This release from PSI Records has all the markings of its affiliated and prestigious Emanem label: a stable of (mostly) London-based free-style improvisers who are associated with Emanem; extraordinary musicianship, with all the music freely improvised; and very good recording fidelity. Taken from the Appleby Jazz Festival in 2003, the collection centers around the string quartet of bassist John Edwards, violinists Sylvia Hallett and Philipp Wachsmann, and cellist Marcio Mattos, with eight musicians in the aggregate participating, including the well-known Evan Parker and Kenny Wheeler. The groups are varied, so that there are a couple of duos, and various quartets and quintets. While the quality of the performances is uniformly high, and there are wonderful moments almost everywhere, it is perhaps surprising that the best tracks (such as "S4-1"), that is, those that challenge the listener the most and contain the most variety emotionally, are the ones featuring the core string quartet. The finely executed "S4/TC-2," in which Tony Coe's clarinet melds gently with the hushed cries of the string quartet, presents a distinctly sophisticated and tuneful chamber feel, something that characterizes much of the album. Wheeler is a strong addition to the few tracks on which he plays, focusing on a genre of lyrical free improvisation in which he is most effective. Evan Parker's appearances are slightly disappointing, if only because he appears so infrequently and his anticipated duo with Wheeler on "W2-1" is somewhat of a letdown. Nonetheless, the album does offer the opportunity to hear him in different contexts than usual. While hardly indispensable, Free Zone Appleby offers yet another glimpse into the astonishingly creative world of British free improvisation.
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