Evan Parker's last disc for FMP called him "a star of free jazz," and that he certainly is. What's more, Parker / Guy / Lytton are a free jazz supergroup. They rank with Anthony Braxton's quartet with Marilyn Crispell, Mark Dresser, and Gerry Hemingway, as one of the most renowned, oft-recorded, and long-lived ensembles in the "avant-garde." At the Vortex (1996)
is their seventh currently-available CD, featuring Parker once again on soprano and tenor saxophones, Guy on bass, and Lytton on percussion ("mostly drums and cymbals").
So. Do we really need seven Parker / Guy / Lytton discs? Is this offering substantially different from Atlanta, or the second disc of the 50th Birthday Concert, or Imaginary Values, or Breaths and Heartbeats, or any of the others? Well, Parker's playing is immediately recognizable and remarkably consistent. What constantly shifts on these different recordings are the particular elements of his virtuosic arsenal that he brings to bear at a given moment, and the interplay generated between him and his equally accomplished fellows.
On At the Vortex, which was indeed recorded at The Vortex in London in 1996, there are only two long tracks, representing the music from each set played that night (June 26). Parker sticks to tenor for the first set, spinning his brusque lines against a high level of activity from Lytton. The second set begins with one of the saxophonist's trademark circular-breathing whirligigs, a la the remarkable Conic Sections. The accompanists creep in after awhile, not long before our man switches back to tenor.
This was one great night for all three: Both sets are tapestries of moods and textbook examples of how free playing can remain fresh and imaginative. For the attentive listener, At the Vortex will become one of this deservedly celebrated trio's most rewarding recordings.