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New York reedist Ned Rothenberg plays duets tonight with British improvising saxophone legend Evan Parker over at Elastic, reprising their duo appearance at the Empty Bottle back in April of 2000. Bill Meyer’s recent Critic’s Choice focuses on Parker, but don't forget Ned. As Rothenberg writes in the liner notes of the recent two-CD set The Lumina Recordings (Tzadik), which collects the three solo albums he made for his titular label in the early-to-mid 80s, Parker was an important influence on his own playing: “I immediately realized that he was making use of a sonic language that could give the solo saxophone context unprecedented range,” he writes of hearing him for the first time. Like Parker, Rothenberg excels with lengthy pieces using extended technique -- circular breathing, advanced multiphonics, slowly developing phrase permutations -- that are informed by a wide variety of nonjazz approaches, from the singing of Inuit Eskimos to the shakuhachi playing of Japanese Zen monk Watazumido-Shuso (Rothenberg added the instrument to his own arsenal back in the mid-80s).
Many improvisers prefer to stick to free-music situations, but Rothenberg alternates his approach, playing in band projects that use written material. Over the last couple of decades he’s placed himself in loads of disparate contexts aside from his solo work, including his electric trio with Elliott Sharp and Samm Bennett called Semantics, the tabla-driven trio Sync, and his dryly funky double trio. He recently released a superb album, The Fell Clutch (Animul), with drummer Tony Buck (best known as a member of the Necks), electric bassist Stomu Takeishi, and a handful of cameos by slide guitarist Dave Tronzo. In a press release for the album, he refers to the group as “a kind of next-generation jam band,” but that description sells the music short. It’s all improvised, and even though the pieces are built from loose but hypnotic rhythmic schemes, there’s nothing aimless or indulgent about the performances, which reveal a stunning degree of interaction. The best pieces use short little stuttery phrases the coalesce neatly into transparent groove alternately choppy and fluid, the perfect setting for Rothenberg’s mesmerizing, interlocking phrases.