On paper, Evan Parker’s Sant’Anna Arresi Quintet looks like all-star pickup group, the whole likely less than the sum of its parts. But the music they make on Filu ‘e Ferru, an album recorded live at Sant’Anna Arresi Jazz Festival, Italy, in January 2015, is exemplary free Jazz.
In this company, Hamid Drake seems an unusual choice of drummer. Perhaps Louis Moholo-Moholo would be a better bet, especially given his frequent association with Alexander Hawkins, the Quintet’s pianist. Indeed, three members of the Quintet not including Hawkins—Parker, trumpeter Peter Evans, and bassist John Edwards—did play a set with Moholo-Moholo at the same venue the day before. Whatever: notwithstanding all due respect for Moholo-Moholo, it’s Drake’s participation that makes this music exceptional.
Hailing from Chicago, in the 70s Drake played both with AACM and Fred Anderson, and as a member of Foday Musa Suso’s Mandingo Griot Society. He’s since had close associations with Don Cherry, William Parker and Peter Brötzmann, among others, but he’s also studied Caribbean music and played reggae and ‘jazz hip-hop’ (cf. IsWhat?!). So he can improvise freely, but also has a true feel for explicit, ‘dancing’ rhythm. His rapport with John Edwards is simply phenomenal.
Evan Parker and Peter Evans have an established rapport. The trumpeter plays in the leader’s Electro-acoustic Ensemble, and always draws him into fresh forms of discourse. And Alex Hawkins’ angular style approach to structure and improvisation makes him ideally suited to the role of freestyle commentator and connection-forger.
There’s no flab here. The first of two continuous sets is divided into three indexes, 1-3 Filu, the second set into four, 1-4 Ferru.
The five-way confluence at the start of “1 Filu” is jaunty, almost insouciant as the players initially sound each other out. There’s early evidence of easy rapport, and a sense of common purpose and direction; a suggestion of rhythmic pliancy and swing; and a lyrical shapeliness to themes teased out of early flurries of brass and reed.
A tough-minded Parker, on tenor sax throughout, courses liquid through”1 Filu”, combining in chatter and trill with Peter Evans before dropping out to let the trumpeter sputter creatively in a quizzical interplay with Hawkins and a rhythm section in attentive abstraction mode.
Bridging to “Filu 2”, when Parker comes back in there’s heightened tension as brass and reed trade smears and off-unison flurries of sound, Hawkins plays emphatic chords, and the rhythm section, snappy and bouncing, seem to levitate the bandstand. Then comes a fairly dramatic downshift as Hawkins’ takes a jagged solo, ebbs, then trickles back into a near-silence that bridges to “3 Filu” carrying a sediment of abstract soundings from his bandmates. Then there’s beautifully understated interplay between Parker and Evans until Parker takes charge to firmly torque the collective effort.
On”Ferru 4″, Parker shapes a spiralling solo of circular breathing, and Evans mirrors this flocking pattern when the full group enter before launching into flurries of his own invention. He’s aided by the lucid timekeeping and insistent pulse of the rhythmists, plus audible cries of exhortation. A tenor/trumpet cockfight erupts from the subsequent cooling, and Hawkins seizes the moment (“Ferru 5”) for a superbly craggy and quicksilver solo. A follow-on percussion duo sparks some of the set’s most intense collective interplay.
“Ferru 6” features a superb passage of free bass, Edwards exhibiting the imperative vigour, free-thinking creativity and self assurance that sets him apart, and then locking into a thrumming, propulsively rhythmic fingering as Drake kicks in and the Quintet catch on. Soon everyone’s in high gear, with Evans and Parker trading licks. Drake gets his own space for a freewheeling, powerful but loose-limbed solo on “Ferru 7”, seeding new energies while also managing subtly to put the brakes on for landing.
Filu ‘e Ferru is named after a type of Sardinian brandy that’s known colloquially as “water that burns” – liquid fire certainly being an apt metaphor for this music.
The CD, nicely packaged in a book-format digipak, is produced by the Associazione Culturale Punta Giara. It might be hard to get hold of, but if you’ve any interest in any of the players, then you should make an effort to do so.
Evan Parker tenor saxophone; Alexander Hawkins piano; Peter Evans trumpet, piccolo trumpet; John Edwards double bass; Hamid Drake percussion.
Black Top with Evan Parker – #Two.
Otomo Yoshihide, Sachiko M, Evan Parker, Tony Marsh, John Edwards, John Butcher – Quintet, Sextet, Duos.
The Convergence Quartet – Owl Jacket.
Alexander Hawkins – Alexander Hawkins Trio.
Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio & Peter Evans – The Freedom Principle.
For Associazione Culturale Punta Giara: firstname.lastname@example.org / www.santannaresijazz.it