Eight of Europe’s premier free improvisers come together to play in different groupings, but only once together, on Free Zone Appleby 2002. The all star cast makes the double disc set a state-of-the-art free music anthology. The musicians involved in the project have in their own ways accepted sound as music and create through traditional and original uses of instruments, voice, and objects. The magic can be bewildering.
Reedist Evan Parker plays an invocational gong, then the voice, violin, and sarangi of Sylvia Hallet take over with “Whitethroat.” The metallic moan of the sarangi moves into coyly sliding phrases, harmonics, and a low tone that sounds like a sax. Scraping, she draws blood. She sings unison with the instrument and quietly fades, to come rushing back with loud violin and song. She nimbly plays solo runs then turns dramatic.
Evan Parker and John Rangecroft slip around each other like greased eels on “Re Eden.” Parker sticks to soprano sax and Rangecroft to clarinet. Like leaves blown in a dust devil, they travel in similar directions propelled by some larger force. They define themselves by the accuracy of their listening. “Subject Matters” retains Rangecroft and replaces Parker with John Edwards on bass and Mark Sanders on percussion. Edwards and Sanders create a steamy primal rhythm pit for Rangecroft’s uninhibited clarinet. Their thunderous unity breaks and the tempo lightens, Rangecroft still happily proclaiming. With Edwards’ slurs the trio reels. They evolve into more serious and deliberate variations.
Hallet and cellist Marcio Mattos join Edwards and Phillip Wachsmann as the “Ferber String Quartet.” They swing into action from the starting gun, Wachsmann and Hallet gleefully inhabiting air space over Mattos and Edwards. Edwards rumbles like a Harley going through gears, then they take it down into minimalism. Mattos and the violins create interwoven melodies as Edwards slithers. They scrape and rub, take an extended exploration of space. As if on cue, they recover their dynamism. They go out twinkling like stars.
Edwards gets the second disc going with the solo piece “Pin Drop.” A blistering display of multiphonics yields to hitting the bass with the bow, squeaks and scrapes. He goes from rumbling riffs to extended techniques and back. Metcalfe and Wachsmann duet on “Sense.” Their medium tempo exchange seems elegant and pastoral, until Wachsmann introduces a blur of odd tones. “Phantoms” unites Hallet, Edwards, and Sanders. Hallet improvises violin and voice in different directions. Her dialogue with Edwards and Sanders’ ringing cymbals retreats to a unison song with violin, the rhythm section heating up.
“MGT4ALL” features a quartet of Hallet, Metcalfe, Mattos and Sanders. They skillfully shadow one another and create a whirling, shifting soundscape. Finally, the “Morsman Octet” gathers all the musicians who gracefully work together. Rangecroft continues to push for virtuoso runs and Parker’s happy to oblige. Metcalfe blows through tumultuous areas, the ensemble throbbing and heaving, then the sound artists bring the exercise to a quiet conclusion.
For fans of the genre and the daringly curious, here’s the harrowing beauty of the spontaneous.
Personnel: John Edwards, bass; Sylvia Hallet, violin, sarangi, voice; Marcio Mattos, cello; Evan Parker, soprano saxophone; Neil Metcalfe, flute; John Rangecroft, clarinet; Mark Sanders, percussion; Phillip Wachsmann, violin, electronics.