneity, large ensembles are a problem. Butch Morris originated the concept of using hand signals to extend spontaneity to large ensembles – though his vision turned out to be surprisingly authoritarian (he was a fan of some dictatorial classical conductors). Moss Freed’s concept reacts against conduction, and is influenced more by Anthony Braxton’s Ghost Trance Music. It’s a dynamic vision of real-time creation that yields autonomy to the individual musician. On Micromotives, Freed explains, there are seven distinct and contrasting compositions, recognisably similar in each performance. As he comments, unlike conduction, it “maintains the (ostensible) egalitarianism of free improv”. The work is realised across two CDs by Union Division, which Freed created in 2018 in collaboration with leading figures from UK improv. The performances were recorded in 2018 and 2021, with ensembles of ten and 13 members respectively, including Freed (electric guitar), Laura Jurd (trumpet), Rachel Musson and George Crowley (tenor saxophone), and Elliot Galvin and Steve Beresford (piano). Unlike Morris’s conduction, Freed’s leaders are temporary, and their signals can be ignored. Improvisation is always the default. The complex written sections are tackled by the band’s excellent readers, but Steve Beresford, who appears on the second CD only, is allowed to completely improvise. The work’s origins in free improv are obvious, while its formal unities can take a little longer to appreciate. The result is a remarkable conceptual advance, that further narrows the divide between improvised and composed music – that’s composed in the narrow sense of mostly score-based music, fixed and involving repeated performances. That synthesis is evident in the collection of names referenced in the seven movements – Braxton, Zorn, Christian Wolf, Pauline Oliveros, Sun Ra, Terry Riley, Louis Andriessen – which share some stylistic affinities with their inspirations. Freed draws on a panoply of stylistic devices, not excluding grooves – “Hidden Hand” on the second disc develops a thunderous one. On “Kilter”, for John Zorn, Elliot Galvin’s furious piano solo presages a roiling, boiling instrumental polyphony. “Starlings”, in complete contrast, is a gauzy, quiescent tribute to Christian Wolff that slowly gains in substance. – Andy Hamilton. THE WIRE

An engaging, free flowing, rapidly changing set of improvisations that retained their spontaneity throughout, and blended the individual voices of the musicians into a coherent whole – Tony Dudley-Evans, LONDON JAZZ NEWS

Micromotives (Discus 147CD, 2xCD) results from comprovization and indeterminacy and the dedication of the UNION DIVISION under the direction of electric guitarist MOSS FREED. Freed has been with the Moss Project on Babel (BA 77), with The Spike Orchestra on Tzadik, with Orchestra Entropy on Discus and is a quarter of Let Spin. Here I come across well-known names with trumpeters Laura Jurd and Charlotte Keeffe, Rachel Musson on tenor sax, Steve Beresford and Elliot Galvin on pianos and Pierre Alexandre Tremblay on electronics & electric bass in a formation equipped with trumpets, trombone, reeds, flute, cello, double bass and drums. 13 players*, spontaneously self-organizing with hand signals, interact with Moss footage, resulting in ‘Union of Egoists (for Anthony Braxton)’, ‘Kilter (for John Zorn)’, ‘Starlings (for Christian Wolff)’ and ‘Hidden Hand (for Terry Riley)’. Three years later, 10 players achieved ‘Unprecedented Times (for Pauline Oliveros)’, ‘Left-Leaning (for Louis Andriessen)’ and ‘Hung Parliament (for Barry Guy)’ in the same way. The dedications reveal food for thought from which Moss condenses his improv XL, Keeffe and Beresford also contribute their experiences from the LIO, the concept- and conduction-driven London flagship of polycentric-processual self-organization in musicis. Over 15 – 20 minutes each, Moss organizes a collective play of tonal fluctuations that form unpredictable shallows or foaming whirlpools. Again and again individual voices rise, rarely monologue, rather corresponding with each other, rather dreaming of time and purpose, rummaging, groping than strikingly trumpeting. Instead of dramatically rather ambient, vegetative, flaky, fleeting, spunty, which does not exclude momentary condensations, short vortices or small staccato tumults. So ‘Left-Leaning’ has a drumming climax, and ‘Zorn’ contrasts with the tenderly restrained ‘Oliveros’ or the breathy, dabbed dawn in ‘Starlings’ with partly riotous action, flute whistle and collective glissando. ‘Hidden Hand’ drips pointillistically, the trumpets flicker, but only the finish goes up in flames animated with an energetic beat. ‘Parliament in limbo’ also takes this course from drippy, subdued and purring brooding over flickering excitedly and very quietly and air-holey hushed ups and downs to the escalating all-together and drumming rockfall and back down to trumpet, piano and electric guitar, which cackle, jingle and harp the diffusely spilling finale. [BA 118 rbd] – Rigobert Dittmann BAD ALCHEMY

Union Division generate their own tonality and sense of time. If you appreciate conduction, an underlying soundworld that springs to mind, a systemised hand signal triggered improvising style championed by Butch Morris (1947-2013) then this is a must. ”Micromotives” is the name for guitarist Moss Freed’s own music theory and is according to his website ”a compositional system and set of pieces that is as flexible as the players, retaining levels of freedom akin to those found in small group free improvisation.” Improvised via Micromotives thinking, either including but just as easily ignoring entirely set suggestions, the communitarianism is navigated by hand signals. And the pantheon to whom the collective doffs its hat to involves composer and saxophonist Anthony Braxton, electronic music experimental composer Pauline Oliveros, the Stravinsky, jazz and minimalist-influenced composer Louis Andriessen, free-jazz saxophonist composer John Zorn, the Cagian Christian Wolff, godfather of minimalism Terry Riley and avant bassist Barry Guy. The dedicatees tell a certain story and what their music – a sound not heard on any typical Jazz FM playlist – stands for in combination if you create in your own mind a thought experiment palimpset locates this remarkable endeavour up to a point. And yet the final leg of the listening journey, the end user loop if you like when all influences are packed away once their role as a kind of sonic realia is over, is uniquely Union Division’s home signal. Played by a medium sized group of advanced UK jazz and non-aligned improvising musicians, Freed is best known for his work with Let Spin and in this very different gathering alongside him – the group is the ultimate instrument of all adhering to an idea borne through method – are trumpeters Laura Jurd best known for the band Dinosaur, Mopomoso leading light Charlotte Keeffe, Zorn specialist Sam Eastmond, trombonist Tullis Rennie, saxophonists Rachel Musson, George Crowley, Chris Williams (Freed’s Let Spin bandmate), flautist Rosanna Ter-Berg, cellist Brice Catherin, double bassist Otto Wilberg, pianists iconic Cagian Steve Beresford and radical improviser Elliot Galvin, drummers Will Glaser and James Maddren stunning in an entirely different context last year on Vermillion, plus on electronics and bass guitar Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. Opener ‘Union of Egoists’ the Braxton homage is sprawling and maximalist and you immediately gain a sense of invigorating freedom. The role of piano is far more important on the dedicated to Oliveros piece while ‘Left Leaning’ has more a punk intensity. The opening section of ‘Kilter,’ the Zorn homage, is certainly one chief highlight but there is a lot here that works just as well. – MARLBANK

Le label Discus a l’art de nous faire découvrir de nouveaux talents de la scène improvisée tels que ceux qui composent Union Division, dirigé par le guitariste Moss Freed. Nous sommes en présence d’un big band de 16 musiciens, et, personnellement, seul le nom de Steve Beresford parle à mes oreilles. Une comparaison hasardeuse pourrait être faite avec le London jazz Composer’s Orchestra de Barry Guy, peut-être par les courtes approches mélodiques disséminées ici et là, par aussi la direction gestuelle, mais le noyau dur reste la grande liberté offerte aux acteurs, entre dentelle et éruption volcanique, entre musique quasi contemporaine et free, sans leader, mais avec une écoute attentive aux autre dès qu’une piste s’annonce, ce qui rend l’écoute de ces deux cds passionnante d’un bout à l’autre par les rebondissements et les surprises que cette formation engendre. – Philippe Renaud, IMPROJAZZ

Guitarist Freed and his eclectic ensemble Union Division, on this extraordinary record, come in like a lion and, well, go on to roar, flail, charge, and pounce like a whole herd of lions. Short and sweet, the first word that comes to mind when listening to Mircromotives is epic. The second word is ferocious. Just dipping your toes into the first few notes that commence the supreme gallop of “Union of Egoists—For Anthony Braxton” is an act of sheer bravado, certainly not for the timid. Huge, marauding armies of sax, trumpet, and clarinets lead the charge, as Freed gamely shepherds the entire brash enterprise down paths both primrose and perambulatory. Braxton’s gargantuan way with pen and instrument is rendered in high-definition here, Union Division’s multi-limbed members running through oscillating periods of thrashing near-noise tempered by interruptive clots of tentative, discrete (e)motions. Freed’s own electric guitar adds succinct coloration throughout, often in conjunction, as well as contradiction, with cellist Brice Catherin and bassist Otto Wilberg, whose own intertwining playing lend some ballast to a group that frequently feels as if it will tear itself out from the pull of earth’s gravity. Further shining moments abound, playful and enigmatic. Each of these track’s lengthy durations allow Freed and his crew ample time to explore a vivid range of ideas, nuances, and, perhaps most telling, scrappy, febrile textures. Across the fifteen minutes of “Kilter—For John Zorn”, Freed’s guitar sizzles with all the motive power of surging jet engines, eviscerating the brassic landscapes underneath, mimicking and channelling Zorn’s galvanized sax in a truly vibrant display of sheer abandon and convective brio. On “Hidden Hand—For Terry Riley”, you’d think the ensemble would dial things down a bit and make like little cyclic sequencers, but instead they pivot gracefully between ecstatic technique and introspective discourse, a celebratory ritual that embraces Riley’s own zeal for life while creating its own singular artistic identity. Such is the stuff that dreams are made of—the whole thing will leave you spent and gasping for air. – Darren Bergstein, DMG NYC

This is an important album with a group of improvisers led by guitarist Moss Freed and featuring top UK players such as Steve Beresford, Laura Jurd, Rachel Musson, Elliot Galvin. We hear a development of the conduction technique, in which any member of the ensemble is free to take the music in a different direction through an agreed set of signals. A strong album full of innovative and challenging music.

Guitarist/composer MOSS FREED recorded 2 experimental sessions with various musicians, and both of them have now been released as a 2-CD set on DISCUS MUSIC. Basically you’ll get here very experimental instrumental freestyle jazz where there is a lot to discover, and it is quite frightening at times, which can already be heard during the album opener Union Of Egoists. If ZAPPA and JOHN ZORN would join forces to create something extraordinary, then this album could be the result. Freestyle jazz, open-minded musicfans and improvised music are the right terms to mention here, and if you are interested in checking out some of these crazy wicked extremely complex freestyle adventures, then you definitely might want to look up this album. Besides Moss on guitar, the other involved musicians are Laura Jurd – trumpet, Charlotte Keeffe – trumpet, Sam Eastmond – trumpet, Tullis Rennie – trombone, Rachel Musson – tenor saxophone, George Crowley – tenor saxophone, clarinet, Chris Williams – alto saxophone, Rosanna Ter-Berg – flute, piccolo, Brice Catherin – cello, Otto Wilberg – double bass, Steve Beresford – piano, Elliot Galvin – piano, Will Glaser – drums, James Maddren – drums and Pierre Alexandre Tremblay – electronics, electric bass. Well done and a highlight in the freestyle/improvised music genre. – Strutter’zine

In The Jazz Composer: Moving Music Off The Paper (Northway, 2009) Graham Collier coined his famous maxim “Jazz happens in real time, once.” This is never more appropriate than when applied to Moss Freed’s extraordinary assemblage Union Division. Micromotives is the first recorded documentation of Union Division’s two performances at City University on 11 September 2018 as part of SPARCfest and on 27 May 2021. This reviewer was privileged to attend the debut performance, thus gaining an invaluable perspective on the proceedings. In contrast to other improvisational collectives, Freed devised the modus operandi of Union Division in a unique and novel format most accurately and succinctly described on The Sampler website: “The ensemble works with a lexicon of musical mechanisms and accompanying hand signs whereby players are able to nominate themselves to take temporary control, and attempt to coordinate the group in various ways. Each player has equal power to shape the performance, able to make compositional decisions whilst maintaining their improvisational freedoms. The music is generated through constantly renewed free-associations between the players and given materials, each piece constructed in real time by the hive mind of the group.” Whilst hand signals in jazz performances are not unknown – for example, those florid ones employed by Billy Jenkins – Union Division’s are quite different and more complex since the signals are generated multilaterally. Inevitably there will be comparisons drawn with say, Global Unity Orchestra or Sun Ra’s Arkestra at its least constrained, but these comparisons fall short of illustrating its level of spontaneous creativity that borders on the telepathic. At its most strident Micromotives sounds almost like Peter Brötzmann’s Machine Gun (BRÖ, 1968), whereas conversely in ruminative mode it recalls the free ensemble sections on early Mike Gibbs albums, as heard on say CD2’s Starlings (for Christian Wolff) beginning around 12.30. Freed leads on Left-Leaning (for Louis Andriessen), channelling Sonny Sharrock, whilst his opening salvo on Hung Parliament (for Barry Guy) is by contrast Derek Bailey-esque. On this final track Freed is followed by improv veteran Steve Beresford on piano and at 13.50 by Will Glaser’s furious percussive torrent. Whilst Micromotives is a valuable and intriguing record of the two performances, ultimately Union Division is best appreciated in real time, live and in person since the audiovisual impact – the metaphorical baton frequently passed by the musicians – needs to be seen to be believed. – Roger Farbey, JAZZ JOURNAL

A sort of freer conduction than the traditional one of Butch Morris, a conduction in which the musicians – all valuable (but being many, I avoid the plank) – have the right to intervene to interpret the conductor’s hand signals at will, thus helping to build the joints of the levels in which the improvisation collective guide is being structured. The disc presents two concerts, quite distant in time from each other (the first is recorded in 2018, the second in 2021; the CDs, however, mix the two concerts together): not being able to observe the conductor’s gestures, it is not always easy identify the passages of free improvisation; but in some cases, when the unisons of instrumental groups are evident, the pre-programmed gestural intervention is completely recognizable and this helps to understand Freed ‘s musical thoughtand its orchestras. Between more libertarian moments (Killer. For John Zorn) and others, if not more staid, decidedly more delicate (Unprecedented. For Pauline Oliveros), the music moves in the fluid zones between contemporary jazz and free improvisation, and bears witness not only to the vivacity of the European collective improvisation scene (in particular, in this case, the British one), but also the respect with which it regards the great masters, tutelary deities of this field of practices (in addition to those already mentioned, the pieces are dedicated to Braxton , Riley , Barry Guy , Christian Wolff and Louis Andriessen). However (and yet there is a however) it is always better to be able to attend these performances live: the sound recording offers a documentation alas devoid of those visual and participatory elements which, in this case, are an integral part of the artistic event. Rating: 8/10 – Alessandro Bertinetto, KATHODIK

Practice makes perfect – or at least as perfect as Free Music should be – is the take-away from this two CD program by British guitarist Moss Freed’s Union Division ensemble. Combing two sessions with shifting personnel from 2018 and 2021 featuring some of the UK’s most accomplished younger improvisers, Micromotives maintains high quality throughout. Freed, who regularly plays with Sam Eastmond’s Spike Orchestra and Charlotte Keeffe’s bands, also teaches composition and improvisation and each of the seven selections honors one of Freed’s influences. That’s influence not follower or mimic, for each tune displays unique group and individual instrumental tropes and techniques. Moss also ensures that his playing is integrated within the greater group output. For instance “Left-Leaning (for Louis Andriessen)” may start off with intermittent guitar flanges and strokes at increasing speeds, but doesn’t become truly assertive until the final sequence where contrapuntal reed and brass work is doubled by guitar strums. Before that the composition has been buoyed by Steve Beresford’s piano clinks, clanks and clips, cymbal clangs and drum rumbles from Will Glaser, screaming brass triplets from Eastmond, Keeffe and Laura Jurd, with George Crowley’s warm clarinet flutters also defining the exposition’s shape, speed and tempo. Finger-style asides from the guitarist signal a shift to harsher horn tones, some pseudo-ragtime piano syncopation and after a brass-reed face off, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay’s slippery electric bass climax. Group power and sophistication brought to the interpretations of Freed’s composition enlivens both Union Division configurations. The blend of concentrated narrative undulations remain constant throughout, as do the arrangements which allow for surprises like piccolo-trumpet-like riffs piercing dense reed harmonies from the 2018 group on “Union of Egoists (for Anthony Braxton)” or when Monk-like piano noodling introduces snarling and winnowing brass and reed divisions on “Unprecedented Times (for Pauline Oliveros)” that are eventually cushioned by distracted sax split tones, guitar strums and a gritty trumpet obligato from 2021. In fact “Kilter (for John Zorn)” from the earlier date makes as noticeable an impression as any of the tracks. Guitar flanges and Rosanna Ter-Berg’s bright flute flutters make up the layered top level, a biting saxophone solo from Rachel Musson plus string glissandi form the middle section and hard drum ruffs, stomps and paradiddles plus downwards string slides cement the bottom. Eventually, as the stop-time, often a capella airy, brass and reed squeaks fade, a contrapuntal connections among all players leads to the finale. More proof that the flexibility of a small big band like Union Division, whose line-up ranges from 10 to 13 players, can offer the discipline and freedom of smaller or larger aggregations is offered here. Micromotives’ achievement resolves around writing and playing equity. –Ken Waxman,

Out of nowhere and after nine years of steady hard work comes Moss Freed – name all but unknown to these lugs for some reason (although his guitar work did appear on Rituals by Orchestra Entropy for this label in 2019). Freed’s work appears here on an amazing two-disc set Micromotives (DISCUS MUSIC DISCUS 147CD), played by Union Division, a group which he’s been cultivating and working with since 2018. Some redoubtable performers in that group, as we’ll see. Seven instances here of Freed’s unique approach to composing pieces for improvising groups. Quick scan of the titles bodes well. Each piece dedicated to a great musician from the past, all of whom I happen to love – Braxton, Oliveros, Andriessen, Zorn, Wolff, Riley, and Barry Guy – and some of these themselves maestros and innovators when it comes to marshalling the forces of an improvising group (even Louis Andriessen believe it or not, who although a classical avant-garde composer drew influence from Thelonious). Inside panel we have five paragraphs amounting to a “mission statement” by Freed – concise summary of what he’s trying to achieve. Starts off musing on the problem of large ensemble groups – apparently Derek Bailey didn’t like them in a free improv context – and Freed is very well-informed about the history of various methods that have been used to work with some of the challenges. One of these is “conduction”, used I believe by Matthew Shipp (though he’s not named here), in his bid to combine all the best of composition, free jazz, and notation in one handy package. However for our man Moss Freed, who has clearly made an intensive study of this field, these ways of working can introduce other problems; he wanted to find his own way out of the maze. He began doing it in 2014. He wanted to respect the “personal freedoms” of the players; he wanted to harness the electricity of free-flowing ideas that can happen in a small group situation; he wanted all the players set at liberty to create their contributions in real time as the piece was playing. Yet he also wanted a result that could not have been achieved through free playing exclusively. That’s the challenge; Micromotives is the triumph. He began work with these players in 2018, and the results we hear on this set are from two versions of the evolving group, playing in different combinations. Names in the frame include Rachel Musson, Chris Williams, Tullis Rennie, Laura Judd, George Crowley, Charlotte Keefe, Sam Eastmond, Will Glaser, Otto Wilberg – also UK founding father Steve Beresford, and Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, the electro-acoustic composer now living in the UK (his Quatre Poèmes is a brilliant piece of critical essay-writing in sound). Moss Freed alludes to his labour-intensive programme – there were workshops, building a language of hand signals, the cultivation of a “collective performance practice”, and even the emergence of an ethos. What’s especially interesting is how the band thus grew into something that was able to self-organise, and communicate among themselves while they were playing. This strikes me as very encouraging, and Freed is right to use the word “enablers” in this context. It seems as though he’s managed to grow a unique practice of music-making, and one that is very efficient; I have seen, years ago, the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, who are very good players indeed, but looked ever so slightly clumsy on stage as they held up various coloured cards for the other players to see as they signalled their changes. The impressive results of all this effort are here to enjoy, in these spirited and maximal performances, all of which contain masses of dense musical information, and the energy never flags for a second. As Freed intended, all the instruments are clearly audible, each contribution from each player shining forth clearly. Dare we say he’s come very close to realising something that has been the dream of free improvising players for over 50 years – Derek Bailey was one who made plain his contempt for classical music composition, its orchestras, its conductors (who he regarded as little more than dictators), and even its venues, all of which (to him) seemed to lead the audience into the same blind alley every time, and yet was an institution entrenched in Western culture. If it’s true that certain strains of free playing have over time also led to their own blind alleys, then can we tentatively now suggest that it’s works like this one what are showing new ways forward, with their innovative approaches to collective music. I’m confident Braxton, George Lewis, Sun Ra, and Bill Dixon would all approve. On top of the great music – and the titles such as ‘Hidden Hand’, ‘Union of Egoists’ and ‘Hung Parliament’, some of which seem to encode further hints and clues about Freed’s philosophy of freedom, democracy, and collectives – there is the excellent sound recording quality, courtesy of Alex Bonney. Be sure to look out for other manifestations of his work in Moss Project, The Spike Orchestra, and Let Spin. For now, this one’s essential listening if you have any interest in the future of improvised music. From 12th January 2023. –


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