Improvisation is the core of jazz, and hearing it live is the best possible experience. However, there are different levels of improvisation, ranging from stretching the melody, to playing over a tune's changes, or taking off during a particular composition. The presence of melody, harmony and rhythm as well as structure can vary to a wide degree. Arguably, the highest form of "creative improvised music" is that which just happens without any planning and where the players have widest ears and sharpest reflexes so that the music's development and fluid structure can be heard and followed by the attentive listener.
Pianist John Escreet's latest release The Unknown is a magnificent live document of his working trio, bassist John Hébert and percussionist Tyshawn Sorey, joined by free jazz legend (cliché of clichés) Evan Parker on two nights (at Bimhuis in Amsterdam and Lantaren Venster in Rotterdam) at the end of a four-date tour in February of 2016.
The quartet had recorded in the studio in 2014 (see Sound, Space and Structures and also here) and played together before for an isolated performance (see below), but never for an extended time like this tour.
There are but two tracks, "Part One" which is just over forty-five minutes and "Part Two" which is just under thirty minutes and which has audience reaction after it finishes. Each is a virtual journey via sound through space and time, creating living and breathing structures which are born, evolve, mutate and move on. The music is completely abstract and yet it feels extremely concrete and logical, theatrical and highly emotional.
This feeling is a direct result of the high level at which Escreet, Parker, Hébert and Sorey operate. While each player comes to the fore (or drops out) at different times, this is a group effort. To say they are listening intently to each other is an obvious understatement as they can be heard picking up each other's figures or fragments for comment or extension.
Suffice it to say that listeners accustomed to such "free" jazz will revel in this disc. Those who might normally shy away from this kind of music should note that it is not particularly aggressive, and is actually inviting. Put it on, turn down the lights and get swept away like the original audience.
The Unknown is superb music making of the highest order.
The Unknown (Part One);
The Unknown (Part Two).
John Escreet: piano; Evan
Parker: tenor saxophone;
John Hebert: bass; Tyshawn