Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton

Concert in Vilnius
NoBusiness Records CD 123

Evan Parker-Paul Lytton

Collective Calls (Revisited) (Jubilee)

Intakt CD 343

Familiarity usually breeds contempt – or perhaps ennui – if the actions and associates aren’t still fully invested in what’s involved. Yet as these CDs aptly demonstrate 50 year after the duo of saxophonist Evan Parker and drummer Paul Lytton was first established and 30 years after bassist Barry Guy joined them to create a concise improvisational trio, each entity still has plenty of ideas with which to prolong musical conversations. Three of the pioneers of British Free Music, Parker, Guy and Lytton have worked with numerous associates in Europe, North America and Asia over the years in ensembles scaling up to big bands. Yet like the members of other classic combos, they’re just as satisfied to return to these close-knit formats.

A splendid live festival set, Concert in Vilnius is a four-part exhibition of what each trio member can do solo and as part of sympathetic two or three person intercommunication. As much a laboratory-like exploration as the other disc is a showcase, Collective Calls features 11 in-studio ventures where players who know intimately each other’s sounds bounce familiar and unexpected tropes off one another.

Beginning with Parker’s instantly recognizable reed slurs, tremolo pumps from Guy and Lytton’s dark rumbles, the trio CD shows how any motif suggested by any of the three is almost instantaneously picked up by another player and twisted into an original conception. This encompasses thick double bass vibrations extended with clattering cymbals and rim shots from Lytton, or soaring reed stutters made more exciting when mated with col legno pops from Guy’s bass strings. These displays of triple intensity radiate through the session, as is pinpointed during a sequence on “Part II”. Here Guy’s darkened bass tones vibrate with guitar-like facility at the same time as Parker’s ferocious display of tenor saxophone glossolalia and split tones encourage Lytton’s hardscrabble snare pops, lug loosening and cymbal rattle. This track and “Part III” also highlight characteristic Guy showpieces. The first is a speed-of-light rappelling up and down the bull fiddle’s neck as he coaxes squeals from his instrument’s highest pitches and scratches his way southwards, creating resonating patterns and a secondary parade-like line. Even more prodigious, his turn on “Part III” involves almost five minutes of alternating below-the-bridge thumps and mallet-driven col legno string slaps whose stridency is eventually muted with twangs and pinched string resounding. On “Part II”, Guy’s string transformations presages positioned slurs from Parker and finally a regularized rhythm from Lytton. On “Part III”, a rugged waterfall of slurs and smears from Parker evolves to circular breathing and is finally dissected into scattered split tones. Connecting them with drum rat-tat-tats and swabbed strings creates a distinguished climax to the performance.

Complete with brief silences before each track that confirms that both players are formulating new ideas before playing, the duo disc parlays a series of sketches into a sublime confirmation of what committed improvisers can create in real time. While a compendium of unforced breathes and cries from the saxophonist and metallic sizzles, clanks and chops from the drummer are heard in the introductory tracks, the two don’t really create an overriding impression until “Alfreda was always especially cordial to me ...” and “... becoming transfigured …”. Here Lytton’s device of advancing his solos from nearly inaudible pops to a pseudo-conveyor belt of cymbal echoes, speedy paradiddles and woody drum stick reverberation is met by Parker’s left-field interpolations of vibrating smears and continuous corkscrew spills and split tones. This in turn ushers in the saxophonist’s profound solo on “The bonfires on Hampstead Heath” which stretches textures to their logical extremes from inner body-tube mewls and swills to mouthpiece whistles, with all backed by responsive drum slaps and cymbal echoes.

The final section works through a synthesis of clean percussion clatters and stuttering reed resolution. Yet before that choked gong-like resonations and place-marking cymbal slaps slither from near-silence to nerve beats as Parker’s circular-breathed exposition moves from pinched to in-and-out respiration, encouraging the idea that he could improvise without pause. Earlier though the connective variations on “What has it become entangled with now”, confirm that neither the passage of time of familiarity have dulled the duo’s reflexes. After an extended primary silence regularized percussion patterning and moderato reed slurps stretch the ambulatory narrative further and further without it splintering until it slides away.

While 21st Century conditions work against contemporary bands attaining the performance longevity of the Modern Jazz Quartet or the Jazz Messengers, Parker, Lytton and/or Guy confirm that as long as interest remains so do formidable group sounds.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Concert: 1. Part I 2. Part II 3. Part III 4. Part IV.

Personnel: Concert: Evan Parker (tenor and soprano saxophones); Barry Guy (bass) and Paul Lytton (drums)

Track Listing: Collective: 1. ... the dissent, that began with the Quakers? ... 2. ... confused about England. 3. England feels very remote to me. 4. Alfreda was always especially cordial to me ... (dedicated to Alfreda Benge) 5. ... becoming transfigured … 6. The bonfires on Hampstead Heath. 7. What has it become entangled with now? 8. ... a little perplexing ... 9. How tight knit was England then! 10. ... beheading their own King … 11. Each thing, the one, the other and both together would amount to the truth.

Personnel: Collective: Evan Parker (tenor saxophone) and Paul Lytton (drums)