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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Foxes Fox – Live at the Vortex (Psi, 2012) *****

By Troy Dostert

This is the latest release from what has become something of a free-jazz supergroup, with Evan Parker (tenor saxophone) joined by John Edwards (bass), Steve Beresford (piano), and Louis Moholo-Moholo (drums), as well as a guest appearance by the great Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn.  With such a stellar lineup, could anything whatsoever go wrong?  Well, no.  In fact: this is close to as good as it gets in free improvisation.  All fans of the genre should have this recording.  Period.

The first four musicians have worked together in a quartet formation on two previous releases: Foxes Fox and Naan Tso (the former released on Emanem in 1999, and the latter on Psi in 2004).  The kind of mutual understanding and empathy these prior encounters have brought about are definitely evident here, as the players respond attentively and adroitly to each other’s contributions.  This is truly a collective undertaking, even if these guys lack nothing by way of well-established individual identities.

Parker is his usual brilliant self, whether offering fluttering cascades of notes or more pensive statements.  Beresford is simply outstanding, with an abundance of ideas: using Taylor-esque flurries or huge percussive attacks, his playing here is a continual marvel.  Edwards’ contributions on bass are no less superb, employing a great range of textures and techniques (enhanced by his use of amplification, which lends a palpable physicality to the sound of his bass that is really compelling).  And finally, Louis Moholo-Moholo is a terrific anchor to this group, as his steady rhythmic pulse and subtle touch support the others and fuel their incessant explorations.

But this is undeniably an instance where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, as all four musicians build on each other’s ideas consistently and brilliantly throughout the recording.  The 39-minute opening track is a sensational model of group interplay at its finest, with no one individual dominating the proceedings; each is able to generate ideas that are then utilized by the others.  The group does a particularly noteworthy job of developing the ebb and flow of the music, as more intense passages are built up and sustained, then gradually de-pressurized as new ideas are allowed to percolate and simmer, only to then be brought back up to a frenzied roar.

And after the first track is over, and the listener is catching his or her breath, we get to hear the addition of Kenny Wheeler on the last two tracks.  Wheeler’s presence here is wonderful in bringing a lyrical dimension to the performance, as one would expect.  Which is not to say that Wheeler is unable to bring the goods when it comes to energy and power: particularly on the second track, Wheeler is able to match Parker’s intense barrages of notes quite convincingly, as the two spar with each other during some remarkably energetic dialogue.  But there’s no question that Wheeler helps Parker explore the subtler, more melodic side of his playing, and there are a number of moments of sublime beauty on the last two tracks as a result.

It’s also worth noting that the music here is very well-recorded; it’s a live recording (from 2007), but the crowd at the Vortex has been taken out of the mix, making it feel almost like a studio album.  This is pivotal in allowing us to appreciate fully the distinctive contributions of each musician to the work as a whole.

In sum: a masterpiece of free-improvisation.  Don’t hesitate to get your copy!

Available from Instantjazz

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