There are groups of historic importance in jazz. The classic quartets of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman and (at least) two Miles Davis quintets come to mind. The trio of saxophonist Evan Parker, bassist Barry Guy and drummer Paul Lytton, now having played together for over a quarter century, belongs in this rarified company.
Entirely democratically, Parker, Guy and Lytton have developed a deeply personal language of intricate signals — structures that might be explored by any one of them and then echoed at warp speed by the others. So complete is their communication that it borders on the telepathic. Breaths and Heartbeats doesn't so much move horizontally as reside in a series of minute, intricate exchanges that keep the discourse vital every second.
Each track (except for the final where the name is pluralized) is entitled “Breath and Heartbeat” and differentiated by number. The album is best heard in its entirety, allowing the group's singular language to take hold. “Breaths and Heartbeats” begins with Parker's glottal tenor joined by Lytton's brushfire response and Guy's effortless combining of arco and pizzicato bass. Track four is introduced by Parker's still-staggering circular breathing on soprano saxophone. Track ten begins with a trio statement so desolate that it's almost unbearable. This piece is followed by an aggressive improvisation that reminds of Albert Ayler's “Spiritual Unity.”