It’s curious that this record is on an American label. Soprano and tenor saxophonist Evan Parker, double bassist John Edwards and acoustic guitarist John Russell are mainstays of English improvisation whose bulging discographies are heavily weighted towards home-grown labels like Emanem and Psi. Each man is a master of unconventional instrumental language; collectively, they are fluent beyond eloquence. So fluent, in fact, that this music is simultaneously marvelous and a mite off-putting. Take any one track at a time and it’s thrilling, dense, lively, and perfectly polished. So perfect that when you line ‘em up, the glare dazzles and the music blurs. The recording’s voluptuous acoustics, which take full advantage of the rich resonance of St. Peter’s Whistable, only amplify the music’s unassailable perfection. These guys sound so good at what they do that they can’t surprise you with quality anymore.
So it falls to Aleks Kolkowski to spin things a bit off-kilter. The sound artist and elderly instrument wielder didn’t turn up to play, just make some wax cylinder recordings of the trio. But play he did, using his cylinders, musical saw, and Stroh viola (a stringed instrument with an amplifying horn that was common before the advent of electrical recording) to introduce some tonal grit. On “Figure Dancing,” his bowed bleats seem to make the other players momentarily quail, then rise up and embrace him. The music is at once less assured and sharper. Edwards and Kolkowski spiral around each other on “Aka AK,” sliding up and down their respective tonal ranges and goosing strings and metal with indecent glee. And on the final track, “Wind Up,” the trio responds to Kolkowski’s wax cylinders of their playing, sounding like three men in their Sunday best who look in the mirror and see themselves wearing coal-stained coveralls.
Assurance is well and good, but this recording benefits from a bit of confusion.