Every month Evan Parker has a regular gig at the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston London and each month he invites a number of musicians to work with him for the night. I like to catch these sessions as often as I can as I love the way that Evan reacts to and interacts with the different musicians and because I have always been struck by the way that a group can come together and through improvisation create something special.
This month it was a quartet with clarinettist/guitarist Alex Ward, flautist Neil Metcalfe, and viola player Benedict Taylor; Evan was playing just soprano saxophone. Without double bass and drums and therefore no specific groove the group created a whole series of interesting textures that had more of a contemporary music feel than a jazz feel. They started gently as a quartet with everyone finding their place within the improvisations. Benedict Taylor perhaps bided his time, initially making small contributions but gradually making a nice contrast with the three woodwind instruments. As the first set progressed the group broke down seamlessly into trios and duos and one short soprano saxophone solo before concluding the set as a quartet. I particularly enjoyed the interaction between flute and saxophone, the contrast in sound between the clarinet and the soprano saxophone and the variety provided by the viola.
The second set began with two planned duo improvisations, the first between Alex Ward on clarinet and Benedict Taylor on viola, the second between Evan and Neil Metcalfe, both quite distinctive and both brilliant, but I have to say that the flute sax interaction had a really interesting sonic range. These two improvisations were followed by quartet improvisations with Alex Ward switching to guitar and producing lines that fitted well with those of the viola. The set concluded with another soprano saxophone solo from Evan and it was fascinating to see how the three other members of the group stopped contributing and left the floor to Evan out of respect for him. However, at the end of the set Evan was at pains to point that this had not been planned; it just happened.
As I say above, the music had a contemporary music feel to it, but had a freshness and spontaneity that I feel is not always present in composed contemporary music. Listening to the two sets also brought home to me how rich and varied improvised music is today. It really is a separate category that has as much variety and is as difficult to define as is the term jazz. In the meantime I await with anticipation news of who Evan will be working with in future sessions.