Foxes Fox

Live at the Vortex
psi 12.01

He now may be 82 and be best known for the dreamier ballads he often plays with his own groups, but this set proves that trumpeter/flugelhornist Kenny Wheeler can hold his own in any invigorating Free Jazz session. Of course it helps that the Canadian-born, London-resident Wheeler showed up as a special guest with a quartet consisting of players he has worked with for years in different contexts.

A true all-star ensemble, Foxes Fox consists of tenor saxophonist Evan Parker, pianist Steve Beresford, bassist John Edwards and percussionist Louis Moholo-Moholo. On their own the four exhibit the depth of their interaction in the more than 38½-minute “Foxes Set 1”. Characterized by unmistakable reed slurs from Parker, his wide vibrato and boisterous tone smears are meticulously set up by Beresford’s cascading glissandi and key clicks, Edwards’ pumps and side sawing runs and Moholo-Moholo’s rattling backbeat.

Based on cohesive interactions, “Foxes Set 1” finds each man operating at top form. The pianist’s rhythmic chording and dynamic contrasts in his high velocity phrasing gooses Parker’s staccato snorts and inventive pitch multiphonics at one point; or Beresford’s kinetic spins and tremolo pumping call for a response from the bassist which includes taunt spring slapping as he works up the scale. Meanwhile sul ponticello sweeps from Edwards bow are contrasted with the drummer’s rebounds. Eventually as the four-way pressurized intensity almost reaches a breaking point, the pianist introduces a secondary theme which subsumes the first as Parker’s sprawling smears and irregular vibrations turn to bell muting and tongue motions. When Beresford’s string plucking coupled with Stride piano references become an intermezzo on its own, the saxophonist’s final note dappling become delicate before turning to stuttering double-tonguing. As the pianist accompanies him with highly rhythmic keyboard pressure, it almost sounds as if he’s burlesquing “Chopsticks”.

The two Wheeler tracks operate at the same high level once the trumpeter has converted his sweet and sour simple timbres into open-horn, pressurized whinnying, matched in staccato counterpoint by Parker’s frenetic intensity. Meantime Beresford, 20 years Wheeler`s junior, key clips and stomps with vigorous patterning, Moholo-Moholo, a decade younger, muscularly pops and rolls his drum beats and Edwards, 23-year-his-junior plucks and thumps.

However it’s the one-two punch of Wheeler and 14-years-younger Parker, improvising together at breakneck speed that’s most striking. With narratives propelled from one horn to another, individual themes get progressively thinner and higher-pitched, though never losing the way. Key fanning and rumbles from Beresford and triple-spiccato slides from Edwards add to the exhilaration, but it’s Wheeler’s cunning obbligato of fluttering stops meeting Parker’s intense slurs which is most impressive.

Whistling plus shakes from Moholo-Moholo’s miscellaneous percussion mixed with the pianist’s internal string plucking signal the final sequence as the saxophonist’s Boppy reed bites accompany Wheeler’s open horn tongue fluttering. Finally the two complete the sequence blowing in tandem, but with Parker’s lower pitched variations and Wheeler’s grace notes raised to a brassy pitch.

With this and many other CDs, Parker has proven that age hasn’t affected his dexterity and aptitude. Live at the Vortex corroborates this truism as well for Wheeler, Moholo-Moholo plus whippersnappers Beresford and Edwards.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Foxes Set 1 2. Foxes Set 2* 3. Foxes Set 3*

Personnel: Kenny Wheeler (trumpet and flugelhorn)*; Evan Parker (tenor saxophone); Steve Beresford (piano); John Edwards (bass) and Louis Moholo-Moholo (percussion)