At this time Burn and Butcher were evolving towards a freely improvised music. Weekly rehearsals and series of self promoted concerts at the Workers Music Association, (236 Westbourne Park Rd London W11), provided the ideal musical environment for facilitating what was a rapid transition to this way of making music. They also participated in Phil Wachsmann's workshops. For Burn the move to Free Improvisation was accompanied by a move from keyboard to working almost exclusively inside the Piano.
An important collaboration from this time was with trumpeter Jon Corbett who participated in many of the concerts at the Workers Music Association and elsewhere. (Tuba player Steve Wick, a colleague from University days often played with the group, as did percussionist Gordon Wellard and bassist Jonathan Brown.) Corbett's habit of placing objects on the piano strings whilst Chris Burn was playing is considered by Burn to be an important part of his move towards 'inside piano' performance. Later on, Burn and Butcher became members of Jon Corbett's Freelance with Elton Dean, Marcio Mattos and Tony Marsh. Burn also participated on a BBC Radio 3 recording with Jon Corbett, Evan Parker and Will Evans.
David Ilic, writing in the listings magazine City Limits spoke about their work of this time;One of the beauties of improvised music is the way in which suggestions as to new or relatively unfamiliar terrain can be raised within a single performance. For some more regular outfits, these suggestions can be of momentary significance; for others , the seeds of long term change which can culminate in a dramatic shift of musical and aesthetic priorities. The latter marks the work of the CHRIS BURN GROUP, an outfit given over to airing pianist, percussionist and modern jazz composer Burn's interest in free improvisation.
In 1984 Burn and Butcher released Fonetiks - Bead 24 - and the following year toured Britain. Subsequent British and European tours followed with Embers; Chris Burn, John Butcher, Jim Denley and Marcio Mattos. The group also released a cassette in 1989, recorded on tour in Britain, Belgium and Holland (ACTA3). Later concerts saw Embers augmented with percussionist Martin Blume.
1985 was also the year of the inaugural concert of Ensemble LINK. A concert at the London Musicians Collective premises on Gloucester Avenue, organised by Burn and Butcher with 8 other musicians contained pieces of freely improvised music along those that used some predetermined structure. This group was initially known as LIE; (London Improvisors Ensemble). From this group emerged Chris Burn's 'Ensemble' with the regular personnel of Burn, Butcher Jim Denley, Matt Hutchinson, Marcio Mattos, Phil Durrant, Stevie Wishart and John Russell.
From the late '80s onwards, Chris Burn's work was focussed on a number of seemingly well defined objectives; Ensemble assumed a huge importance as did Solo playing, and the performance of Cowell and others. Throughout this period he was also active as a concert organiser, later joining with John Russell to promote the Mopomoso concerts at the Red Rose.
Important events at this time were promoting Ensemble's 'Sonorities' concert at the Purcell Room (1989), organising the SPNM's Improvisation day at the Donmar Warehouse (1989), and together with Phil Durrant - in a (generous) non playing capacity - organising the London Contemporary Piano Festival at the Place Theatre in May 1992. (Stan Tracey, Chris Burn, Michael Finnissy, Mervyn Africa et al.)
Top; Flyer designed by Peter Burn.
Middle; Chris Burn and John Butcher recording Fonetiks.
Bottom. Poster by Peter Burn for Ensemble concert at Purcell Room
Below. pre - Ensemble poster when group was briefly known as LIE.