Barry Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton


For a long time now, the pronouncements by the press about the bad health of the avant-garde - sometimes translating into a death certificate - didn't appear to coincide with the music playing in my CD player. A circumstance which seems particularly painful today, when more than a few avant-garde musicians appear to have attained a condition of "classicity", with maturity and a certain (relatively speaking!) accessibility being the outcome of long experimentation and distillation of language, not the fruits of narrower horizons and "clever" moves. The sad news being that the same trendiness that used to characterize the mainstream press - and the most commercial trends such as jazz-rock and those voluptuous female vocalists - appears to have spread into those magazines which (for love or money) dedicate more than a few pages to less commercial realities; so we have to read only about that particular saxophone player - and piano player, and drummer, and bass player and record company. The same happens when it comes to national tours, with the very same musicians representing our "new horizons" (and what about all the other musicians - will they have to wait to be all rediscovered post-mortem?).

It's at least starting from 1970 - i.e., the founding of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra - that bass player and composer Barry Guy is a worthy presence in the European (post-jazz? improvised? extra-classical?) panorama. The same can be said of Paul Lytton, one of the few drummers/percussionist that have worked hard to make the space covered by the concept we call "percussion" quite a bit wider. The two musicians have worked together in a variety of situations, for instance in the famous (well... relatively speaking) Evan Parker Trio (and here I have to mention at least his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble). Once a decisive part of the Anthony Braxton quartet, with an excellent solo career in full bloom - check her recent CD Storyteller - Marilyn Crispell has played with Guy and Lytton on works by the aforementioned London Jazz Composers Orchestra and by the Evan Parker Trio - I have a weakness for the excellent After Appleby (2000).

Odyssey (2002) had been a wonderful release: a CD where brief (and quite controlled-sounding) improvisations alternate with long compositions penned by Guy. Compositions where the bass player made the trio sound as a "pocket orchestra" - hence, a certain division of labour. This was true of the compositions that had already been played by a large line-up (for instance, Double Trouble Too and Harmos) and of those that had been especially composed for the record (such as Rags).

Ithaca appears to have the "improvising trio" at its center - let's not confuse it with the usual "piano trio" playing music "by the numbers" - just check the original part played by Lytton's cymbals. Well-served by a clear recorded sound that invites the listener to turn up the volume, Lytton is excellent in his speeding up on cymbals (Fire And Ice), in his colorful introduction to an improvisation (Broken Silence), in his dialogue with the double bass (Zinc). More than on the previous album, Guy appears to lead from the instrument, not from the written page; and he has also some very good solos (check the three Shard tracks). Crispell's piano is as mature as we'd expect, just as good in the agitated climates of Fire And Ice and Zig Zag, with their traces of Cecil Taylor, and in those more tranquil moments such as Ithaca and Void (For Doris), the latter - for this writer, at least - reminiscent of Lady Of The Mirrors-era Anthony Davis. Ithaca's final track is the meditative and concentrated Klaglied. Five stars, etcetera.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2005 | Jan. 16, 2005