Foxes FoxEvan Parker
on tenor saxophone, Steve Beresford
on piano, John Edwards
on bass and Louis Moholo-Moholo
on percussionfirst came together as a quartet in 1998. Live at the Vortex
is, however, only their third album, following Foxes Fox
(Emanem, 1999) and Naan Tso
(Psi, 2005). Unlike its predecessors, this releasecaptured in February, 2007was recorded live in concert. While the studio recordings on those earlier albums convey the energy and immediacy of the group, this live recording manages to trump those aces; it records not just the vital music, but also the unrelenting excitement and momentum that the group is consistently able to generate live.
If Foxes Fox were a rock band, it would doubtless be labeled a "super group" as all four members are among the very best players on their instruments. However, this is an improvising group so any notions of "stars" must be dispelled in favor of collective music making and interaction. The quartet delivers exactly that right from the start. At almost 39 minutes, the opening track, "Foxes Set 1," represents their first set of the evening and the four demonstrate commendable stamina throughout. While there are occasional passages that only feature two or three of the musiciansa subdued duo between piano and drums around the middle of the piece being particularly notablefor much of the time all four are in full flight. Focusing on any one of the players throughout the piece is an object lesson in improvisation, as doing so reveals how the four react to each other with an intuitive sense born out of years spent playing togetherin the case of Parker and Moholo-Moholo, those years stretch back to the late sixties.
Another unique feature of Live at the Vortex
is that, on the night in question, the regular quartet was joined for its second set by guest trumpeter Kenny Wheeler
. The pairing of Parker and Wheeler also harks back to the sixties, to their time together (alongside the likes of Paul Rutherford
, Trevor Watts
, Derek Bailey
, Dave Holland
and John Stevens
) in the versions of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME) that recorded Challenge
(Eyemark, 1966; Emanem, 2001), Withdrawal
(Emanem, 1997) and Karyobin
(Island, 1968; Chronoscope, 1993)key recordings from the seminal early days of free improvisation.
While Wheeler is rightly renowned for his compositions and arrangements, especially those for large ensembles, his abilities as an improviser are less often praised. Here, the interplay between saxophone and trumpet, with phrases frequently flying back and forth between them, is eloquent testimony to the trumpeter's skills. Wheeler slots into the group as if born to play with them. Right from the start of the second set he is in the spotlight, his sound and phrasing as uniquely personal as a fingerprint. If all the above talk of the sixties makes this sound like a nostalgic trip down memory lane, nothing could be further from the truth. This is twenty-first century music at its most exhilarating.
Evan Parker: tenor saxophone; Steve Beresford: piano; John Edwards: double bass; Louis Moholo-Moholo: percussion; Kenny Wheeler: trumpet, flugelhorn (2, 3).