Soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill, 69, is one of the founding fathers of English free improvisation, a player involved in some form of what he calls “musical cliff-hanging” for more than five decades. His desire to throw himself into odd contexts is as much a part of his musical identity as the notes he plays, but, amazingly, his melodically driven style remains a constant. On his new two-CD career retrospective, Spectral Soprano (Emanem), he’s featured in an overwhelming variety of settings, including straight-ahead readings of jazz standards, stabs at R & B as a member of Tony Knight’s Chessmen, electronic experiments with Paul Schutze, uncut free improvisation, wild ‘n’ woolly electroacoustic excursions with the infrequently convened Recedents, and the sour destruction of a tune by Hawaiian star Sol Hoopii. (The compilation doesn’t include his performances and recordings with British punks the Damned, touring work with Rufus Thomas, or his membership in Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, Trevor Watts’s Moire Music, or the rock band the Whole World, with the Soft Machine’s Kevin Ayers.) In Coxhill’s long-overdue Chicago debut, part of the sixth annual Empty Bottle Festival of Jazz & Improvised Music, he’ll perform twice. On Friday night at the club, he’ll duet with bassist Torsten Muller, and on Saturday at the Lincoln Park Conservatory he’ll play solo. Also on the Bottle bill is Sweden’s AALY Trio; to coincide with the festival, the local Okka Disk label is releasing Double or Nothing, a 1999 recording by AALY and Chicago’s DKV Trio. On the album AALY is reedist Mats Gustafsson, drummer Kjell Nordeson, and Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (filling in for Peter Janson, who couldn’t do the tour), but Ken Vandermark had just been invited to become the permanent fourth member of the “trio,” and comparing this raucous three-track session to I Wonder If I Was Screaming (Crazy Wisdom), a studio recording AALY made only six months later, proves revelatory. Although Gustafsson and Vandermark have long exhibited a deep musical empathy, the double trio date sounds like a tug-of-war compared to the simpatico soulfulness of I Wonder. On the later recording the reedists sound unusually lyrical–even when charging full bore through Fred Anderson’s pithy “3 on 2.” The show will also include a screening of Anna Linder’s experimental film Cum Pane, for which AALY recorded the sound track. Friday, April 26, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; Coxhill’s solo gig is Saturday, April 27, 3 PM, fern room, Lincoln Park Conservatory, 2400 N. Stockton; 773-276-3600.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tim Gardner.