Barry Guy, Howard Riley, Evan Parker, Maya Homburger, Jürg Wickihalder, Lucas Niggli at the Vortex (Intakt Festival, first night)

Howard Riley Trio at the Vortex Intakt Festival
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved

Barry Guy, Howard Riley, Evan Parker, Maya Homburger, Jürg Wickihalder, Lucas Niggli
(Vortex, 16th April 2017 – first night of 12-day Intakt Festival; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

The opening night of the Intakt Festival at the Vortex, celebrating 33 years of the Intakt record label, was Barry Guy’s night – three hours of non-stop playing in four different settings. The first was a duo with his partner, violinist Maya Homburger, which I caught the tail end of when augmented vigorously by drummer, Lucas Niggli. They then visited Biber’s late seventeenth century masterpiece, Crucifixion Mystery Sonata, with relaxed authority and a sense of occasion.

As one of the festival highlights, Barry Guy proudly introduced a rare-as-hen’s teeth reconstitution of the Howard Riley Trio, which he and Riley had inaugurated in the late 60s and maintained as an ongoing, occasional dialogue with various drummers, including, for their first recording, Jon Hiseman, and subsequently Tony Oxley. On this occasion, they were joined by Niggli, who, joked Guy, had only seen the music that morning!

Despite physical infirmity, once sitting at the piano, Howard Riley showed, as he did in duo with Keith Tippett a year ago (reviewed), that he has lost none of his acuity at the keyboard. In their three numbers, Howard Riley’s incisive grasp of rhythm, structure and melody made a deep impression. Spare, considered, crisp and exploratory, Riley’s style had echoes of Andrew Hill in its combination of concision and invention.

Complemented by Guy’s empathetic bass work and the rigour of Niggli’s invention, Riley imbued each finger stroke and chord with the clarity of intent, whether in the thoughtfully paced opener, littered with careful pauses and encrustations of notes, or the spiky, racier follow-on, marshalled to attack with confidently oblique, Monkish phrasing, allowing a dribbly, bluesy theme to take hold before retracing steps to revisit earlier thoughts.

For their encore Riley took off on a solo excursion, and not for the first time, reached in to the piano to flatten the wires and tap out a signal, while Guy chose his moment carefully to gently link up and follow the thread, finally to close on a slow slide down the fingerboard.

Evan Parker (left) and Barry Guy (right) at the Vortex Intakt Festival
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved

The great thing about quality improvisation is that it invites listening and close attention to all its twists and turns, which is exactly what the improvised duet between Guy and Evan Parker on tenor sax did, with Parker’s sharp, confident tone and staccato phrasing blending with Guy’s harmonics and bounced, lightly clattering variations as they passed the baton back and forth between them, building up and breaking down the structure with the crossfire of inspired initiatives.

The last setting had Guy teed up with Jürg Wickihalder on soprano sax and Niggli, razor-sharp on drums, to focus on the saxophonist’s demanding, primarily upbeat compositions for the trio’s brand new recording for Intakt, Beyond. Their fiery, fast-moving set had each musician at the top of their game with lightning quick responses, versatility and technical excellence at the heart of the enterprise. And it turned out that Guy’s seventieth would be celebrated in a week’s time, a birthday he shares with the younger saxophonist!

There are eleven more star-studded nights of the Intakt Festival at the Vortex. Link to programme

Categories: miscellaneous

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