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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Evan Parker Days Intro & Live at Mulhouse

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 

Festival Métèo Mulhouse is one of the oldest and most prestigious jazz festivals in France, it has existed since 1972. I have visited it in 2012 and 2013, the line up was always very interesting and the locations like Noumatrouff (where the bigger bands play in the evenings) and especially the Chapelle St. Jean, where the matinées are and where they serve very good wine for free after the shows, are superb. The audience is well-informed and attentive, in contrast to German festivals it is a bit younger and less male. However, last year the program was not as exciting as before, but this year it was various and promising again. There were solo concerts by Okkyung Lee, James Blood Ulmer, Martin Brandlmayer, Michel Doneda and Akira Sakata and performances by bands like Arashi, ZU, Lotte Anker/Fred Frith, James Chance and the Contortions, Barry Guy/Fred Frith/Daniela Cativelli/Samuel Dühsler or Dans Les Arbres. And on top of it all they had the Evan Parker Trio + Peter Evans and the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Nonet.

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.


Colin Green said...

Thanks for such an informative review, Martin. I wish I’d been there (the free wine would have clinched it for me). The fact that Parker listens and waits speaks volumes.

The Parker/Guy/Lytton trio – one of the wonders of the free jazz world – have performed previously with Evans: Scenes In the House of Music (Clean Feed, 2010). Recommended.

I’ve heard excerpts from the Electro-Acoustic gig via French radio, and it was as good as you say. Previously, I’ve had my doubts about some of this ensemble’s work: the balance between the two sound worlds was often unclear, and this kind of thing works much better with smaller groups of musicians. This performance however, struck me as one of the most successful things they’ve done, bursting with new sounds and ideas. I’m sure the radio recording will be used for a future release.

James Allen said...

Great review Martin.I've been listening to Evan's music for the last 45 years and,in that time,I must have heard him live dozens of times.I once took a friend visiting from Japan to an Evan Parker/Derek Bailey performance and he was as amazed as your friend Klaus by what he heard!When we got home we listened to Monoceros ,which had just been released,right through three times to complete the experience!
My point is that this music can reach people who have had no previous exposure to it but of course the reverse is more often the case.Another friend in the party said he would rather stand outside in the rain than listen to any more of it which is exactly what he proceeded to do!!

Dan S. said...

I saw Evan Parker on two US stops last September, and after the initial shock of being in the presence of his incredible technique, I was also struck by what a thoughtful listener he was--in trios with Nate Wooley/Joe Morris (possibly being reviewed in the coming days as a Clean Feed release) and Stephen Haynes/Joe Morris, he also often waited until he found the right moment to enter, listening intently with eyes closed.

Many times, the fireworks of his solo technique are highlighted over his sensitivity as a collaborator.

Colin Green said...

In the light of which, how about the collaboration with the Large Ensemble in “A Homage to Butch Morris” a few days after the gigs reviewed by Martin, where Parker is credited with “Conduction” only:

The reference in the tile to “William” is to the wrong Parker. Since Evan Parker has clarified who played what, or not, it appears he’s sanctioned the upload.

Anonymous said...


Colin Green said...

Thanks Daniel, very nice. I see there's other footage from the festival. I feel an evening of YouTube TV coming on.

Colin Green said...

And if you like the Parker trio with trumpet, here's a recording of them with the late Kenny Wheeler, authorised by Evan Parker::

Martin Schray said...

Thanks a lot for the nice comments.
I spoke to Evan Parker briefly when he was carrying his saxophones to the shuttle bus and he - in his very modest way - seemed to be very pleased with the concert. As you, James, I have seen him very often and I agree that you can win people over for this kind of music if they are willing to open their ears for it. If not, that's okay as well. And as you, Dan, I agree that his ability too listen is underestimated. I have noticed that he likes a lot to listen in the last concerts I have seen with him, even with the Schlippenbach Trio. But when he plays, it's always the perfect moment to contribute.
Finally, Colin, I am sure that the wine would have done it for you. But the French have a certain reputation to defend. The matinées at the Chapelle St. Jean are always highlights. I talked to Evan Parker before the Okkyung Lee's solo performance there and he asked me if I had been there before and if the thing with the free wine was correct. I said "yes" and he seemed to be very pleased. The atmosphere at the festival is always nice and relaxed.
I can also recommend the Parker Trio plus Kenny Wheeler download.

Colin Green said...

We Brits are always pleased when the alcohol is free. We also have a reputation to defend :-)