EVAN PARKER/KEITH ROWE

Dark Rags
Potlatch P 200

Nearly 40 years after Parker, as part of the Spontaneous Musical Ensemble, and Rowe in AMM, separately began creating unique improvisational languages, they've finally recorded as a duo.

For men on either side of 60 the dictum that "free jazz keeps you young" must be true, for the result is as engaging and thought-provoking as anything the two have produced during their long careers.

Of course there are still those, including Parker and Rowe at different times of their lives, who would argue against labeling DARK RAGS jazz. Maybe it isn't, but even if you ignore the musically historical meaning of "rags", it's also a truism that sounds like this couldn't exist without jazz.

Made up of two lengthy performances at 37 minutes plus and 40 minutes plus, DARK RAGS was recorded in concert in Nantes, France in two different centuries — on Dec. 31, 1999 and Jan. 1, 2000. But true to the natures of both men, the result is both timeless and timely.

Initially, as the unremitting drone emanating from Rowe's side is sporadically punctuated by snatches of radio broadcasts, it may seem that the guitarist could become the overpowering partner. Electroacoustic settings have preoccupied the saxophonist recently though, leading to new stratagems. So as a man never lacking in inspiration — or breath control for that matter — Parker soldiers on. He keeps on playing and soon asserts himself. Reverberations in both the middle and highest range exhale from his horn, gradually and judiciously commenting on the proceedings. Victors and vanquished don't figure in this equation, though, since the object is masterful collaboration, not triumph.

Lacking carefully defined themes, no particular highpoint can be pinpointed here; but the low points seem conspicuous in their absence. A unified whole — despite the different titles — the disc must be approached with no preconceptions of how a guitar and a tenor saxophone should sound or perhaps even how one defines music.

Certainly longtime followers of the musicians will understand this instinctively and accept the shifting textures of sound for what it is. Other, more skeptical deep listeners, will gradually warm to the ever-shifting pattern and soon find themselves drawn in as well.

Appreciating the session intently and honestly, in fact only raises one question: Why are these particular rags described as "dark" when they could as readily be heard as "multi-colored"?

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Dark Rag #1 2. Dark Rag #2

Personnel: Evan Parker (tenor saxophone); Keith Rowe (guitar, electronics)