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Friday, April 5, 2024

Sergio Armaroli and Evan Parker – Dialog (Ezz-Thetics, 2023)

By Don Phipps

The album Dialog starts with an interesting hypothesis. Can musicians who are not physically together carry on a musical conversation? According to the liner notes, it turns out soprano saxophonist Evan Parker was unable to leave the UK and join vibraphonist Sergio Armaroli in Milan for a recording session. Armaroli then presented the option of overdubbing to Parker. Parker rejected this format, and instead the duo decided to generate a long distance “call and response,” where Armaroli would record his solo contributions and Parker would respond with solos of his own.

So, can musicians who are not physically together conduct a musical conversation? To this, the answer is a qualified yes. While one can wonder what it would’ve been like to hear the two musicians together, the format permits each musician to demonstrate their chops and thematically engage each other. There are six solo vibraphone improvs and five solo soprano sax improvs (the sax improvs comprise only 12 of the approximately 68 minutes of recorded music – making Dialog primarily a solo vibraphone album interspersed with Parker-provided accents and highlights). Each solo covers abstract and diverse themes, but each contributes to a coherent whole.

Armaroli’s adventurous and diverse improvisations are substantial – with each improv adding a new twist to the album’s lexicon. No where is this more apparent than in “Two Rooms One Vibraphone #6,” a 27-minute masterpiece of art form construction and deconstruction, playfulness, and abstraction, running notes and silent pauses. There is within this one piece a universe of ideas, an exploration supported via Armaroli’s masterful technique. It’s almost the sonic equivalent of a burning bonfire, its random heat fading and growing until one center log falls inward creating a rush of embers and a roaring sound – as though the fire itself is happy that now it has fresh wood to consume. Likewise, Armaroli rolls and drolls and at times explodes. Contrast this effort with the decidedly minimalist approach Armaroli uses in “Two Rooms One Vibraphone #5” – with its soft underwater phrases and ballet-like pirouettes and rotations.

Parker chooses to respond to Armaroli’s inventive sound investigations with brief tone poems that highlight his glissando circular breathing- delivering a light touch of sonic effects that at times sound like two saxophones playing at once! The notes cascade like a waterfall, splashing joyfully onto a rock and hitting the surface with a light but pronounced splatter. There are also phrases that seem to accelerate like a rocket into the stratosphere.

This loose collaboration of inventive musical ideas gives Dialog a unique character – like call and response – but even more than that. Think Picasso and Matisse, delivering and sharing their works of art to challenge and stimulate each other. This is the gift of Armaroli and Parker in “Dialog” – a masterful exchange of two virtuosos.

Listen to 'Interlude 1' from Dialog here: