The two through-improvised duets in this Vortex showcase assembled four musicians from the heart of free jazz who are long-term, if occasional, acquaintances. All have long pedigrees and are sensitive, compatible and adroit improvisers, but it was only when they came together in the grand finale that this gig really took off.
Danish multi-instrumentalist John Tchicai’s pedigree is undeniable – his was the acerbic cool-toned alto on John Coltrane’s album Ascension – and his previous appearances with drummer Tony Marsh have been highlight events. But at this gig, their opening set developed by fits and starts and gelled sporadically. Tchicai began on reedy flute, Marsh swirled on brushes, sensitive to nuance and marking time without stating it.
Tchicai has a penchant for slightly off-the-wall poetry, but when he intoned “This mike is on? … Is on? … This mike,” it was a genuine request for more monitor. The problem was only resolved later after Tchicai stopped playing. He resumed, still on flute, building stubby phrases into riffs, Marsh shading each variation. Somewhat eccentric vocals followed – the highlight was a Native American soundalike in a language of Tchicai’s invention – and finally the eagerly anticipated switch to tenor sax. Tchicai’s lyrical tone adds bite to his upward sweeps and rhythmic fragments and, like Marsh, seems tuned to an inner clock, though at this gig, their duet petered out rather than reaching a conclusion
Evan Parker’s multiphonic whirlwind was a burgeoning force in London jazz when drummer Louis Moholo Moholo arrived as an exile from South Africa in 1966 and their set had the warmth of well-worn slippers. Their three short pieces had confident beginnings and purposeful endings – a short Parker trill, a quiet phonic, a fading flutter – and each mined different textures and dynamics. Moholo Moholo’s rapid cymbal chatter marked the contours of Parker’s lines, his steady bass drum pulse a continual, somewhat ghostly presence.
The high point, though, was the final quartet, with fresh phrases mingling with reprised motifs, ebb changing to flow with uncanny accuracy and the two drummers playing as one. It ended with a distended version of “Bernie’s Tune”, its cool-school origins stretched into free-form abstraction.