Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble


Among the historical figures of the (so called) "improvised music", Evan Parker is maybe the one whose music less shows the signs of old age. Maybe because he was very good from the beginning. But I think that a certain elasticity of judgment, a careful choice of routes and company, an attitude that's much more teleological than the norm, and (which is maybe the same thing, but using different words) a taking into account the result as a product (besides a process), all have a part in his artistic well-being. We're talking about... 250 albums? Whatever. But even if a lot is out of print, what's in print - be it re-releases or new titles - will be enough to back up my assumption (the distributors permitting).

Released under the name of Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Karyobin - recorded in '68 (by Eddie Kramer at Olympic Studios!) and re-released in '93 - shows Parker creating a collective aesthetics together with Derek Bailey, Kenny Wheeler, Dave Holland and the excellent John Stevens. Saxophone Solos (recorded in '75, re-released in '94) is the first - and highly influential - chapter in a new approach to the instrument and the music. Process And Reality (1991) sees Parker dealing with overdubbing. Into The Valley Of Dogs, Dreams And Death - his compositional contribution to the album issued under the name Globe Unity Special and titled Into The Valley (released in '76 and re-released as Rumbling in '91) - was a "scheduled piece": who follows who, who plays with whom, while it's up to each musician to decide in which way and how long to play. Parker has also recorded some excellent "modern jazz" albums in the company of Paul Bley and Barre Phillips: Time Will Tell ('95) and Sankt Gerold (2000). It would be a crime not to mention the trio that for a long time has seen Parker playing along Barry Guy's bass and Paul Lytton's percussions; here I'll mention After Appleby (2000), the double album where pianist Marylin Crispell joined the group.

Then there is the chapter which deals with electronic experimentation. Hall Of Mirrors ('90) is the (very fine) album in which Parker had his instrument treated in real time by Walter Prati; those who saw the duo live talked about a very fruitful musical relationship. Solar Wind (1997), with Lawrence Casserley, followed along a similar path, but I have to confess my predilection for the album recorded with Prati. Then, the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble was formed, Memory/Vision being the third album under the name. Toward The Margins ('97) saw Parker, Guy and Lytton being treated by Walter Prati, Marco Vecchi and Phillipp Wachsmann (Wachsmann being also in his usual guise as an "electronic" violin player); very good studio recording, very good results, with extensive liner notes by Steve Lake. Drawn Inward ('99) had a similar line-up - add Casserley - and a similar methodology.

Memory/Vision is pretty different. For a start, it was recorded live (Oslo 2002). To the musicians who had already played over the aforementioned albums here we have to add Agustí Fernandez on piano and prepared piano and Joel Ryan on computer and sound processing, while Parker himself deals with tapes and samples. Though the line-up is pretty large, the sound (which is quite detailed - but turn the volume up a little more than usual) never suffers from an overabundance of informations. It's only with track 5 that certain quite-easy-to-recognize circular moments enter the picture, and it's with the "tutti" sections that the whole work gets its (in a way perfectly logical, but never predictable) conclusion. (There are no "real" interruptions in the music, the "tracks" being for listener's use only.)

I found the logic under this work not easy to get. In his (brief) liner notes, Parker talks about a "framework", saying also that "at various points" (...) "prior recordings by the group" (...) "of other improvisations" appear, "some already containing prior recordings within their structure" (does anybody remember Lapidary, on Process And Reality?). Memory/Vision is dedicated to Charles Arthur Musès - and here the Web search that I did about Chronotopology confronted me with complex mathematical concepts way beyond my understanding. Nevertheless, I'd say that Evan Parker has succeeded in producing a work that can be "read" and which could not exist without modern technology but which is not slave to it in ways that today are all-too-common on a mass market - or à la mode. A work that is aesthetically accessible while being interesting at the same time. Which, given the present times, is definitely not to be underestimated.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2003

CloudsandClocks.net | Nov. 22, 2003