SPARKS QUARTET — Live At Vision Festival XXVI (review)

SPARKS QUARTET — Live At Vision Festival XXVI album cover Live album · 2023 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
Ever since the advent of affordable recording equipment that allowed almost anyone to put out songs or albums with ease, the world ha been saturated with mediocre and unimaginative free improvisations. Since you no longer have to be good enough to get on a label, it seems there are too many artists just turning on the recorder and winging it for a while with their favorite axxe and a few friends and then calling the resultant recording their latest opus. There is one particular artist in Portugal who puts out free improv albums on an almost weekly basis. Needless to say, most of those recordings don’t seem to differ much from one another.

There is no need to despair though because there are still some artists who can play creative and downright riveting free improvisations, and one of the very best is Sparks Quartet, as exemplified on their latest CD, “Live at the Vision Festival XXVI”. Sparks is made up of William Parker on bass and other instruments, Eri Yamamoto on piano, Chad Fowler on woodwinds and Steve Hirsh on drums. Parker is the big name here, a first call NYC bass player who has played with many of the best, including a long stint with Cecil Taylor. Eri has played in William’s bands many times, so there is already a strong communication between those two. When playing live, Parker is set up in the middle of the band like an anchor while Eri points her piano towards him as they often establish a framework for the improvs while Steve interjects from the side with his percussion and Chad floats on the top like a butterfly and stings like a bee.

The playing on ‘Live at the Vision Festival’ is top notch, rarely a dull moment as the band sets up patterns and grooves and then lets them fall apart and then possibly regroups them again, while avoiding the clichés that mar a lot of today’s free improvisers. Unfortunately though, the recording quality on here is not the best. It sounds like they used one or two room mics, or just got a feed from the PA board, but the sound is vague and boomy with lots of high ceiling large room reverb. All the same, the music is good enough to save the day, but if you want to hear them in better circumstances, check out their first album, that one sounds great. Also, if you get a chance to see Sparks Quartet live, go for it, they will not disappoint.
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