We all owe a great debt to the great archival project of French sound engineer-producer-Fou Records label owner (and an explorer of vintage synthesizers) Jean-Marc Foussat's excellent recordings. Thanks to his one-of-a kind archive of live recordings we already enjoyed such milestone gems of free jazz and free improvisation released by Fou Records as Derek Bailey / Joëlle Léandre / George Lewis / Evan Parker - 28 rue Dunois juillet 82 (2014); the Willem Breuker Kollektief - Angoulème 18 mai 1980 (2015) and Daunik Lazro / Joëlle Léandre / Georges Lewis - Enfances à Dunois le 8 janvier 1984 (2016).
Now, Foussat and Fou Records offer Topographie Parisienne Dunois April 3d 1981, a live perspective on one of the defining and most sought-after album of European free-improvisation: The Topography of the Lungs (Incus, 1970), captured during a June 1970 studio session and featuring young British tenor and soprano sax player Evan Parker, guitarist Derek Bailey and Dutch drummer Han Bennink. The seminal album also helped launch the legendary Incus label, co-founded by Bailey, Parker and drummer Tony Oxley. This album’s mystique was enhanced by decades of scarcity (and a famous rift between Bailey and Parker), until reissued on Parker’s Psi label in 2006, a year after the passing of Bailey and in memory of Bailey.
Bill Shoemaker mentions in his insightful liner notes for Topographie Parisienne that Bailey, Bennink and Parker did not perform together as a trio after the recording The Topography of the Lungs and did not record a follow-up album (though, played as a trio in the 1977 Company week, and a five minute clip was captured on Company 6 (Incus 1978)). The three improvisers had only collaborated before and shortly after on recordings by larger ensembles as Manfred Schoof’s European Echoes (FMP, 1969) or Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity 1970 (reissued as Globe Unity 67 & 70 (Atavistic, 2001)).
Bailey, Bennink and Parker met again in April 1981 at Théâtre Dunois, while they were all pursuing different directions. Bailey denounced fixed groups, while Parker and Bailey worked with regular collaborators. But the nine pieces here, spanning three and a half hours and packed in a 4-disc box, mark an evolution and further development of the improvisations strategies and ideas explored on The Topography of the Lungs. Shoemaker mentions the employment of well-timed and laser-accurate disruption as a preventative against style, to which each improviser can answer according to his resourcefulness, push back or stand firm as the shockwaves recede. These subversive means liberated these free, non-idiomatic sessions from the legacy of free jazz.
Topographie Parisienne begins with the three musicians playing an extended, 42-minutes improvisation. It is an urgent and explosive piece that sounds fresh even today, highlighting Bailey’s abstract guitar lines and exotic sonorities, Parker’s focus on uncompromising exploration of circular breathing techniques and juggling with tones and overtones, and Bennink totally intuitive pulse and dadaist, muscular drumming, with many sudden and ironic and strangely enough, playful disruptions. The interplay is naturally egalitarian, but Bennink always sounds like he is injecting more and more energy and ready to embrace chaos, even when he briefly plays the piano. Bailey keeps introducing more delicate and eccentric ideas while Parker attempts to bridge between these strong characters. This piece concludes with the trio own abstraction of a free jazz interplay - intense, thorny and rhythmic. The first disc ends with a short conversational, intimate duet of Bailey and Parker, much more sparse than the previous piece and beautifully poetic.
Bailey, Bennink and Parker reunite again for their second and last trio set this evening (and ever), a 46-minutes piece that begins with Parker alternating between fiery, free jazz blows and overtone-throat chants, but soon the trio interplay rolls into a series fast-shifting, intense rhythmic patterns. Bailey often acts here as the subversive agent who injects sharp comments and disrupts the tight rhythmic flow of Parker and Bennink. Later, Parker takes the lead with a fantastic solo comprised of bird calls with circular breathing techniques, wisely abstracted by Bailey and Bennink into another dense rhythmic duet, before all conclude in a chaotic eruption. Parker, who sounds like he has the stamina of a Viking, ends the second disc with a powerful solo sax improvisation, totally possessed in a fast, polyphonic process of spiraling tones and overtones, blows and calls.
The third and fourth discs offer more duets and solo piece from Parker. The second duet of Bailey and Parker is completely different from the first one, tense and confrontational as if both were playing to themselves. Parker second solo improvisation suggests a layered texture of fast, brief and intense calls that patiently surrender to its own inner rational. The third disc ends with an engaging and even funny duet of Bennink - first on clarinet and later on drums - and Parker is quite engaging, even funny. Bennink begins with a brave attempt to mirror Parker’s phrasing and even his circular breathing techniques, forcing Parker to outmaneuver and surprise Bennink all the time. Later Bennink pushes Parker to more playful interplay with imaginative performance on the drums and even blowing a trombone.
The last, fourth disc opens with an extended duet of Bailey and Bennink Bailey is not impressed by the antiques of Bennink, but, obviously, nothing can stop Bennink when he is on a roll. Bailey keeps intervening with more subtle, elusive and enigmatic ideas, but Bennink - on drums, harmonica, piano and trombone, is all about crashing the party, in the most noble sense of this idiom. Bennink - on clarinet and drums - and Parker end this magnificent evening with humorous and eccentric powerful duet. This time Parker outsmarts Bennink tricks and games and eventually succeeds to discipline this wild, dadaist fountain of endless energy into surprising lyrical and emotional coda.
Merci Beaucoup Jean-Marc Foussat!