Into the Vortex: Evan Parker “Foxes (Slightly Foxed) and Speake/Batchelor. London, May 2009.

I had been back in London a month when I thought I would like to go to some jazz; so I went to two gigs in the space of a week, in the same venue.

I had been to the old Vortex, which was around the corner from the original Jazz Café on Newington Green; but that was getting on for over fifteen years ago. The Vortex moved a couple of years ago, a mile or so to Dalston.

What attracted me to the first gig was the drummer. Well, the saxophonist too – it was Evan Parker’s gig – and he had Louis MoholoMoholo playing with him, on a visit from South Africa. I have seen Moholo play a lot over the years (I first saw him in 1974…) in a variety of bands, often with Parker in the band too. [He used to be plain Louis Moholo, but he is now billed as the double barrelled Moholo-Moholo, so I guess that’s how he wants it, and I see no reason to dissent.]

They were playing in a quartet under the name Foxes (Slightly Foxed), with a bass player and pianist I didn’t know – John Edwards and Alexander Hawkins respectively. I knew they’d be pretty free, but they were a lot freer than I expected: there were no “tunes” played that night. It was good – Parker is an exciting saxophonist, Moholo-Moholo is a great drummer (though it wasn’t a night for him to swing – it wasn’t that kind of music) and I was impressed by the Hawkins and Edwards – but it was a bit too free for me.

The Vortex was packed, though – surprising, frankly, given the nature of the music: free jazz is not usually a sell-out. I was chatting to a couple of guys on the same table who said that Parker’s regular gigs at the Vortex are always popular.

So I was really surprised that the gig I went to on Monday night was practically empty – there were twelve punters (including me) at the start of the gig, and fifteen at the end. Maybe because it was a Monday night? Strange.

This gig was in honour of Ornette Coleman; he is curating this year’s Meltdown Festival, including playing a couple of gigs himself, but I am away for the whole of that (shame, there are some great gigs in addition to Coleman’s – Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, The Bad Plus, Han Bennink with Evan Parker), so I decided to catch this show by Martin Speake and Chris Batchelor celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the recording of Coleman’s classic album “The Shape of Jazz To Come”.

This was the second gig I had been to recently celebrating a fiftieth anniversary – back in March I went to Colin Steele’s quintet celebrating Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue. There was a lot happening in 1959 Mingus Ah Um (a brilliant, wonderful record) was also recorded then (just over fifty years ago – May 12, 1959). Whilst I know Kind of Blue and Mingus Ah Um very well, I am much less familiar with Coleman’s record – I have heard it (and I have seen Coleman play several times, mostly with his electric group Prime Time – a remarkable free jazz dance band. Really..), but I don’t know it.

This quartet – Speake in Coleman’s alto role, Batchelor taking Don Cherry’s trumpet duties – was made up with Calum Gourlay on bass (who I saw at Islay last year) and Gene Calderazzo on drums (he was in Edinburgh with Zoe Rahman a couple of years ago. Gourlay seems to be playing quite a bit in London – he has another gig at the Vortex in a week or so.

It was great music. It is still difficult – even after fifty years of mellowing: it has a spiky, angular, jagged quality; and at times it sounds discordant; it stops and starts (Gourlay and Calderazzo did a great job keeping the rhythms going) – but it also swings – it has a real life to it. The sax and trumpet were excellent – some great solos.

Shame there weren’t more people to hear it!

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