By Martin Schray
People like the British musician and author Peter Urpeth think that Evan Parker has “almost single-handedly re-invented the saxophone and the role the instrument played in improvised music“. Even if he might not have done it single-handedly, he is definitely one of the pioneers in improvised music.
I remember when I saw him first with the Schlippenbach Trio in the late 1990s and suddenly Alex von Schlippenbach and Paul Lovens stopped playing and Parker was alone with his instrument playing a soprano solo full of continuous, multilayered sounds. Then I started to look for electronic devices because I thought that one man cannot do that alone. But there weren’t any. I have never seen - and heard - something like that before, such a mixture of spontaneous creativity and incredible virtuosity.
Today, aged 71, Parker seems to be more prolific than ever, which connects him to the other great European saxophone player of the first wave of European improv, Peter Brötzmann. Both have released a couple of albums recently (check out Colin Green’s wonderful review of Brötzmann’s Münster Bern), and both seem to be interested in how to combine their idea of music with as many other musical philosophies possible. Especially Parker moves to and fro between established constellations (Schlippenbach Trio, Evan Parker Trio, Electro-Acoustic Ensemble) and new combinations (for example with Colin Stetson recently at the Guelph festival or with The Necks, who join them for a gig in November at London’s Café Oto), between smaller groups and large ensembles.
Right on time for Evan Parker’s USA tour we present reviews of his latest releases and a concert review of his performances at the Festival Métèo in Mulhouse/France.
At the moment he is playing in New York City, yesterday he was at the Stone, tonight he is at Roulette and tomorrow at Jack. If you are interested in the other gigs, check out this website:
If you have the chance to see the concerts, don’t miss them, I am sure you won’t be disappointed.
Evan Parker Trio plus Peter Evans / Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Nonet, Festival Métèo, Mulhouse, August 27th and 28th
Photos by Martin Schray
It is nothing new that - at the age of 71 - Evan Parker is still at the height of his creativity. On the one hand he is always looking for new challenges (like his duo albums with Peter Jacquemyn or Motoharu Yoshizawa, which will be reviewed here soon) and on the other hand he maintains longtime collaborations like the Schlippenbach Trio, his own Evan Parker Trio and his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. The trio has existed since 1983 (at least they released their album Tracks then) and it has always been the nucleus for Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, which he founded in the early 1990s and which released its first album Towards the Margins in 1997. In the beginning it was a relatively small ensemble of six players and the idea was that each member of the trio was given a musical partner (in this early case there were Walter Prati, Marco Vecchi and Phil Wachsmann) who would treat the acoustic sounds electronically. Over the years the ensemble has grown to over 18 members (in Huddersfield in 2011) which made the band a logistic adventure which is why it became hard for Parker to keep such a huge line up. That’s why he obviously decided to reduce the number of members, and he released a fantastic album with a septet that played Victoriaville last year (see the review here). But while the Victoriaville ensemble consisted of US musicians only, the Mulhouse band resembled the original idea of this formation.
On Tuesday there was the Parker Trio augmented by Peter Evans on trumpet. All the band members were dressed in black T-shirts and black trousers, which stressed the character of the band as a real unit. The stage light was mainly brown and yellowish, the whole atmosphere resembled a theatre production, everything seemed rather sophisticated. However, this was a real contrast to the music presented: the first ten minutes were a real frenzy, the musical material was very tightly knit, it was a mixture of extremely fast free jazz combined with new music elements (Barry Guy’s bass was mainly responsible for that). Paul Lytton’s drum style reminded of Tony Oxley’s, his set was tuned up very high and he used a lot of extended materials. But the real sensation was Peter Evans, who opened new horizons for the trio. Like the others he is an outstanding musician, and his sounds are incredibly unpredictable, sometimes they were like gun shots ricocheting through the room. He seemed to enjoy to have this wonderful band in the background and was bursting with ideas. And Evan Parker? He was very reluctant, took very long breaks, he often simply listened, waiting for a perfect moment to join in. But whenever he did, he was absolutely present and his contributions were just perfect. It was an excellent performance, old-school European free jazz at its best.
The next day the stage was crowded, the outfits were various. The nonet’s approach to music was very different compared to the one of the trio, parts of the structure were given. Evan Parker was on soprano saxophone (for the trio he chose the tenor), three computers were placed on desks, Paul Lytton was wearing a white T-shirt, he was standing behind his drum set all of the time, it turned out that he was setting the pace. Parker chose an electronic sequence Lytton once used to start off, then the whole thing was free for nine minutes. After that Lytton had been supposed to set a mark, which the other players had been able to use to start, to stop, or they had also been allowed to ignore it completely, Evan Parker said in a radio interview after the concert. There were slow and fast segments in the structure and these segments were all completely improvised. The players used this freedom excessively, Okkyung Lee (c), Sten Sandell (p) and Paul Obermayer, Richard Barrett and Sam Pluta (electronics) put the original quartet on fire. It was the reunification of two universes, there were about 50 minutes of musical fireworks, one of the most wonderful music I have ever heard live (I know we should be reluctant with gushing vocabulary, but in this case it was simply true). The acoustic instruments delivered fascinating material and the electronics processed it right away, you could hardly discern who created the music - the audience felt like it was watching a nuclear power plant at work. Smaller, rather reflective combinations (Sten Sandell with Okkyung Lee and Barry Guy, a duo between Parker and Evans) alternated with furious tutti passages, the music was a constant surprise.
The connecting line to the evening before was Evan Parker himself, who was really laid back again. He was watching and listening his ensemble play, as if he was very proud of the result - like a painter stepping back watching his work, obviously satisfied. And finally he decided to participate, just to play one of the best solos in his typical circular breathing technique I have heard from him. It was really a magical evening.
After the concert my friend Klaus, who accompanied me and who is usually not into this kind of music, looked at me and stammered: “That was really great!“ Indeed.