EVAN PARKER tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
BARRY GUY amplified double bass
PAUL LYTTON percussion (mainly drums & cymbals)
1 - AT THE VORTEX (FIRST SET) - 38:14
2 - AT THE VORTEX (SECOND SET) - 40:21
Digital recording made in London at The Vortex
by MARTIN DAVIDSON - 1996 JUNE 26
Total time 78:43
All previously unissued
Two sets of circumstances, both too involved to be fully detailed here, resulted in the Parker/Lytton Duo of the 1970s transforming into the Parker/Guy/Lytton Trio of the last dozen or so years. The first was the 1981 duo record INCISION by Parker & Guy, which led to Guy being added to the group. (He had, of course, previously worked with one or both of the other two in various groups as far back as 1966.)
The second, a few years later involved a time when Lytton's mighty percussion and electronics kit was in a different country to himself, so he had to borrow a fairly conventional drum kit. This worked out well musically, and was much more practical for club gigs, so from then on his own fairly conventional drum kit became the norm. The instrumentation thus became the same as that of certain classic Jazz and Free Jazz trios, and the music became influenced by these precursors, even though it has remained Free Improvisation.
The trio has performed fairly frequently ever since, even though all three members often perform in other groups and situations as well, so there is no shortage of excellent CDs and LPs by them. This CD, however, is different in that it features longer performances moving at a more natural pace than hitherto available. The relaxed and freewheeling music reflects the situation of performing in a club before an audience of mostly hard core fans - home territory, as it were.
The Vortex is an excellent, smallish club in Stoke Newington, an inner suburb of London, with an eclectic programme that features Jazz, Free Improvisation, Folk Music, Cabaret, and various combinations of these. When it is full, as it was on the evening in question, there is literally no space between the musicians and the audience, but by contorting the mike stand, I managed to get the lone stereo microphone into a position over the front of the audience, and get a recording representing what one would hear if one stood just in front of the band. I subsequently digitally remixed it slightly to get a more acceptable balance for home listening.
Since both Barry Guy and Paul Lytton live abroad, this trio is rarely to be seen in London, so that when it does play there, a large enthusiastic audience is guaranteed. Such an audience generally feeds-back to the musicians, spurring them on to even greater heights than usual, as happened on this occasion, resulting in music that is more outgoing than would probably occur in a studio situation. All of the music performed that evening is presented here unedited - a complete document of this trio working at full steam.
MARTIN DAVIDSON (1998)
"There is no shortage of albums by this band, but At The Vortex ranks as one of, if not downright its strongest recording. Why? Because it was done in perfect conditions, with all musicians in astonishing shape, on home court, so to speak, downtown London in front of an enthusiastic crowd of hard-core fans. And because that nightıs performance is presented unedited, all 78 minutes split into two extended sets. Listen to Parker's circular breathing solo at the beginning of the second set: he is literally smoking. Guy burns his double bass to the ground, Lytton is everywhere at once. The energy is discharged in spasms of sound, one cathartic moment after another. And yet, there is no going overboard or becoming your own stereotype. The strength, the inspiration, the spirit, the simple joy of playing together: thatıs what this music is all about. Of course the standard saxophone/bass/drums trio format calls for something a little jazzier than usual, but Parker remains true to himself, firmly anchored in free improv waters. Unless you are incapable of a long attention span, At The Vortex is an essential recording, even a good place to start for newcomers. Strongly and heartily recommended."
FRANÇOIS COUTURE - ALL-MUSIC GUIDE 2001
"What a perfect name for this sound. It is a frenetic dervish of sounds whirling round and round, a swirling cascade, a cavalcade of rapid fire notes. At first, they are fired at you, point blank. Then they encircle you. They mesmerize you, drawing you into their world. Drawing you into the vortex. It is timeless in the vortex. Parker's signature high energy, broken staccato approach to the soprano sax forms the musical basis for the entire CD. Lytton's busy trapset and Guy's arythmic bass add a nice depth to this musical maelstrom. They weave a most effective spell. Don't put the CD on auto repeat or you may never come out. "
GLENN ENGSTRAND - THE IMPROVISER 1998
"The first set is about as hard driving as trio music gets, yet shaped and tooled with such expertise that you can stand right in it. The second set takes to the air on hummingbird wings. This is full steam ahead music which, perhaps as a result of the setting, is more outgoing that the trio's studio dates. If you're a fan of these players, this is an absolute must."
DOUG LANG - CODA 1999
"No acceleration ramp was required on this night, as the trio wasted no time lunging into a furious, helical motion of resonating reciprocity. All exceptional soloists in their own right, this trio thrives in this context, where years of working together has yielded not only a foundation of trust so integral to effective free-improvisation, but also has a commitment to pushing the envelope each time out. Each piece on this disc represents an entire set of music from that evening, a sign of not only the relaxed atmosphere of the club setting, but also that the group was intrigued with what was transpiring. With Lytton supplying a constantly shifting, consistently inventive pulse, Guy is able to liberate the bass from its time-keeping shackles, and instead, offers brutal and thunderous pizzicato and slashing arco work. Parker is permitted the luxury of weaving around, or colliding into the dialogue with his typically layered, and multi-phonically enhance, soprano lines. Yet it is on tenor that this session will even blow away Parker enthusiasts, for his contribution to this disc is one of unparalleled intensity, as textural waves of sound, snickering false-fingered patterns, and turbulent spirals greet the kinetic din of his partners. That this recording was made with a single microphone would make Alan Lomax blush, for in the process, one of the most vital free-improvising trios of anybody's time was captured full-flight, in their element."
JON MORGAN - SIGNAL TO NOISE 1999
"Evan Parker, Barry Guy, Paul Lytton. Can one think of a more classic free improvisation trio? Whether together or in their own numerous projects, these three musicians sum up thirty years of free jazz history.
This trio, a basic line-up of saxophone, double bass and drums, has been around since the 1970s and have released lots of LPs and CDs. So why this record? And why featuring it as a new release? Because this performance is unique, even for these masters.
AT THE VORTEX contains the whole show given by the trio at the London club The Vortex on June 26 1996. Two sets of 38 and 40 minutes. To cram it all on one CD, Emanem had to cut out the crowd cheers and leave only five seconds between the two sets. But every note is there and that is joyful. The Vortex is a little club where fans of free jazz - and this particular trio - meet. The atmosphere on that night was very strong, electricity in the air, and Parker, Guy and Lytton gave out all they had to offer. These two 40 minute improvisations are sublime. The level of listening and attention from every musician is exemplary and should be a lesson to anyone attempting to this kind of music. Evan Parker's saxophone is smoking, Barry Guy burns down his double bass, Paul Lytton is everywhere at once. The energy discharges in spasms of sound, one catharsis after another. And yet, no overload, no going overboard. The strength, the inspiration, the spirit, the simple joy of playing together were there. It must have been fantastic to see it happen. It is fantastic to hear it too.
A tip: after the first set, press the " Pause " button and take the 20 minute break the musicians and the audience must have had that night. AT THE VORTEX gives another proof why these guys are considered THE masters of free jazz. Beyond their reputation, their career, their numerous records and shows, there is still this indescribable magic happening."
FRANCOIS COUTURE - DELIRE ACTUEL MONTHLY REPORT - 1998
"It is inevitable that any group that has been in existence for more than a couple of years will respond more to its own history than the moment. Their language has evolved slowly and has at all times been uniquely theirs. More articulate and extensive in its vocabulary now, its substance remains the same. Virtuosic in the extreme but driven by primal forces, this is quite simply one of the best groups of all time. Their strengths are evident in full in these two sets."
GUS GARSIDE - RESONANCE 1998
"Those who were there still talk about this mid-summer encounter at North London's 'listening jazz club'. Those who weren't will probably have tired of hearing about it and will be relieved that they too can now sample this extraordinary session.
Because Guy and Lytton both live abroad, this isn't a group that gets together very often and every chance to hear them is rather special. Parker has often said that he regards the soprano saxophone as his first instrument, but on the first set he once again demonstrates what a formidable tenor player he is as well. His gruff, low tones are ideally complimented by Guy's floating harmonics and Lytton's impeccably musical percussion. The second opens on a long soprano solo, an introduction that unleashes the saxophonist's signature sound, a long continuous line using circular breathing and high-order harmonics, whose partials would defy all but the most mathematically minded of analysts. For some reason, this set seems less of a group effort than its predecessor. Guy is rather low in the mix and here and there seems to lose definition on an otherwise well-recorded disc."
RICHARD COOK and/or BRIAN MORTON - 'The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD' 1998
"Another in a long line of very fine releases from the prolific Evan Parker wing of the world of creative improvised music. This one tends towards the hard-driving corner of that magnificent wing, with only a little of the chamber jazz or modern classical to it. Parker, Lytton and Guy were clearly in a mood for catharsis when the mike was turned on at the small London club where this disc was recorded. The playing is mostly fast, and is always sure and impassioned. There's much more of Cecil Taylor than of Milton Babbitt to AT THE VORTEX. All three musicians keep the highly charged music coming and coming until the hyperventilating listener can do little but sink into the floor in exhaustion. Parker takes his customary passes at psychedelic, circularly breathed flutter-tonguing, but - early on - also displays some Sheppian short-phrase development. The opening to Second Set is an absolutely incredible example of why the Parker cult is so vocal. No instrumentalist who ever lived can do what he does with a saxophone. It's an eight and a half minute cascade of something that should really only be producible by several hundred billion microscopic saxophone players beginning their attack on an ant colony. Lytton is at his brewmastering best here: sometimes twittering, often bombastic, always trenchant. Here Guy is undeniably fabulous. He plays great solos during both sets, and his bowed interactions with Parker are awesome. Their common use of harmonics often makes them blend eerily."
WALTER HORN - CADENCE 1998
"AT THE VORTEX is their seventh currently-available CD. So. Do we really need seven Parker / Guy / Lytton discs? What constantly shifts on these different recordings are the particular elements of his virtuosic arsenal that he brings to bear at a given moment, and the interplay generated between him and his equally accomplished fellows.
On AT THE VORTEX, which was indeed recorded at The Vortex in London in 1996, there are only two long tracks, representing the music from each set played that night (June 26). Parker sticks to tenor for the first set, spinning his brusque lines against a high level of activity from Lytton. The second set begins with one of the saxophonist's trademark circular-breathing whirligigs, a la the remarkable CONIC SECTIONS. The accompanists creep in after awhile, not long before our man switches back to tenor.
This was one great night for all three: Both sets are tapestries of moods and textbook examples of how free playing can remain fresh and imaginative. For the attentive listener, AT THE VORTEX will become one of this deservedly celebrated trio's most rewarding recordings."
ROBERT SPENCER - ALL ABOUT JAZZ 1998
"AT THE VORTEX is a virtually complete recording of a 1996 gig at this small London club, and, I gather from the notes, a typical example of this trio's sound, which actually has a more 'traditional', '60s-free-jazz feel than the more, shall I say, lateral approach of British free playing. For one thing, Parker plays tenor as well as his usual soprano sax here, growling out big, aggressive lines while percussionist Lytton - whose speciality is ominous-sounding live electronics and percussion - here bangs out flurries of ruffled sounds on - of all things - a drum set! Bassist Barry Guy gets the strangest, noisiest sounds of any player I know, and late into the concert he 'takes more than five', playing a long, exploratory sound lab of a solo that's highly unusual. The second set begins with several minutes of Parker's trademark, hypnotic circular-breathing patterns on soprano - those weird bagpipe-honk-curlicues that have been his unique speciality since the late '70s. (As a teenager I'd use 'em to quiet down noisy neighbours right quick.) So, no shocking surprises here, but a nice update on these innovators' activities."
TONY MOSTROM - EPULSE 1998
"A very good introduction to the identity of Evan Parker, and a particular fine record of the trio in free-jazz action, live and unfettered."
MARK GREENAWAY - AVANT 1998
"Despite being an explorer of exploratory percussion, this recording finds Lytton behind a more conventional kit, which, along with Parker's choice of tenor saxophone and Guy's grunting bass-lines, reinforces the overall impression of the first set as being essentially an extended free jazz workout - certainly it could be auditioned back-to-back with an Albert Ayler recording of your choice without an auditory gear-change. However, when the second set opens with one of Parker's unique, complex, serpentine soprano solos, the density of which is reflected in Guy's and Lytton's subsequent contributions, the music crosses into an extraordinary territory of its own making. Both sets are, in their different ways, equally compelling in their intensity."
ROGER THOMAS - GRAMOPHONE 1999
"This is an absolutely sublime document that showcases three very important members of the British free music scene. Certainly one of the elements that contributes to this recording's superior status is the long association these performers enjoy with each other. The powers of intuition are astounding and the three surge through two lengthy sets of creative improvised music.
The album was recorded, as the title suggests, at the London club The Vortex, and catches the musicians in top form in the ideal situation, a setting to stretch out and let the creative juices flow. The propulsive style of the trio shows how driven these men are, and certainly Parker's percussive style of playing highlights this fact. Of note is the beginning of the second set which begins with Parker showing us his circular breathing mixed with a use of multiphonics that builds the intensity of the piece.
As a trio, the Parker/Guy/Lytton group is a highly exciting group that continues to play fresh but intense freely improvised music. This is a highly recommended album for serious free music fans and historians."
SEAN LENT - LAMPPOST 40 JAZZ REVIEW #3 1999
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