Evan Parker/Alex von Schlippenbach/Barry Guy/Paul Lovens/Paul Lytton: 2 x 3 = 5

British saxophonist Evan Parker has been mining free improvisation for a long time, as have the various participants on these two recordings, which comprise more than four hours of music. The players’ experience and ease with the idioms of free improvisation pay dividends in form: we hear intent in what emerges; we sense empathy at work. Parker clearly finds ways to shape his own performances so as to invite apposite contributions to the collective work; how he does this remains rather mysterious, piquing and teasing the listener’s curiosity.

2×3=5 is better math than one might think, and masterful chemistry. Parker has played with the Alexander von Schlippenbach Trio for many years, as he has with Parker/Guy/Lytton. This recording brings the two trios together; the common element, Parker’s tenor and soprano saxes, reduces their number to five. Pianist von Schlippenbach, bassist Barry Guy, and drummers Paul Lovens and Paul Lytton fill out the group. It can, of course, be seen as a quartet with two drummers, but that ignores the nontraditional roles that each improviser plays. Each is at once a leading and following voice in the deep contrapuntal texture of the ensemble; there are “solo” opportunities for each, but they are more collaborative than most, given their open-ended accompaniment. Von Schlippenbach shares with Parker a gift for inventing motifs that metamorphose beautifully into one another, and Lovens and Lytton play whimsically with time and texture.