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Most readers are probably familiar with Ken Vandermark as he has made quite a stir in the last couple of years. The MacArthur Foundation awarded him one of their genius awards and his weekly performances with the Vandermark 5 at the Empty Bottle in Chicago have both earned critical accolades and exposed improvised music to an audience more attuned to rock. The reedist is also involved in a number of other projects including a group lead by Peter Brotzmann and the DKV Trio with Hamid Drake and Kent Kessler.
Paul Lytton has a slightly different reputation. Best known for his work with fellow Brit Evan Parker, this percussionist has played and recorded since the late 1960s and distinguishes himself by in fact being a percussionist as opposed to a drummer. Lytton does sometimes sit behind the kit but he is also apt to step away from it and play what he calls his "junk bag" of percussion instruments. The standard instruments such as cymbals and drums are found in his bags but so are items that aren't really instruments such as slabs of wood and junks of metal. The effect is usually a quite unique sound.
The two pair up on English Suites with fine results. Disc one of this two disc set is a January 11, 1999 studio recording done in Evanston, Illinois. Vandermark alternates between the more groove based playing that he has made a name for and slightly more abstract and in a "freer" fashion. Lytton runs with these moods through busy work that is attuned to what Vandermark, heard mostly on saxophone, is playing. The second disc is fruits of the duo live in concert in Hassle, Belgium on November 20, 1999. Whereas the first disc was more or less one extend performance, there are two sections here. Also, Vandermark is heard doing some slow paced shrieking here which stands in contrast to the first disc. Both sections have a meditative quality that is perhaps more of a natural element for Lytton. The percussionist seems more comfortable as he throws in clashing pieces of metal and strikes cymbals in a way designed to produce something other than the most aesthetically pleasing outcome. Vandermark recorded this disc himself and did an excellent job. Listeners with a good stereo system or headphones are likely to almost feel that Lytton is going at it live in the room.
There is nothing too ground breaking here but English Suites would serve as a good introduction to Lytton's work and any fan of either Vandermark or Lytton will want to pick it up.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.