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Friday, April 5, 2024

Evan Parker and Barry Guy – So It Goes (Maya Recordings, 2023)

By Stuart Broomer

Evan Parker and Barry Guy first played together in the Spontaneous Music Ensemble in 1967 and they’ve been regular collaborators since 1979 in the Parker - Guy - Lytton trio with drummer Paul Lytton, a group that also formed the basis of Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble in 1992; as well, there have been Guy’s large ensembles, the London Jazz Composers’ Orchestra and Elsie Jo. They’ve also been recording regularly as a duo since 1980. As part of Parker’s 80thbirthday celebrations, Guy and Lytton will join Parker at Café Oto in a version of Trance Map +, in a sense the latest outgrowth of the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble.

Parker has a knack for developing creative partnerships, but there’s nothing quite like Parker and Guy, whose “extended techniques” mirror one another’s, each with a conventional fluency long extended into polyphonic and continuous realms. While Parker has combined circular breathing, compound overtones and polyphony into a uniquely constant and compound discourse, Guy has similarly explored counterpoint, temporary “bridges” to divide the fingerboard into distinct zones of pitch and timbre, and rapid shifting between or combining arco and pizzicato techniques.

The special connection between them has been evident in previous duo recordings on Maya and it continues here, both in three duets and in the similarities in solos by each of them. The title phrase comes from Samuel Beckett, chosen by Parker in recognition of Guy’s long involvement with Beckett’s writing (e.g., the recent all this, this here by his Blue Shroud Orchestra’s [Fundacja Sluchaj, 2023]), and there’s something in the duets here that suggests music grown remarkably close to speech, a richly allusive and exploratory discourse.

The opening “So it goes… 1” is a developed tenor/ bass duet running to 12 minutes with an immediate sense of engagement, short tenor phrases wafting upward amidst a network of bass harmonics. There’s a mood here as much calm as searching, something almost balladic, a sense of multiple internal tempos that will eventually resolve in a simultaneous explosion of rapid interlocking runs from the duo.

“So it goes… 2” is a relatively brief pairing of soprano saxophone and bass, beginning in dense, rapid circularity. There is a sense of multiple voices, each musician generating a low and high voice. The complexity suggests natural architecture, as if a cavern is echoing and repeating voices, as if the instruments are natural phenomena, until the lines thin slightly and the degree of close echoing and interaction becomes clearer, Guy at times punctuating Parker’s continuum, at other times surrounding it, yet a certain lyricism – empathy, song -- seems always the object, here seized at the conclusion.

Tracks three and four are solos, at least insofar as only one musician is playing on each, though polyvocality or multiplicity is so much a part of each musician’s voice that the unitive notion of a solo might be inappropriate. Guy’s “Grit” is an explosion of plucked notes, high and low simultaneously, with sudden elisions and an occasional upward glissando emerging from the maze. Temporary bridges may come into play, the instrument a series of distinct registers, sometimes simultaneous, sometime mingling plucking and bowing with a certain delicate thrashing, even occasional effects that suggest underwater percussion. It’s one instrument – bass, soprano, strings, percussion, near, far – reimagined as hive, as orchestra.

Parker’s “Creek Creak” is sustained soprano song, another kind of continuous self-duetting in which one voice’s winding continuum is at times matched to another’s punctuation, the continuous and the staccato both continuous elements.

The concluding “So it goes… 3” is a tenor saxophone/bass duet, imbued again with a common lyricism, each musician somehow simultaneously referencing slow and fast tempos – a rapid reverie, another magical interaction, multiple moods engaged in an essential continuum, fitting conclusion to a remarkable program.