Evan Parker

Waterloo, 1985
Emanem / 4030

Evan Parker / saxophones, Paul Rutherford / trombone, Hans Schneider / bass, Paul Lytton / percussion, electronics

A single, hour-long improvisation from players who will be familiar to many readers, in a setting which is similar in sound to Parker’s celebrated trio with Paul Lytton and Barry Guy. Rutherford’s presence adds an extra element of rough-and-tumble into the mix, and the group’s occasional references to more recognisable forms of jazz are swept up in a tightly ensemble-based sound.

What is it, exactly, that Parker’s groups play when they play this kind of stuff? It’s free jazz, in a sense, but not the same sense that Charles Gayle plays free jazz. The rhythm drifts rather than swings (even when it drifts hard, if such a thing is possible) and the bluesy feel of much free music is replaced with a convoluted linearity more reminiscent of early Coltrane than the later incarnation. The fact that Parker and Rutherford have been playing together a long time shows in their interveaving of melodic lines and their ability to let different combinations of players come to the fore at different moments.

Parker and Rutherford spend much of their time presenting extended soloistic statements accompanied by the others, alongside the full-blown quartet music. Parker, in particular, lets fly a ferocious bout of circular breathing late on in the piece, strongly recalling his solo performances, with which the others interact in a way this writer has not heard on disc before. Rutherford’s status as one of the two or three most important improvising trombonists in the world will be only bolstered by this disc, too; he gets plenty of space, and he uses it to stunning effect.

The close relationship both horn players have with Lytton is evident in the trust they place in him. He moves the pulse extremely slowly, marking it out with his ride cymbal but allowing it to float in time between the very spaced-out beats. At the same time, his drums are often attacked with extremely frantic movement. A musician unaccustomed to his playing might find this duality, this tendency to contain frenetic action within a slow-moving and flexible envelope, off-putting at first. Yet Parker and Rutherford know exactly what he’s doing: he’s working at the quick-moving details in the music while keeping a watchful drumstick on the larger picture. This prevents the group from scrabbling about just as it gives them plenty to play with in the moment, and the result is masterful music.

Schneider is less well-known in the UK, of course, and his contribution here is a little muted. Occasionally he lets rip and gets himself heard, as he does in duet with Lytton’s electronics about halfway through the set, creating a complex, layered sound including pizzicati, arco notes and percussion. Mostly, though, he adds occasional touches to the group sound, and it would be good to hear him in a more intimate setting where his voice can be heard more clearly.

Virtually anything involving Parker tends to be essential, but because he releases so frequently it’s impossible for any but the most fanatical collectors to keep up. This is a set which has plenty to recommend it. Although a single, hour-long take doesn’t tempt you to dip in, it does show these players working out their ideas over an extended period, which is always revealing and which is unusual for Parker, on disc if not on stage. It’s the sound of four musicians playing hard but not over-cooking the music, serving up some serious brain-food in the process. Richard Cochrane