The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
Strange how in jazz, as in any other theme of life, sheer serendipity can intervene to have a profound creative impact.
In early 1998, the Bristolian saxophonist Evan Parker was performing at the Vortex in Dalston with epochal Cape Town drummer of the Blue Notes, Louis Moholo-Moholo, and the brilliant John Edwards, a doyen among British bassists.
Edwards felt ill during the trio's second set, so Parker called up the pianist Steve Beresford from the audience to deputise for him.
This new formation created such a vibrant amalgam - particularly with the addition of Edwards - that a new quartet was born, quizzically called Foxes Fox, with Parker and Moholo-Moholo renewing a musical bond forged in the early '70s with the Brotherhood of Breath and other Anglo-South African bands that blasted open new jazz directions.
In July 1999 Emanem producer Martin Davidson brought the foursome to London's Gateway Studios, and Foxes Fox was cut, releasing 78 minutes of riveting music.
Wood on Wood starts it off, a duet of Edwards with finessing and twanging bow and Moholo-Moholo with tapping, echoing drums.
When the complete quartet finds its full sound for the 22 minutes of Amoebic Mystery, Parker's tenor breathes fire and menace at its centre, Beresford ambles and springs along his keys, Edwards delves into echoing caverns and Louis's clicking, throbbing skins hold the collective sound close to the earth in an uncanny union.
There is discomforting urban birdsong from Parker's tenor, as if its maker were trapped inside Bird with a Shell, and in the Beresford/Edwards duet Snail Kite, only the listener's keening imagination will begin to decipher which is which - or if both are both - with the pianist's stepping chords and Edwards's deep, deep vibrating strings.
Parker's huge guttural broadside begins his duet with a rampaging Moholo-Moholo on Fox's Fox, while the quartet's Foxes Fox belies or exemplifies the play on titular words with some profoundly serious music, in which Parker plays soprano and its 17 minutes move between trio, duet and quartet.
Parker breathes fire while Edwards and Moholo-Moholo dialogue through the earth beneath their continents with some astonishing soundscapes, then Beresford finally enters with crushing chords and a pounding colloquy with Parker.
Some five years later the same quartet reassembled in the same studio to record the album Naan Tso, which became a musical goodbye to Moholo-Moholo, who was finally returning to his home city to live after four decades of inspiring musicianship in London during the worst and most degrading years of apartheid, through which his universal drums helped to keep exiled hope thriving.
Yet Naan Tso means "here it is" in Xhosa, and the glory of its sound is neither elegaic nor valedictory, although it made me think of the 1964 Mingus band recording of So Long, Eric, when they were playing goodbye to their great alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy, who was relocating to Europe.
In the album's sleeve notes Parker writes: "The great Moholo made London his home during the apartheid period and our lives were the richer for it. We made this record to mark his return home and to say goodbye. Don't forget us, Tebugo."
The 31 minutes of the title improvisation are truly something else. Its power and message of collectivism are superbly balanced by the individual musicianship.
Parker's tenor is as a fanfare of freedom and hope, ever grounded by Moholo-Moholo restless and relentlessly unfettered African drums.
Beresford stamps, marches, sprints and saunters intermittently along his keys and Edward's creative and everchanging heartbeat gives the foundation of a life that never relaxes its transience.
There is reflection, memory and excitation, and every note carries invocations of future meeting places for music and the humans who create it, all concentrated and sustained in half an hour's making.
After such an upsurge, what can folllow? Three more quartet rhapsodies of sublime foxiness is the answer, prefaced by Parker's gut-wrenching tenor on Slightly Foxed and concluding with Renard Pale.
As for the Cape fox Moholo-Moholo, dwelling in such a remote land has not distanced him irreconcilaby from his British musical comrades, as his 70th birthday performance with Edwards and other local contenders at the 2010 London Jazz Festival showed.
Long live the testimony of endless freedom, sparking and pounding from his drums.
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