April 24, 2001
PAUL BLEY/EVAN PARKER/BARRE PHILLIPS
ECM 1609 012 157 899-2
Recorded at the spectacularly-situated Propstei Sankt Gerold, monastery in the Austrian alps, this follow up to the trio's lavishly praised TIME WILL TELL CD, offers a disparate vision of how the participants view sound.
Imbued with a chamber jazz essence, the first CD was also, extraordinarily, the first time British saxophonist Evan Parker and Canadian pianist Paul Bley had recorded together, despite having been involved with improvised music for, at that point, about 35 years each. Veteran American bassist Barre Phillips was the common link, and the success of the session not only set new standards of literate blending, but two years later, also allowed the three to embark on their first-ever — and so far only — trio tour including this date. SANKT GEROLD pinpoints the group's singularity as well as its cohesiveness. Unlike TIME's seven trio and four duo selections, this CD is divided between five trio selections and a basket full of solo spots for each member.
Perhaps the spirit of compromise was a little too hearty an elixir to continue drinking, for in their solo spots the three revert back to form. Parker, especially, turns in a spectacular more than five minute exercise in carefully-paced, idea-driven soprano saxophone circular breathing on "Variation 10", with his two other shorter solo spots merely miniature versions of the same.
In his two features, conversely, Bley is alternately impish and traditional. On the mid-tempo "Variation 6", for instance, with its echoes of bop, he seems intent on cramming as many notes into the allotted time space as possible. "Variation 9", which is slower, darker and built on a framework of right handed rumbles and pedal work, resolves itself into something that almost sounds like early 20th Century classical musings. Phillips' showpieces merely confirm his conception as a solitary pizzicato and arco explorer. You'd even swear there were two basses present on "Variation 7".
As a trio the most exciting performance is the penultimate one. Alive with plucked keyboard notes, steady flashing soprano saxophone pitches and Phillips using his hand and bow on his bass's body to create percussion effects, it shows what can happen when the three set their mind to play together.
Perhaps Phillips' relative inaudibility on other tracks is the basis for the disc's slow build up. At least on some earlier variations, Parker's multiphonics appear to be at variance with Bley's romantic Impressionism. When the bassist's almost jazz-like runs come to fore so does cohesion. Responding to this prodding Bley then breaks into what sound like diminutive nursery rhymes, while Parker begins supplying the underlying ostinato. Later, you can almost sense the three parallel lines going at once on "Variation 8", with Bley tinkling out diamond hard tones, Parker producing a rough, almost conventionally "jazzy" sound and the bassist filling the spaces as he scurries behind.
The strength of the three is that each can fill either the soloist or accompanist role, but they rarely function as an integrated trio per se. Conceivably this brand new — but 1996 recorded — session convinced the musicians that they were growing as musicians, but not as a band.
In the future, this noble experiment may or may not be repeated, and certainly the often-exemplary sounds here won't disappoint followers of any of the musicians and will perhaps impress anyone who loves the first meeting of the three. But everyone should understand that it's no TIME WILL TELL #2. None of these men would want to replicate the document produced before. Nor should they have to.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1, Variation 1 2. Variation 2 3. Variation 3 4. Variation 4 5. Variation 5 6. Variation 6 7. Variation 7 8. Variation 8 9. Variation 9 10. Variation 10 11. Variation 11 12. Variation 12
Personnel: Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophones); Paul Bley (piano); Barre Phillips (bass)