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Sunday, February 16, 2020

Evan Parker Roundup, Part 2 of 2

Evan Parker Photo © Caroline Forbes

By Nick Metzger

“You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”
- Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable

Listening to and reviewing all of these Evan Parker related albums has been a privilege and a learning experience for me. I’d already been doing some deep listening after the release of the “Topographie Parisienne” set, I mean I obviously re-listened to “Topography of the Lungs” to see how the sound of the trio changed between recordings and that set me onto re-listening to the Parker solo albums I owned (and caused me to buy a couple that I’d been holding off on to fill in the gaps). Then I dipped into the numerous group recordings (again with Colin pointing out some real gems I hadn’t listened to), terrific one-offs, and his long running groups (with the Schlippenbach Trio/Quartet, with Guy and Lytton, with Bailey and Stevens, with SME, with the Global Unity Orchestra, with variants of the Electro-Acoustic groups, etc, etc, etc).

It’s really incredible how evolved his playing has become, even if the underlying notion seems to have been there since the beginning. There really are no albums of him playing in a different style; he always plays in his style. I think of the early work of someone like Jackson Pollock and how it’s pretty far removed from his famous drip paintings, but that doesn’t appear to be the case with Parker. There aren’t any recordings of him playing like Coltrane, even though he’s a devotee, or any of his other known influences. I wouldn’t call anything he’s done “skronk” or “fire music”, it’s too sophisticated and carefully controlled, yet anyone who’s listened to his solo material knows that it is challenging to listen to, and I myself have to be in the right frame of mind to properly enjoy it. Anyway, I’ve ended up with more questions than answers, and I think that’s a signpost of genius and we’re all fortunate that the well has turned out to be so deep. The only metaphor I can offer is that I’ve found his playing to be like river rocks. Early on it was coarse and craggy, but over time the currents of his music (insert eye-rolls here) seem to have eroded the sharp edges somewhat, even as the original shapes remain intact. So here’s to whatever Mr. Parker comes up with next, I’ll be looking forward to it, whatever the shape, and I know I’m not alone.

Evan Parker, Lotte Anker, & Torben Snekkestad - Inferences (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2019) ****

On “Inferences” Parker collaborates in a trio with fellow saxophonists Lotte Anker and Torben Snekkestad for a 2016 performance in Copenhagen at the KorcertKirken Blågårds Plads. On this release Parker plays soprano saxophone, Anker plays soprano and tenor saxophones and Snekkestad plays soprano saxophone and trumpet. These three musicians complement each other’s playing very nicely and have a natural rapport with which they produce two very impressive improvisations.

The trio builds up a lot of texture on the first piece, with Anker's tenor providing a foundation for the sopranos over the first half. Layered split notes, growl, tongue slapping, and trills are the order of the day. The Parker/Snekkestad interactions are beautiful, very playful and communicative, and they become something else entirely when Anker switches to soprano. At about the halfway point the three are engrossed in a beautiful and harmonically rich engagement that sings and howls. At about ⅔ of the track duration Snekkestad starts making some really intriguing noises on the trumpet, a most interesting and welcome extended technique that is excellent and complementary to the swirling sound of the sopranos. The trio rounds out this first track with an extremely busy and piercing interchange, quenching the last couple of minutes with reed pop and hiss.

The playing on "Kairos" is more open and less textural than the previous track. It feels as if there is a drama that unfolds within the piece and the players are very attentive in their interactions, at least it seems that way to me. The track gives a classical music impression in the way it develops from slight probing on through more complex passages, and on to resolution(?). I may be making this all up as well, reading into it too much as one searching for words sometimes does. But it's an excellent piece nevertheless, and the contrast with the intensity of the first track is appreciated. Fantastic music.

Evan Parker, Joe McPhee, Lol Coxhill, Chris Corsano - Tree Dancing (OTOROKU, 2019) ****

This unexpected but essential release recorded at Cafe Oto in 2010 captures the one-time-only pairing of Joe McPhee and the late Lol Coxhill joined here by Chris Corsano and Evan Parker for a great set of improvised music. All of these musicians are legendary figures in free jazz circles so I won't go into their respective backgrounds, but wanted to just briefly remark on what a fantastic project Cafe Oto has been for this music, both as a venue (so I've heard anyway) and now as a digital distributor for many of our favorite record labels. Check out their online store and empty your wallets, tell your significant other that you had my permission, I'm sure that will go over well. Anyway, I'll get on with it.

This concert took place during McPhee's residency at Cafe Oto in 2010, and he begins "First Dance" by thanking the participants and guests for their support, as well as commenting that the day before was Ornette Coleman's birthday (80th). McPhee then unleashes a solo of otherworldly, soulful beauty in his singular fashion. An extraordinarily touching bit of playing that envelopes the listener in a swath of damp-eyed mists before they are abruptly swatted away by Corsano who ushers in a quickening of tempo. McPhee abides and the duel ensues. Corsano is vivid here, producing roiled waves of sound for McPhee to skirt over with his full throated articulations, alternating between bluesy ruminations and screeching blow-out. On "Second Dance" Parker's familiar swelling tenor growl appears from the silence, joined in short order by Coxhill and McPhee on soprano emitting shrieks and short darting figures. The three converse masterfully in their reed-speak, and I find it remarkable how clearly you can discern their distinct voices. The recording is a little lacking on this one, specifically in the left channel there is some clipping, but that's of very minor significance. Brilliant and satisfying trio interplay.

"Dance 3" builds more gradually and is initially less dense than the previous track, more exploratory, Parker briefly twisting breathless circular sound knots below the sorano chatter. Corsano is reserved across the first half, pattering around in the margins, sensitively exploring his kit. The quartet picks up some momentum over the latter half as they start to warm to each other and their surroundings. On "Dance 4" individual solos evolve into a group interplay, with an honest-to-goodness near-freakout occuring in the last minute. McPhee starts the track off on alto, followed by Coxhill, both taking extended, bluesy solos that accelerate as Corsano puts stick to skin.

The "Fifth Dance" begins with a better than two minute solo/wind-up of percussion, after which the trio digs in with McPhee on pocket trumpet. The exploratory vibe of the previous track rides here, with give-and-take being the order of the day. The "Sixth Dance" is a quickie of crackling percussion and a bit of mottled sax trill from McPhee and Corsano that, lasting only a few minutes, hits like a splash of cold water on a hot day. Finally, the "Last Dance", which begins with Corsano wrecking his skins accompanied by the tremendous bassist John Edwards, whose presence sends the group into fits, exploding with energy, wringing the wet rag completely dry. I'm not sure that you could top such a denouement if you tried.

Available from Café Oto.

Setola Di Maiale Unit & Evan Parker - Live At Angelica 2018 (Setola Di Maiale, 2019) ****½

This remarkable recording was made during the 2018 AngelicA International Festival of Music, and to mark the occasion of the Setola di Maiale (Pig Bristle in English) record label's 25th anniversary. The Setoladimaiale Unit is features many of the label's most prominent artists including label head Stefano Giust on percussion, as well as composer Philip Corner, and dancer Phoebe Neville (the latter two play the gong intro). The rest of the unit includes Marco Colonna on clarinets, Michele Anelli on contrabass, Alberto Novello on electronics, Martin Mayes plays the Alphorn (a horn used from the 17th century as a form of communication in the mountainous regions of Europe), Giorgio Pacorig on piano, Patrizia Oliva provides voice and electronics, and our Mr. Parker plays both the tenor and soprano saxophone.

"Intro" draws up the curtain on this collection with a duo of gongs slowly developing from silence, hardly played, just tappings and hints of rhythm that segue directly to the first piece. Squeaks of electronics and snatches of wordless vocals complement the dramatic and turbulent forming. Parker doesn't take over the piece, but neither is his presence subdued. He's consumed by the group and their communion, emitting traces of his distinct cadence in the sophisticated concoction. "Second" is all the more mysterious and entrancing, with water noise, clarinet, and electronics swirling in a heady dance with the vocals, horns, and piano. The percussion really begins to wallop at around the midpoint, causing the group to roil and the clarinet to sear. Parker lays out his rough eddies over otherworldly vocals and warm percussion as the track fades. Very nice indeed.

On "Third" bass clarinet wrestles with the trombone's forlorn wails and moans, underpinned by a surreal bed of vocals, chimes, and strings. In time the horns, piano, and electronics encroach, ushering buried words within a busy percussive field. "Fourth" carries in on prickly piano and electronics, the trombone wheezing and hissing like the winds of an alien planet. Briefly the horns raise a flag before slipping back below the surface and a wooden flute takes the fore, then the trombone, buried beneath layers of wool which dampen its screams. Malleted cymbal rolls elicit the return to a busier soundscape, subtle and a little strange but more than inviting. The final piece "Fifth" serves as a culmination as well as a crest, the ensemble simmers with all manner of delicious little noises as the instrumentalists trade sentiments. The electronically manipulated vocals add a hallucinatory sense and the crowding of the aural field adds a tinge of anxiety, driving the listener to the edge of some unseen abyss before rolling back from the precipice and vaporizing. A remarkable piece, it's as enchanting as it is thrilling.

Evan Parker & Matthew Wright Trance Map - Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf (Intakt, 2019) *****

Finally, we have this wonderful album that serves to tie together (either directly or indirectly) some of Parker's most interesting work in the field of electro-acoustic music. The Trance Map+ quintet is a descendant of Parker's partnership with Matthew Wright, with whom he released the original "Trance Map" album on his own psi imprint back in 2011.The other three members of the quintet all have histories working in Parker's electronics projects, Adam Linson plays bass with the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, and John Coxon and Ashley Wales (better known as Spring Heel Jack) worked with Parker on 2004's tribute to Steve Lacy "Evan Parker with Birds". It's also significant that the quintet was assembled for the 2017 Hull UK City of Culture festival "Mind on the Run: The Basil Kirchin Story" which celebrated the renowned composer with whom Parker and Derek Bailey among others worked with on his 1971 album "World within Worlds". In many ways that album was a pre-cursor to Parker's more electronics oriented material, and is one of the first of its kind to blend electro-acoustic experimentation with live free improvisation.

On the first track the listener is met with quite literal birdsong, digitally manipulated it hiccups and echoes across the stereo field. Parker's soprano provides a moor in the disorienting flutter of the comings and goings as he starts out to meet and engage with the wild soundscape. Snatches of his own playing are caught in the snare of the samplers, broken down into granules and globules, and released back into the open for him to engage with. The second track gets on noisily, further breakdowns in linearity clouding perception and making it impossible to tell where one sound ends and another begins, let alone what the source is. Parker sounds absolutely organic next to the trickles of static and malfunction. He appears briefly with a fluid call and is responded to by the mimicry of the machines doused in the slurry of their logic.

The third piece bristles with movement, blowing wildly like a vortex of sound fragments, xylophone, perhaps some double bass groan, organic yet pixelated and becoming more and more so as the track progresses. Parker's playing is fantastic here and is backed by electronic crackle and some non-standard, rhythmic samples. The fourth movement blossoms in hiss and noises flickering with modulation. An undercurrent of hum commingles with the lysergic insect noises whilst Parker goes into his act, setting up a sequence of notes which is sampled and then laying out a counter motif on top. The fifth section crackles effervescently like a paresthesia of the middle ear. In addition to the thin ribbons of circular breathing Parker adds staccato squawking that is subsequently sampled and remade into 16 bit video game noises. The double bass groans with the grainy sounds of long, slow bow pulls.

The sixth and l section is only a few minutes long, and begins with Parker alone briefly before the cosmic fizz again foams up and overtakes him with its odd loops and primordial jelly. The final track, lucky number seven, continues the leitmotif, gurbling and blurping noises hugging the symmetry of the structure's pointillism. The sounds the group conjures are insanely delectable, a highly successful fusion of noise, live sampling, synthesis, and free improvisation.

To offer a final thought, all of these albums are worth a listen for fans of Parker's music. And while I've scored them all differently, it's really based on my own tastes (and in the moment at that, they often shift dramatically from day to day) and so I would encourage you not to read too much into the ratings as I'm not a real critic, just a fan, and you know what you like better than I do.


Captain Hate said...

There aren’t any recordings of him playing like Coltrane, even though he’s a devotee

Oddly enough on True Live Walnuts with Mauro Orselli and Antonello Salis Live At Europa Jazz Festival Noci, Italy 1997 on Splac(H) at the 44:35 mark of the first cut there's an uncredited version of Naima. It was an overlooked but surprisingly good one off recording if you haven't heard it.

Excellent descriptions for just a fan, as are we all, although I understand the trepidation of describing such a giant, albeit a very pleasant one.

Nick Metzger said...

Thanks Captain, I was unaware of that True Live Walnuts recording and will have to seek it out.

Captain Hate said...

You're welcome, Nick; it's on Spotify if you want to find it easily (which kept me from irritating my sleeping wife by using my CD player to find the beginning spot of Naima). Like most of my early Parker purchases, I was more unprepared to process his playing for enjoyment than now and revisiting it after over a decade put it at the top of the must relisten list.

Nick Metzger said...

Thank you for the tip, I'll have a listen this afternoon.