Free Zone is a festival within a festival, holding a regular spot at the more mainstream-inclined Appleby weekender in England. Due to the dreaded specter of funding difficulties there was no 2008 event and the festival's future may well be doomed. Customarily, the Free Zone program features a large roster of players, improvising in many permutations, but the 2007 session featured only three artistsperennial host Evan Parker and invitees reed man Ned Rothenberg and Italian guitarist Paolo Angeli for budgetary and/or creative reasons.
Parker the Londoner and Rothenberg the New Yorker have been forging an ongoing reciprocal arrangement whereby each of them tours in the other's homeland. Angeli has only recently started to make his mark on the improvising circuit, but attention is quickly captured by his flabbergasting modification on what starts out as a Sardinian guitar. Fortunately, Angeli's playing skills match the instant visual thrill provided by his suspended cello-like string extras, his spinning pickup exciters and robot finger attachments, triggered by footwork. Sadly, Angeli is frequently found down at the modest end of the live mix on this album, so the intricacies and tonal variations of his work aren't as dominant as desired.
A pair of duo pieces open up the disc, but the bulk consists of full trio improvisations. On the first encounter, Angeli and Rothenberg make a minnowing progress, the latter choosing clarinet. They dart then coagulate, bouncing beside each other as phrases cascade. Then, Parker and Rothenberg resume their tight commingling on soprano and alto saxophones, alternating fast ripples and briefly held notes in their highly detailed chatter. The trio tracks has time to develop a consistent landscape, with Angeli expanding his guitar sound into harp and cello zones. Several times, his prepared piano-like clunkings impart an increased rhythmic factor, but he is often content to be a cloaked atmospheric presence, with sounds of deep subliminal rumbling and boxy vintage orchestral soundtrack stabs in his sonic armory.
It's a shame that Angeli couldn't make it to New York, but Parker and Rothenberg were well capable of further filling out an already people-packed Issue Project Room in October, 2008. Rothenberg is a disciple of Parker in his circular breathing coruscations, but he can explore fresh territory when on the clarinet rather than the soprano saxophone. When playing together, these two match soprano and tenor (Parker) with alto, clarinet and bass clarinet (Rothenberg), their deeply intuitive twinning enabling each to continue phrases begun by the other, to shadow flashing lines or instantly echo a wriggling run.
The pair absorbed the room's acoustic properties as part of their palette, and their two-part set was exactly the right length, divided to enable maximum attention, with the second half reaching a greater resonance in the room as the duo capitalized on the effect of their earlier blowing. A highlight, as ever, was Parker's solo soprano segment. He's spent his entire career working away at what could be viewed as a single tune, but the entanglement details are always a fresh adventure once he's attained a state of vibrating transcendence.
Personnel: Paolo Angeli: Sardinian guitar/electronics; Evan Parker: soprano/tenor saxophones; Ned Rothenberg: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet.