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Saturday, February 15, 2020

Evan Parker Roundup, Part 1 of 2

Evan Parker. Photo by Peter Gannushkin.
By Nick Metzger

Evan Parker had a very prolific year in terms of material releases and those we’ve covered thus far have impelled some praising write-ups from members of the collective (Lee’s Weekertoft reviews, Eyal’s Topographie Parisienne review, and Stuart’s Chiasm review, specifically), and still we are left with somewhere in the ballpark of ten or more releases without comment. The spectrum of his recent releases encompass the majority of his interests, with recordings both new and archival, from albums in collaboration with old friends to his signature solo soprano work to his spectacular electronic phantasmagorias; we got a little bit of everything. I’ve reviewed them in no particular order, and not all of the releases include Parker as the featured artist, however his participation is the common denominator in these write-ups. My hope is that these reviews can shed a bit of light for those who don’t know where to start or spotlight them for folks who were unaware of some. Special thanks to Colin for his help in leaving no stone unturned.

Evan Parker, Barry Guy, Paul Lytton - Concert in Vilnius (NoBusiness, 2019) *****



Whenever I listen to this trio, their group intuition and their shared complex musical language (which they have refined and coagulated via practice and the passage of time) never cease to bring a smile to my face. Having played together since at least 1980, and with Parker and Lytton collaborating long before that, they’ve built a vast catalogue of records together over the years. I’ll spare you any otiose rumination on whether they constitute proper free improv because of their familiarity and long-built rapport, as I think Parker states it best himself in the program notes for his 1992 show in Rotterdam “I think that in that debate at times sight of the wood was obscured by the trees. Certainly by the time a theoretical position is arrived at in which it is thought the term ‘non-idiomatic improvisation’ is the best description of something as instantly recognizable as Derek Bailey's guitar playing we have reached what E. P. Thompson called in another context ‘the terminus of the absurd’.” What I will say is that I love the music and I go out of my way to get ahold of any new or old material the trio issues.

“Part 1” starts with the familiar sound of Guy’s slinking, popping pizzicato dancing with the polished fluidic language of Parker, his nuanced and gradual attack smoothing the flickering edges of his playing, as Lytton gently and perfectly stitches it all together with irregular rolls and the rapid thump of his kick drum. With this trio it’s all about the interplay; the implicit telepathy of a group that has collaborated long enough for their roots to become entwined as a sentient bundle. Reaching for a metaphorical precipice of the potential for reed and brass, for gut and wood, for stick and stretched skin, a vast rippling sculpture garden of air pressure variation versus time. The second offering finds Parker unfurling golden spirals of circular breathing early in the track. Guy's playing broods with a deep resonant menace, intermittently striking sparks with his severe arco and violent plucking and slapping. Lytton is a maelstrom of crackling energy, more combustion than creature, heavily working every strikable surface of his kit. There is a brief remiss about halfway through before Parker leads them up and out with some of the tightest, textured improvisation you're likely to hear. Maybe my favorite piece ever by this trio...maybe. It's as refined a distillation of their expression as you're ever likely to find.

On Part 3 Guy pummels his prepared bass, his aggressive snap, strum, and rattle is a force of nature served solo across the first quarter of the piece. Eventually Lytton's skittering percussion begins to accent the controlled chaos of Guy's playing before he really sinks his teeth in and gets the sticks moving. Parker doesn't reveal himself until the midpoint, entering the fray with clicking and popping and harmonic squawk, segueing into an eruption of chrysopoeia over the latter half of the piece, swelling in volume and intensity, his breathing and measure staccato a roiling cipher issued to his band mates who meet the upsurge head-on in a colossal wave of sound. Part 4 closes the album with a fragment, or brief conclusion almost for show. A gorgeous little nugget of sound brimming with what's been stated, as if to show that they open it up like a steam valve once the boiler is hot. Their creativity flows like a river here, and this might be their very best offering depending on your tastes.

 
Camera phone footage of Part 3 via Youtube:




Evan Parker, Agustí Fernández, Ivo Sans - Locations (Vector, 2019) ****½




On “Locations” Parker is joined with a longtime collaborator in Catalonian pianist Agustí Fernández and the fantastic, assiduous percussionist and artist Ivo Sans who plays with Fernández in the SAI trio with dancer Sònia Sánchez, and has also performed in duos and other groups with Parker, amongst his numerous projects. Parker and Fernández have been working their chemistry over the last couple of decades in various undertakings. They’ve released music as duo, in trio with Herb Robertson, as well as with the Parker/Guy/Lytton trio. Both men are participants in Barry Guy's New Orchestra project and Fernández has also played as a member of Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. Here we are presented with a set of terrific studio-recorded improvisations captured in Barcelona in 2017.

On “Location 2” Fernández’s piano broods; a bed of low register tones dredged in staggered runs of the upper. Parker's playing is in his classic vein, fractals of timbre and rapidly tongued chatter varying in attack from smooth and woody to a hectic squawk of bird call with trailing harmonics and ghostly false notes. Sans' percussion strikes the right balance between texture and timing with his rubato rolls and groaning cymbal grima. For “Location 6” Fernández goes directly for the offal of his piano, maniacally ripping and scraping at the innards. Parker and Sans are mindful of his exertions and play at the periphery of his outburst, adding thoughtful contrasts of varying timbre. “No” begins quietly with some light wooden sounds from the drums and a scraping rumble from the keys over Parker's pad clatter. The intensity increases linearly towards the conclusion, with sails unfurled towards the end, the atmosphere full of activity. Parker and Fernandez duel briefly at the beginning of “Location 3” until Evo enters with a flurry of agitated percussion that re-establishes the direction of the improvisation. Fernandez goes berserk, attacking his instrument and wringing ferocious cascades of notes from the insides. Parker follows suit and chuffs up his tone considerably, keeping tempo with the aggressive rhythms of the piece. A brief dance between piano and drums followed by a stanza of Parker's infinite breath and the trio closes with some very nice fanfare.

“Location 4” is a short, subtle piece of abstract rolls and cymbal work, barely there saxophone hiss and harmonics, and the half muted thumping of a piano played as percussion instrument, extremely tasty stuff. “Location 5” gives me the immediate impression that Fernández has been buried alive inside his piano, as it issues a lot of near unidentifiable low end activity originating far away from the ivories portion of the instrument. Evo's playing is busy but remains low intensity, he keeps the sticks moving swiftly about his kit whilst Parker provides a writhing contrast by tactically uncoiling his smooth edged runs bringing to mind an immense snake worming its way through jagged underbrush and frayed mulch. “Resolution” is a short piece that swells up gorgeously to seal the album. Rattling percussion, full broad piano, and Parker's golden horn it’s absolutely the comeliest piece on the album, like the smell of the open air on the morning after a violent storm.

Purchase via Vector Sounds.


Hideaki Shimada, Evan Parker, Roger Turner - Kanazawa Duos (Pico, 2019) ****½

 
On "Kanazawa Duos" the Japanese violinist Hideaki Shimada duals with Parker on soprano saxophone on the first cut and free improvising titan Roger Turner on the second. Hideaki has released albums of layered, electronically manipulated solo violin since the mid-80's under the moniker Agencement as well as working with other experimental Japanese musicians such as Tetuzi Akiyama. Like Evan Parker the English percussionist Roger Turner has been at it since the beginning, working closely with Lol Coxhill, Phil Minton, John Russell, Carlos Zingaro, Annette Peacock, Fred Frith, Cecil Taylor, Parker, Derek Bailey, Keith Rowe, William Parker, Paul Rutherford, Joelle Leandre, Marilyn Crispell, Henry Grimes, and many, many others. He's forged relationships with many Japanese artists throughout the years such as Toshinori Kondo, Otomo Yoshihide, Kazuhisa Uchihashi, and Chino Shuichi, playing with the latter in the 2009 Hana-Bi shows in London. So now that we have everyone's credentials in order, let's move along to the music.

Like the eponymous painting style “Spring Tachism” bursts with energy and expression, Hideaki providing his via electronically manipulated fiddle and Parker on the soprano saxophone. Hideaki squelches and hums swell and decay, and it's hard to identify his violin as such as it's mainly masticated by his processing. His soundcraft provides a certain amount of grit for Parker's hiccupping and piercing trills. Near the midpoint the electronic manipulation is scaled down and the piece acquires a chamber music character (almost), before the effects reemerge like jungle insects fluttering above the ever flowing river of Parker's metallic gambol. “Autumn Crags 2” with the ineffable Roger Turner is a little bit different. Instead of the contrasting but complementary methods of the former track these two play directly off of each other. Hideaki's processed violin is met head-on with Turner's keen ear and broad sonic palette. Turner's quivering percussive sculptures provide something of a counterpoint to the chirping and strepitous motion of Hideaki. Not a lot of build up or dynamics, but a lot of texture and interplay.



Evan Parker - Work in Progress (Vortex Jazz Club, 2019) ****

 
To be honest I've always been pretty intimidated by the thought of reviewing an Evan Parker solo album. Some part of that is due to an insecurity in my ability to relay what I'm hearing properly without sounding like an ass, and some is due to the reverence in which I hold his solo work. I don't own all of Parker's discography (a problem I work at from time to time, when the means are there), but I do own most of his solo albums. They fascinate me. No one else sounds like him, really. And while his solo work has certainly evolved over the years, you can hear it's underlying logic in as early a recording as "Saxophone Solos" which was released in 1975. That was about 45 years ago, think about that. 45 years. Think of all that you've taken up and put aside in 45 years (if indeed you've even been around that long), And yet Evan Parker's solo saxophone logic is still extant and still being refined. Surfaces polished, edges rounded.

It's different now, but if you listen to his oldest solo material against his more recent work a common thread remains. The flight of a flock of starlings, the geometry of spider webs, the hexagonal shape of honeycomb, the fractal growth patterns of flora, and Evan Parker's solo soprano saxophone music. It's the physical manifestation of his internal mathematics and it is vital and always worth listening to. Anyway, enough of that. EP donated the tracks on "Work in Progress" for the fundraising efforts of the Vortex Jazz Club, which he has called his 'spiritual home', and where he has maintained a long-standing monthly residency. It's the first official EP solo release in almost a decade (the last being 2010's "Whitstable Solos") and judging from the title I assume these are meant to be taken as sketches and ideas and not really a proper solo album, but there is plenty of great material to digest here nonetheless.

The first track "Piece 1" provides the vortical, multi-layered tonic of quickened notes associated with Parker's work. There is some gorgeous playing here that remediates any thought of 'sketches' in the derogatory, as Parker fills the last couple of minutes with some of the best playing I've heard from him. Scrumptious. On "Piece 2" the listener is treated to an ambulo of sparkling overtones swirling above the honking fundamentals in another startlingly potent storm of sound. The third piece is really the first I might call a sketch due to its short duration. Even so it serves as a coda to the second piece, as it shares similarities and tactics. The last track entitled "Short Pieces" is the longest of the four and is constituted of several short passages broken up with brief silences, definitely sketches, that provide an interesting glimpse into Parker's methodology. What I think is most impressive here is the amount of control displayed, not that it's particularly surprising but he makes the high speed shifts in register and patterns sound as seamless as fake teeth.


 
Evan Parker & Joe Morris - The Village (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2019) ****½


Although they've worked together in various groupings and ensembles over the years, this record documents the first duo concert given by Evan Parker and guitarist Joe Morris. It's title is a nod to the West Village in Manhattan, where this show took place in the Greenwich House. In his notes, Morris states that he noticed that those who collaborate with Parker hardly ever play in unison with him, preferring modes of juxtaposition, and that he'd decided that if they ever played together he would focus on the unison whenever it was appropriate. It's an interesting observation. Parker's collaborative work is wholly different than his solo material, not that some of the techniques don't bleed over from time to time. His playing in a group context generally leaves space for the other musician(s) between phrases, baiting them into filling the gaps. Like Parker, Morris has what I would deem to be an instantly recognisable improvisation style that is in many ways similar in his use of phrases and spacing, so I was intrigued with how the two playing 'in unison' would come off.

"The Mound" makes up a little over 70% of the albums content with its near 40 minute run time. Parker is on tenor saxophone and Morris plays very clean electric guitar. Their dialogue is busy and masticates the air in the room. Both artists make heavy use of brisk, harmonically rich runs with the timbres and techniques used being very complementary. It's a very textured and full sounding recording for a duo that wouldn't work as well with additional players, at least not with what they're doing here. As for playing in unison it works out very well (and as a side note we're not talking perfect unison, obviously) and I'm not sure there's another guitarist who could pull it off aside from Morris. His playing seems tailor made for this sort of meshing of the streams and his decision to forgo any effects is the right one. Careful listening reveals that, in general, one player leads and one follows closely behind. And who is leading switches several times over the piece. It's an extremely satisfying listen, but you can tell that it's made to be listened to intently, otherwise much of the detail and dialogue is lost.

On "Groove" Parker switches to soprano sax and Morris' guitar is prepared with (perhaps) a shard of balsa woven through the strings (I've seen video of him using tongue depressors in this manner). Parker's tone is alternately fluid and hiccuping and Morris' preparations give his playing a buzzing percussive pop that's a welcome change-up. The piece builds up in intensity and they really let loose during the final third of the track, with their dynamics building up peaks and dipping into valleys. They never linger on any one thought longer than necessary, a superb show of improvised music.




6 comments:

Colin Green said...

Many thanks for the work you’ve put into this, Nick - brimming with insights. The sculpture garden analogy for the Parker, Guy, Lytton trio is spot on. I look forward to the concluding set of reviews.

Captain Hate said...

Welp it looks like I'm gonna do some intense EP listening for a while, and this is only Part 1. Saxophone Solos was my first exposure to Parker and it probably wasn't the ideal entry point, although who knows what is (maybe his playing on other people's recordings like Wheeler's Large Group or Moholo's Spirits Rejoice). Anyway I was completely confused but I still revisit it to hear new things and one off sketches that weren't subsequently pursued. And I'm heartened by the continued explorations by a giant of the saxophone and of music period. Superb reviews.

Nick Metzger said...

Thanks Gents. I think Saxophone Solos and Monoceros are very raw compared to Parker's later work. In my opinion there is a sweet spot he hit in the early to mid-80's with albums like Six of One, Zanzou, and The Snake Decides where the harshness of his early work coexists with the birdsong of his latter period. You could say that Parker made my favorite 80's music. Of his later stuff I think Lines Burnt in Light and Conical Sections are excellent, but I really enjoy them all for different reasons.

Richard said...


I don't know what's planned for part 2 but there was a new duo album with Paul Lytton released yesterday on Bandcamp. I'm liking it so far but I wish there had been a longer piece or two.

Nick Metzger said...

That one fell just outside the window for this Round-up, but it is on our radar.

Ernst Grgo Nebhuth said...

This Parker / Lytton duo recording on bandcamp is available on CD from Intakt Records - it comes highly recommended.