Evan Parker | Photo: Gerard Rouy

Evan Parker

born 5 April 1944 in Bristol, UK is a British free-improvising saxophone player. His original inspiration was Paul Desmond, and in recent years the influence of cool jazz saxophone players has again become apparent in his music — there are tributes to Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz on Time Will Tell (ECM, 1993) and Chicago Solo (Okkadisk, 1997).

Evan Parker is probably better known for his 1960s work, which rapidly assimilated the American avantgarde — John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler and others — and forged his own, instantly identifiable style. His music of the 1960s and 1970s is harsh, raw and unsettling, involving fluttering, swirling lines that have shape rather than tangible melodic content; sometimes he makes use of pure sound in a manner that recalls Steve Lacy’s more radical 1970s recordings or the work of some AACM members. He began to develop methods of rapidly layering harmonics and false notes to create dense contrapuntal weaves; these involved experiments with plastic reeds and rapid tonguing which initially were so intense that he would find blood dripping onto the floor from the saxophone. He also became a member of the important big band, The Brotherhood of Breath.

Later recordings are equally impressive but rather less thorny, sometimes rather formulaic, as Parker’s style became less open to change; but an Evan Parker recording is still always something to contend with, and some of his recent discs, such as America 2003, are as gripping and satisfying as any of his earlier recordings.

He has recorded countless albums solo or as a group leader, and has recorded or performed with Peter Brötzmann (including Brötzmann’s epochal Machine Gun in 1968), John Stevens, Derek Bailey, Keith Rowe, Joe McPhee, Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, and many others. Two key associations have been pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach’s trio with Parker and drummer Paul Lovens (including the classic early recording Pakistani Pomade and the more recent Elf Bagatellen) and a trio with bassist Barry Guy and drummer Paul Lytton. On Parker’s 50th birthday, these two bands played a set apiece at a London concert; the results were issued by Leo Records as 50th Birthday Concert, a recording that is one of the highlights of Parker’s (massive) oeuvre and remains a useful introduction to his music.

Evan Parker is one of the few saxophone players for whom unaccompanied solo performance is a major part of his work. One critic has written that Parker’s solo performances “reveal also the mechanical possibilities for the instrument that weren’t even considered before he came along — things like playing in all three registers of the instrument at the same time.”

Evan Parker, Derek Bailey and the drummer Tony Oxley founded the Incus record label in 1970, which was one of the most important labels to document improvised music. (The label continued under Bailey’s sole control, after a falling-out between the two men in the early 1980s.) Nowadays Evan Parker curates the Psi record label, which is issued through Martin Davidson’s Emanem records.

Though Parker’s central focus is free improvisation, he has also occasionally appeared in more conventional jazz contexts, such as Charlie Watts’s big band and Kenny Wheeler’s ensembles, and participated in Gavin Bryars’s recording After the Requiem, performing the composition “Alaric I or II” as part of a saxophone quartet.

He also has appeared in pop-music contexts: on Scott Walker’s Climate of Hunter, and on dubesque albums with Jah Wobble, the adventurous drum n bass duo Spring Heel Jack and rock group Spiritualized. He has also increasingly become interested in electronics, usually through inviting collaborators such as Phil Wachsmann, Walter Prati, Joel Ryan or Lawrence Casserley to electronically process his playing in real time, creating a musical feedback loop or constantly shifting soundscape.source

Dark Rags / Darker Ragas

What, one wonders, must it be like to hear Parker and Rowe for the first time? None too likely an occurrence, however, given their 35-year involvement in the music, Rowe an early and continuing member of AMM, Parker a long-time front-line GB (GB : Global Dispenser. ) (and one of the few saxophonists to pick up the soprano without provoking the listener to rue the day that horn was straightened out).

The rags at hand have added a fourth to the raga’s three acknowledged sources : mathematics, astronomy, and psychology – that of autopsy (More conventionally known as metonym for melodic probe, i.e., grabbing the sphinx by the balls. ), a process by which it is confirmed that the capacities of ears, as those of hearts, are not the same in all of us.

Keith Rowe was one of the first flat, as opposed to slack, object guitarists to measure these capacities, initially with the AMM and drummer-percussionist Eddie Prévost, and currently with John Tilbury, whose recent work includes recordings of Morton Feldman compositions. The language of each of these players, as with Hindi and Urdu, is almost the same when spoken (played), but different when written (heard). The duo of Parker and Rowe succeeds in eliminating what other duos strive to simplify. (As in disjunct adjunct ; adjunct disjunct.) Each of these two performances in Nantes on the last Friday of 1999 contains a multiplicity of divisions. (As in out of tempo and in no known tempo.) Such divisions of extremely brief duration reveal an application from raga to rag of the Scruti Truth Sutra, with the duo providing lilting reminders that sound invents.


Parker & Rowe | Photo: Gérard Rouy

There is no need to listen here as though monitoring; provisions have been made for you to listen creatively, free of clinging past listening, free of the onerous chores of accumulation. (“Experience a form of paralysis (Erik Satie. ).”) Parker and Rowe undertake instantaneous conversions of self-inflicted impediments encountered en route, from first shared note to last, freeing their instruments and themselves from the huffishly sere mannerisms of free (Dieu – comme on le nomme vulgairement – sait que tout le monde en a marre du manque général d’improvisation dans le jazz aride d’aujourd’hui.) in an undertaking wherein a vast compendious inventory of undiscovered sounds is knowingly rummaged through. Even those sounds potentially recalcitrant are brought forth, while bypassing lesser, mouldering sounds-in-waiting (for the arrival, ledger and score in hand, of the next faux improviser). These sounds move between Parker and Rowe from nightposts to barrel rungs to flat rocks to the surface of harbour, and to those long folds of uncut toweling strategically dispersed amid the bogus silences of seminaries.

Products of guitar dissection are deposited in tuned brass bowls and ceramic cups no larger than required to wash an eye, with no notes being employed to make up a large crowd in a small space. Evan Parker has a way of easing phrases into causes so unplanned that their effects extend into further causes, the wakes of which themselves become source to Rowe, and vice versa. You will notice that not all effects are immediate effects, and that the calling up here of long-ago echoes of sounds in slow streaming is far from wearying – it’s riveting. And as timeless and as weightless as bugs on water. Just plain unpronounceable sounds occasionally require bending if not splitting, or welding to a neighbouring sound, as is unpredictably the case with perimeter sounds still cutting their milkteeth, and those sullen sounds too self-enchanted to float into relinquishment rather than into mere devices of continuity.This music is an abundance of beautiful moments. Paul Haines

This does indeed remind one of the raags of Hindustan, as much of Parker’s music does, opening with a slow meditation on two or three notes and building slowly into an impressiveedifice, with each pattern seeming to be born from the previous one. Not that Rowe pursues any analogous path; his textural playing was a revolution in the early days of AMM, and remains stubbornly itself. In a way, that makes him a great partner for the saxophonist, who can cleave to his partner as much as he wishes, but only that much, trusting Rowe to respond with contrast more often than repetition.

For those who haven’t heard it, Rowe’s electric guitar will be an anstonishment. He creates enormous soundscapes (a word he dubtless despises) and sounds much more like a player of electronics to the uninformed ear. This puts Parker’s very organic, acoustic sax into interesting territory, and while he’s worked with actual electronics in the past, this seems more comfortable that his playing with someone who relies mostly on what he plays for a sound-source. Parker likes contrast, and here he gets it in large doses.

Adding to the dubious parallel with North Indian music, the programme here consists of two long (40-minute) performances. The music feels slow and leisurely compared with Parker’s acoustic small-group music, although it must have been exhausting to play. Parker ruminates over little knots of notes, teasing at them as they mutate into fresh material, while Rowe sets up great grinding backdrops and pushes them around like thick paint on a canvas.

On occasion, too, Rowe picks up some talk radio station, either on his pickups or on an actual radio. This just adds to the rather spaced-out, almost Stockhausenlich (a word for which apologies are due, but it’s too late) quality of this music. It seems to float high in the atmosphere, as much of AMM’s music does. One is reminded of the pleasure Parker takes in meeting duo partners halfway and here, in a field of marked musial contrasts, that leaning-in is quite audible. Not in anything so superficial as instrumental sound or small-scale organisation but in the big musical philosophy. An impressive and unusual recording; those who don’t know Rowe’s music are particlarly urged to check it out, but Parker fans will love it too. Richard Cochrane

Evan Parker Solo Recordings (Selection)