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It's hard to account for longevity among freely improvised groups. One somehow assumes that part of the success of much of the genre relies upon the newness of encounterflirting with the unknown that presumably can only come from fresh associations. This, of course, is one of the myths of free improvisation, for in truth there are any number of long-standing groups that have defined the heights of the genre: AMM, Alexander von Schlippenbach's trio (with Evan Parker and Paul Lovens) and the now nearly three-decade long existence of the Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton trio.
On Zafiro, the three met for an evening in Barcelona in March 2006. Apparently apart for "quite awhile, as bassist Barry Guy observes in the liner notes, they nonetheless hit with a palpable sense of purpose and grace that marks the encounter from the start. The disc begins with a now standard tussle, each musician vying for space yet not stepping on toes. Saxophonist Parker's lines move from astringency to freely floating, finding an immediate common ground with the others. Guy's tone, as always, is deep and resonant, both ripping and massaging forth notes. Lytton, long one of the more inventive of free drummers, helps push the whole thing forward with equal measures of finesse and drive.
After an initial eleven-minute volley, the group splinters into a variety of fragments, mostly various duos and solos. Staggering moments abound. Shortly into the third track (in reality it's one piece, "Zafiro, although broken into tracks for easy navigating) Parker joins the tumble of a bass/drums duo. It's a particularly plangent moment, almost songlike in its own way with Guy sitting on his notes just long enough to create a serene weight. Lytton steps out solo in track four, and it's a typically eclectic affair. He makes use of a variety of gongs, woods, and assorted metals, his sticks and mallets playing seemingly everything available. If it all sounds a bit too abstract to the uninitiated, be assured that he somehow retains an electric sense of drive, momentum, even swing throughout. His is a study of measure.
For that matter, this entire disc suggests nothing less than a finely wrought balance. The key to the trio's success can be located in countless such moments of force and patience, an aesthetic dialectic of challenge and reserve. As Frank von Neiderhäusen writes in his useful liner notes, the trio plays "forcefully, but with precision. Virtuosic but with deliberation. Thrusting about but compact. Perhaps none of that says much about the actual notes played, but it certainly conveys the essence of the emotions pulled forth. Parker/Guy/Lytton remain a model for thought and reflection. And for those unfamiliar with their craft, this may be the best place to start.
Track Listing: Access Point: ID 1 [start]; ID 2 [bass; perc]; ID 3 [enter tenor sax]; ID 4 [perc. solo]; ID 5 [enter bass]; ID 6 [enter soprano sax]; ID 7 [soprano sax solo]; ID 8 [bass; perc]; ID 9 [enter soprano sax]; ID 10 Zafiro Encore.
Personnel: Evan Parker: soprano and tenor saxophone; Barry Guy: double bass; Paul Lytton; drums and percussion.