Dave Holland and Evan Parker go way back, having first met during the British jazz avant-garde’s early flourishing in the 1960s. To have the bassist and saxophonist renew their lengthy acquaintance in a recording studio is notable enough, but to make matters more intriguing, they’ve hooked up on this double-disc set with two players of a younger generation and a similar free spirit, keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer-percussionist Ches Smith. Only three of the 23 tracks were pre-written; the rest are free improvisations, titled according to their instrument combinations.
Smith’s “Thought on Earth” starts things off, its pensive intro leading into a more exploratory section in which each player occupies a distinct rhythmic zone, related to but barely overlapping with the others. From there, the group splits into duos and trios, occasionally reconverging as a quartet on the tracks that have “Q” in their names. “QW1” is an ominous slow-builder on which Smith moves from bowed cymbal to xylophone to vibes to drums. “QT12” comes across like a waggish parody of an uptempo bop tune.
Not shockingly, Holland and Parker acquit themselves well throughout. “Tenor-Bass W3” is an especially memorable instance of their pairing, as Holland’s upright responds to Parker’s burbling tenor with arco interjections that suggest the moans of a wounded beast. But Smith and Taborn are the standout players here, both for the imaginative way they half-converse, half-spar with their elders and for what they do when they’re on their own. On “QT13,” they construct a crazy clockwork quilt behind Parker and Holland, while their duet on “Organ-Vibes W1” generates a transfixing atmosphere that borders on the psychedelic. This particular territory doesn’t feel uncharted—the Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd was here before, to name just one precursor—but it’s a nice place to revisit.
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