Evan Parker/Matthew Shipp

Rex, Wrecks & XXX
RogueArt R0G-0050

Having already turned out an exceptional duo CD where he traded ideas with advanced British saxophonist John Butcher, American pianist Matthew Shipp ups the ante with a two-CD set featuring him and the protean force of BritImprov: tenor saxophonist Evan Parker. The two recorded previously on 2007’s Abbey Road Duos, with Parker playing both soprano and tenor saxophone, but here the London-based reedist sticks to the larger horn, and with twice as much space links one extended live and eight shorter studio improvisations. The results not only producer a rewarding program but also confirm the virtuosity and versatility of both players.

Shipp, 53, has, among many others, worked with his share of tenor titans, including the late David S. Ware and Ivo Perelman. For his part, over his nearly half-century of improvising, Parker, 69, has played regularly with pianists as different as German Alexander von Schlippenbach and Briton Stan Tracey, Catalan Agustí Fernández and American Marilyn Crispell.

Because of the shorter lengths, Shipp and Parker are able to expose different moods during the eight studio tracks, unlike the all-out assault that is the nearly 42-minute “XXX”. For instance “Rex 4” contains enough tuneful emphasis from the saxophonist and gracefully voiced comping from the pianist that the two could be meeting over a piece from the Great American Songbook. Predictably though Parker’s harsher tones and Shipp’s thick syncopation, relate more to Sonny Rollins-standards deconstructing than say a Stan Getz-Jimmy Rowles reverence. At the same time, the two thrust personal stylistic designations such as Parker’s near-faultless circular breathy and Shipp’s linear echoes into other pieces, both to characterize themselves and build excitement. More excitingly the unforced intertwining is obvious on a track such as “Rex 5”, as Shipp’s clean advances are complemented by Parker’s tongue-twisted rushes. Each in sequence sounds out a phrase that is then commented upon by the other. Climaxing with nearly endless blowing, Parker brings raw emotion to this instant composition. Conversely the introductory “Rex 1” is a more contrapuntal and slow-burning duet, yet its architectural design proves how constricting or widening timbres can be used to make a distinctive statement from two masters who know exactly how many or few tones to play.

With space for expression, “XXX” from London’s Vortex club, includes references to more sub-themes, though connective tongue fluttering and metronomic piano pounding keep the narrative constantly advancing. Again if agitated reed stutters suggest a detour; positioned strides from the piano right the exposition; and if undulating keyboard jumps disrupt the proceedings, middle-register breaths keep the direction firm. With the theme cosseted within the connective improvisations, each player has room for stylistic individuality, which evolves beside the other’s solos, stretching but never breaking the narrative. With the finale consisting of the two alternately toughening and softening the exposition, the piece ends appropriately where both appear to have agreed it can be taken no further.

Neither man really had anything to prove, but Rex, Wrecks & XXX is another affirmation of the cooperative and inventive powers of both Shipp and Parker.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. Rex 1 2. Rex 2 3. Wrecks 1 4. Rex 3 5. Wrecks 2 6. Rex 4 7. Rex 5 8. Rex 6 CD2: 1. XXX

Personnel: Evan Parker (tenor saxophone) and Matthew Shipp (piano)