REVIEW: Evan Parker and Dave Holland at the Vortex

Evan Parker (L) and Dave Holland (R) at the Vortex.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2018. All Rights Reserved

Dave Holland & Evan Parker
(Vortex fundraising concert. 2 March 2018. Second set. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Dave Holland, the pre-eminent jazz bassist, for many years based in New York, made his first visit to the Vortex three years ago to catch one of Evan Parker's performances. The experience made a significant impression and led to his idea of duetting with Parker to raise funds for the club, a lynchpin in London's jazz scene. With outstandingly generous spirit, Holland and Parker played two hour-long sets on the one night, donating all proceeds to assist the club.

The Vortex, as the venue's Oliver Weindling put it, has struggled in typical jazz venue fashion for 30 years. Set up in Stoke Newington in the '80s, initially as an adjunct to a bookshop, it thrived, and went through a brief transitional period before settling in to its current purpose-built venue in Dalston in 2005 where it continues to host a scintillating programme, nurturing talent, attracting key international acts and providing a bedrock for the British scene. "The club is part of a community," said Weindling. "Do remember," he emphasised, "the Vortex is an important club."

"The spirit of what goes on here is so important, and reminds me of Ronnie's old place," Holland told the packed crowd. Holland cut his jazz teeth in the '60s, moving to London from the Midlands, meeting other adventurous young British musicians, including Parker, playing often at Ronnie's old place, which Scott had given over to the young bloods until its lease ran out, and then at Frith Street where he played with greats such as Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins and where, in '68, Miles Davis recruited him. Since when he's joined forces with Sam Rivers, Chick Corea, and Anthony Braxton amongst many other leading exponents.

Evan Parker, saxophonist extraordinaire, melding jazz and improvisation within the envelope, but never afraid to push out to its edges, has made the Vortex the one permanent fixture in his demanding international schedules, playing a regular monthly gig, as a testbed and an opportunity to explore and express in its fully sympathetic setting.

Parker's visit to New York in '62, seeing Cecil Taylor 's trio, fixed him on the route to free jazz. Involved with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble in the mid-'60s, then the Global Unity and ICP Orchestras, as well as co-founding the Incus label, he continues to push boundaries with his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble and returns regularly to the Vortex with long-standing trio colleagues, Alexander von Schlippenbach and Paul Lovens.

Parker, on tenor sax, insinuated a low-key sustained note at the start of the second set and then broke off with a smile, "I only did that so I'd play the first note!" "So many to choose from …", setting the tone of warmth and humility mixed with a light touch and great mutual respect, but with no musical concessions, as they moved off on an intuitive journey which segued passages of melodic evolution with tangential extemporisations.

Evan Parker (L) and Dave Holland (R) at the Vortex
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2018. All Rights Reserved

Holland was at one with his compact road bass, lightly miked to catch the rich-toned nuances of his finger-nimble phrasing, as he and Parker built up and broke down fast-flowing figures. Theirs was an intriguing game of hide-and-seek mixed with follow-my-leader. Parker, subtle, tight and fleeting, yet resiliently tough as he alighted on passages of fluttering circularity, moved the dialogue for a spell in to the off-piste zone with slow-release wails which Holland mirrored dextrously with juddering, bowed attack.

With oblique reference to Holland's solo album, Ones All, there were echoes of Three Step Dance, as they drew out a deceptively simple riff to underpin the set's second excursion, and of Little Girl I'll Miss You as the bow was delicately applied with classical intent. Each gave the other space, fading back to allow essential solo drifts that put a personal stamp on each deviation. The balance in the dialogue was enhanced by the deeply embedded recognition of exactly when and how to pass the baton, bringing out the beauty and the poignancy of the musical interplay. Entrancing, captivating, you could hear the silence in the room.

Parker threw in an alarmingly intense spell of continuous breathing, with flying rasps which Holland responded to with sympathetic scrapes and harmonics. Holland countered with a storming bass drive and a gorgeous, free-standing solo, then smiles all-round and the heartfelt declaration, "Long live the music which goes out from places like this!" "This is where the music lives!"

The quartet recording which Parker and Holland made together (with Lovens and Paul Rutherford) in Berlin in 1976, The Ericle of Dolphy, will shortly be added to with the imminent release of a quartet with Craig Taborn and Ches Smith, both reknowned, international visitors to the Vortex. Eagerly awaited!


  1. Nice review of an amazing gig. I can think of at least two recordings of the two together in addition to 'Ericle of Dolphy' though - Dave Holland is on the Spontaneous Music Ensemble's 'karyobin' with Evan, Derek Bailey, John Stevens and Kenny Wheeler. And they're both on Kenny's 'music for small and large ensembles'

  2. Of course - that's the problem with consulting one discography! Thank you!