By John Eyles
Recorded live in concert at Firehouse 12, New Haven, in September 2014, Ninth Square brings together players of three different generations from very different geographical locations — saxophonist Evan Parker from Britain, just into his seventies at the time of recording, guitarist Joe Morris from Connecticut, in his late fifties, and trumpeter Nate Wooley from Oregon, just into his forties. The Firehouse 12 gig was the culmination of a mini-tour of north-eastern states during which the saxophonist played a couple of duo gigs with Morris, and a NYC gig with this trio before New Haven. Although this trio had not played together prior to that mini-tour, Morris and Wooley had form together, going back to 2010 when they released the duo album Tooth & Nail on Clean Feed , while in September 2013 Parker and Wooley had recorded World of Objects (5049 Records, 2014) at The Stone in NYC.
All of which means the three players had sufficient knowledge of one another and enough playing time under their belts to make them sound easy together. In addition, all three are experienced enough as improvisers to render differences of age, nationality and birthplace irrelevant. Listening to their music here, one would never know that this was not an established threesome, together for years. However, that compatibility is not achieved at the expense of individual identity; each of them is clearly identifiable within the trio, and immediately recognisable from telltale trademarks in their sound or phrasing.
The first track of the album’s six, “Temple Elm”, opens to the sound of rapidly articulated guitar chords that gradually morph into fractured arpeggios which remain coherent enough to provide a solid foundation for the sax and trumpet to improvise over. From that intro, Morris’s message is clear — he is not here to provide standard jazz accompaniment but as an equal improvising partner who merits his fair share of our attention and respect. And so it remains after the entry of Wooley and Parker, none of the three is the focus and all three command attention. While the passages featuring the full trio have a rich, full soundscape and are the album’s highlights, the album also showcases each of the players alone and the three possible duos. For instance, the first quarter of the twelve-minute “Grove State” spotlights Parker’s solo soprano playing, sustained at length by circular breathing, before Wooley enters and the pair trade phrases over subtle guitar. Three first-rate improvisers bringing out the best in each other — who could ask for more?