Evan Parker Trio at the Vortex in London
Evan Parker Trio
July 16, 2009
"Support your local heroes!" is an injunction that should be familiar to every jazz fan. And that's what the Vortex Jazz Bar does on a regular basis by giving saxophone master Evan Parker a slot, usually on the last Thursday of every month. Though he has redefined the art of the possible on the saxophone, particularly the soprano, it is usually the tenor which Parker wields on these monthly gigs. Parker is at liberty to choose his line-up and rotates around a growing roster of British talent in his selection. Sometimes other commitments affect the timing, and that might explain this mid-month performance with one of his more regular settings in a trio with John Edwards on bass and Tony Marsh on drums.
Though he records prolifically, Parker's releases rarely feature these bread-and-butter assemblages. A Glancing Blow (Clean Feed, 2005), by the trio of Parker, Edwards and U.S. percussionist Chris Corsano, is one of the few to have made it to disc, although Foxes Foxed, with Steve Beresford, John Edwards and Louis Moholo-Moholo, occasionally appears and has been previously documented on its eponymous album (Emanem, 1999) and Naan tso (psi, 2005). But it seems the exception. For instance, Parker has fronted bands with fellow saxophone giant Paul Dunmall on several occasions, but none of these small groupings has made it past the record producer's door since 1993.
That shouldn't be taken as a sign that the quality is insufficiently high, but more that Parker is perhaps looking for exceptional reasons for unleashing new recordings on an overwhelmed record-buying public. For sure, none of his recent outings, such as The Moment's Energy (ECM, 2008) by his Electro- Acoustic Ensemble or Free Zone Appleby 2007 (psi, 2008) by a trio with Ned Rothenberg and Paolo Angeli, would have prepared the audience for this night's two continuous 40-minute sets of absorbing unfettered improvisation informed by the syntax of jazz.
Both Edwards and Marsh are well-versed in this vernacular. Edwards is now a mainstay on the London improvising scene, following his emergence in the early 1990s. He has become a regular collaborator with Parker in many groupings and recently released a well-received album of solo bass on the saxophonist's own imprint Volume (psi, 2008). Marsh first came into view in the 1970s with jazz-rock band Major Surgery alongside saxophonist Don Weller, but has since featured with a diverse cast including Harry Beckett, Howard Riley and Paul Dunmall. He first appeared on record with Parker in some of the Freedom of the City documents from the early 2000s, and can be heard on the reedman's label to good effect in duet with saxophonist Ray Warleigh on rue victor masse (psi, 2008).
Marsh was set up early and on-stage, putting his kit through its paces even before the rest of the band arrived, so self-absorbed that he was seemingly unaware of the audience drifting in. Listening intently to the sonic signature of each of his cymbals when struck edge on, and their relationship one to another, it was like a bonus solo percussion concert. Such concern with timbre formed a keystone of the trio's approach with each man carefully manipulating his own sound while in full awareness of what was going on around him.
After a slow start mingling three conversationally contrapuntal lines, no one held forth more than anyone else, and each paused and resumed as naturally as breathing. For his part, Parker traded in dense thick tendrils of sound, graced with occasional squeals at the end of a phrase, until Marsh increased the heat, and the saxophonist's lines blurred and merged into an unbroken flow with truncated phrases spat out with venom. Parker's musings were abstract even when the phrasing was conventional. His chirruping lines were finished with a burnished filigree tracery.
Parker almost touched on Trane at one point, but veered off before the quote became explicit, with his sinewy utterances full of muffled shading. Largely concentrating in the middle register of his horn, Parker rarely overblew, but still colored his lines using multiphonics and alternate fingerings.
Finishing his statement with a few almost melodic lines, Parker subsided to leave a bass and drum duet. Marsh and Edwards combined in a propulsive momentum independent of foot-tapping time. On occasion, both raced full pelt into oblivion creating almost a wall of sound. Though within it, little motifs and rhythmic flurries appeared briefly only to mutate and disappear.