At 71, Evan Parker is still opening up new realms of sound on the tenor and soprano saxophone.

An astonishing solo performance at last year's Glasgow Jazz Festival saw him use circular breathing to loop and layer rapid streams of notes into a flurry of harmonics and overtones, evoking whirlpools and swarming birds. Yet he is also a player of great lyricism, and a generous collaborator.

A lynchpin of European free jazz and improvisation, Bristol-born Parker played on such landmark recordings as the Spontaneous Music Ensemble's Karyobin and Peter Brötzmann's Machine Gun, two 1968 albums which represent extreme ends of the genre: fluttering insect music and full-bore rammy. In addition to his collaborations with numerous figures in the worlds of jazz and improv, Parker has worked with cult pop artists such as Robert Wyatt, Scott Walker, David Sylvian and Spiritualized. He has also explored electronic music through his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble and collaborations with drum 'n' bass duo Spring Heel Jack.

Parker returns to Glasgow Jazz Festival this month to perform with Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, a group he was instrumental in founding and has maintained a close relationship with. GIO began when saxophonist Raymond MacDonald was asked to assemble 25 musicians to work with Parker at the CCA's Free RadiCCAls festival in 2002.

"I can still remember Evan giving us some instructions and starting us off on some improvisations and saying 'You are now the founding members of the GIO,'" recalls MacDonald. The project soon grew wings. "The aim at first was to bring people together to explore improvisation in the broadest possible context, but quite quickly we got the chance to collaborate with other people, not just with musicians but with artists and filmmakers."

Parker is modest about his contribution: "I do remember that first visit and I did encourage them to start something on a regular basis, but they've outstripped my expectations. I think at this point they're so well organized and so dynamic. You sense a kind of maturity with large group improvising that really does depend on regular work and rehearsal."

Parker credits the Chicago-based polymath George Lewis, with whom he has collaborated many times, with having a huge impact on GIO's approach. "He's such a great human being, great trombone player, but also very established in the academic world and the theoretical world of improvisation. I've heard George say several times that it's his favourite large group to play with, which is very significant."

Parker's first album with GIO, Munich And Glasgow, was released in 2003 on the FMR label. It was followed in 2012 by Improvcerto (For HB). Recorded at the 2011 Gateshead International Jazz Festival, the album captures one of the final performances by the late, great soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill. "I am very happy that the project with Lol Coxhill at the Sage got recorded just before life started to become difficult for Lol," says Parker.

Written by GIO guitarist George Burt, the Improvcerto is a tribute to another lost legend of British jazz, the trumpeter Harry Beckett. In addition to wonderful solos from Parker and Coxhill, the piece sees individual players stepping forward to conduct the orchestra. It's a great example of GIO's playful and inventive approach.

For this year's Glasgow Jazz Festival show with GIO, Parker has planned two pieces. "I've discussed it a little bit with Raymond and I said I'd like to do one piece where I conduct or organise the piece - do conduction, a guided improvisation - and one piece where I'm featured soloist.

"It's rather egotistical, but I guess that's the kind of mood you get into when you reach a certain age and seniority," he deadpans. "You've got to through your weight around a bit. Raymond was okay with that. When the time comes closer there may be more specific ideas but for the moment it's just as open as that. We'll see what happens. The motion of improvisation does allow for last-minute decisions."

The GIO show will mark Parker's second appearance in Glasgow this year, having performed with keyboardist Sten Standell at April's Counterflows Festival. Their performance was an extension of a project at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, where the duo improvised in churches, with Standell on organ. Having previously performed in less "dramatic" spaces, Parker was initially taken aback by the sheer scale of Glasgow University Chapel.

"'Chapel' for me always suggests something quite small and intimate. And when we got there it was like 'A chapel? This looks to me more like a cathedral!' But it was fantastic. The big space gives you a lot of air to move around and of course the organ is built in order to sound big in that space, so I just hope I filled my section of the space. I played the tenor and that's a bigger-sounding instrument than the soprano, obviously. The acoustic space that the church represents effectively becomes part of your instrument. You're dealing with that specific set of acoustic properties and that scale of room, and that affects your approach to the music.

"The problem was with Sten at one end of the room high up in the organ loft and me at the other end of the room with the audience between us, we were hoping that the audience would get a better balance than we did. We played partially by a kind of radar. From the response [we got] it seemed that it worked pretty well and we got the blend that we were aiming for."

Other than his shows with GIO, Parker's most memorable Glasgow Jazz Festival appearance was in 2009, with a Double Quartet of German and British free jazz players, including trombonists Konrad and Johannes Bauer and drummer Paul Lovens. "I still remember that one, it worked really well. It was a unique combination just for that occasion. We've never done it since.

"I've got a tendency to work repeatedly with the same people, so as to build an understanding. But at the same time the fact is that the community of players is so much bigger than when I started that you can now pretty much count on people to have a pretty quick understanding of what you're aiming for.

"All those relationships add up to a kind of shared history. I'm the only the one that's played with all of the people I invite, maybe that gives it a sense of a controlling role, I'm not sure. Of course with GIO it'll be very different. I'll be the stranger because they've all got their established relationships now."

Evan Parker and Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra are at City Halls Recital Room at 2.30pm on Sunday June 28,