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Spanish-British links on Vector Sounds

John Eyles By

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In recent decades improvised music has become increasingly international, with improv players from across the world being attracted to global centres such as London or Berlin, playing and forging links there before moving on. Where members of an improvising group were once all of the same nationality, today it is uncommon to find all the members of a group are the same nationality, and not uncommon for all members to be of different nationalities. All of this was emphasised by the arrival of the two albums below from the Spanish label Vector Sounds. Despite most of the players being Spanish, in each case there were strong links to London...

Akafree
El Vals de Los Títeres
Vector Sounds
2019

Originally formed as a quintet, in 2003 Akafree released their first album La Visita De La Salamandra (Xingra, 2003) which featured Chefa Alonso on soprano sax and Marcos Monge on tenor sax & melodica as its front line, plus guitarist Juan Jarén, bassist Rodrigo Campañ and drummer Javier Carmona. By 2004 the group was a trio of Alonso and Carmona plus new member Jorge Frias on bass; they decided to move to London, from where they played across England and other parts of Europe until they left in 2008. During these years, Chefa Alonso studied for and was awarded a doctorate in free improvisation and composition from Brunel University, London. She was also a prominent member of the London improv scene, playing regularly in the London Improvisers Orchestra, and in a duo with the late, great drummer Tony Marsh. After returning to Spain, she was in another noteworthy duo, with piano and clavichord player Albert Kaul , the two recording several albums.

Now, years after that first Akafree release, comes the sequel, El Vals de Los Titeres. The first noteworthy thing about the group is that its personnel is different again; Alonso and Frias remain from the trio that was resident in London, but Carmona has gone, to be replaced on drums by Fernando Lamas, with alto saxophonist Guillem Ferrer also arriving, meaning that Alonso is no longer the lone saxophone as she was in the London trio. Secondly, the album's eleven tracks are all credited to Alonso alone; however, comparison with that 2003 album shows that four of the eleven were featured on that recording. Those four are more free jazz than improv, each with an opening motif which prominently features Frias' bass, before leading onto solos, notably from the saxophones. Others are much freer, with the opening volleys of "Mama Noel" sounding like a free exchange between the saxophones, before the bass takes the limelight. (The You Tube clip below illustrates the variety of their music.)

This Akafree line-up is a success, with the four players' parts fitting neatly together. As a whole, the album is varied but hangs together well and stands up to repeated listening, giving more and more each time. We must hope this line-up stays together, and there is not another sixteen-year wait until Akafree's next release.



Evan Parker-Agustí Fernández-Ivo Sans
Locations
Vector Sounds
2019

For understandable reasons, it has become very desirable for small scale record labels to release an Evan Parker recording. Not only do Parker albums sell well—even limited-edition CDs or records tend to sell out—but having an Evan Parker record listed in a label's catalogue gives it a certain amount of kudos. So, it is hardly surprising that Vector Sounds expressed pride at the release of this album. In this case, however, all cynicism evaporates as soon as one sees that the pianist on Locations is none other than Agustí Fernández. He and Parker first recorded together back in 1995, resulting in the album Tempranillo (Musica Secreta, 1997). In addition, Fernandez has played piano and prepared piano in Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble since 2002, and had several of his own albums released on Parker's Psi label. As Fernández has also had several releases on Vector Sounds (one with Ivo Sans on drums, incidentally) there was a certain logic to Locations also appearing on the label.

Of course, a trio featuring his saxophone with piano and drums is exactly what Parker has experienced for years with the Schlippenbach trio, so he ought to sound comfortable alongside Fernandez and Sans. Having said that, the chemistry which makes for a successful group is as delicate as that of any human relationship...

Recorded on May 8th 2016, at Sant Antoni de Vilamajor, a village in the province of Barcelona, the music here comprises seven tracks ranging in length from three-minutes-twenty-seconds up to twelve minutes. On each, all three play together, creating a soundscape which is full but does not seem overcrowded, each of the three being clearly audible at all times. Parker, playing tenor sax throughout, is his usual fluent self, instantly recognisable after a few notes. Fernandez eloquently demonstrates why Parker chose him for the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble; he is a safe pair of hands who supports and goads the others without ever sounding too safe. Although the Parker-Sans duo did not have history together in the way the trio's other two duos did, the saxophonist and drummer work well together, as shown by the YouTube clip below, from the day before the recording. All in all, this trio's chemistry worked very well. A great success.

Tracks and Personnel

El Vals De Los Títeres

Tracks: Cabeza de Ratón; Mama Noel; El Vendedor de Alfombras Mágicas; Hay Niebla Pero Sigo Caminando; Merapi View; El Vals de los Títeres; El Chatarrero; 7 Llaves Pra la Libertad; Esperándola; Madejas; Jazz Nocturno.

Personnel: Chefa Alonso: soprano saxophone; Guillem Ferrer: alto saxophone; Jorge Frias: double bass; Fernando Lamas: drums.

Locations

Tracks: Location 2; Location 6; No; Location 3; Location 4; Location 5; Resolution.

Personnel: Evan Parker: tenor saxophone; Agustí Fernández: piano; Ivo Sans: drums.

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