Maya MCD 0101

Having explored nearly every sort of improvised music from solo to big band in their more than three decade journey, bassist Barry Guy and saxophonist Evan Parker have become the Lewis and Clarke of BritImprov.

The past five years, however, have seen them, like Sir Edmund Hillary, finding another peak to investigate simply because it's there: electronics. Luckily their Sherpa on this trip is Lawrence Casserley, one of the grand old men of the field, who is a composer and performer as well as a signal processor.

Casserley who took early retirement from the Royal College of Music a few years ago to pursue his other activities already had a history with the two when this disc was recorded. He had provided live processing for Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra and, after developing with Parker a signal processing instrument specifically for improvised music, recorded in duo with the saxophonist shortly before this session. Since then he has joined the two musicians and others to bring his skills to Parker's Electro Acoustic Ensemble.

Not someone who revels in pure electronic circuitry like some younger performers, Casserley knows how to use his mazes of wires as instruments, so much so that this absorbing CD could be a record of another Parker-Guy trio or perhaps quartet or quintet,

"Shifting" for instance can be seen as presenting a history of Western music's evolution in fewer than 13 minutes. For a start Guy, an early music specialist in another life, pays homage to the baroque in some of his movements. In fact, the speedy plucked runs he creates at times makes it seem as if he's playing a sort of archlute with its long neck and extra bass strings. Parker, meantime, could be working out his improvisations on a personalized recorder, which seems fitting considering that the woodwind was initially named the "English flute". Casserley's processing turns that "flute" into an entire recorder orchestra, echoing and re-echoing notes that soon dominate the track. Just as this collection of bird sounds threatens to blot out the bassist's subtle bridge exploration, though, the electronics creates mechanized wind guts, which connect more easily to some of the more arid compositions of modernists like Edgard Varèse than any baroque air. What has been presented is a modulation from the 16th to the 20th century by three players.

Conversely, "Transmute" more closely resembles the trio work the saxophonist and bassist have done in the past with the likes of drummer Paul Lytton as the sound processor's mechanized electronic wiggles take the percussion part. With electronics serving as a cushion to improvise upon rather than a blanket that muffles, you can easily hear Parker's false fingering and conveyer belt of piercing tones plus Guy leaping from bow to fingers and back again as he plays. Soon after the saxist's accelerated circular breathing seems to go beyond human endurance, the thought arises that it's probably extended by processing. Then unique, otherworldly organ tones — also courtesy of Casserley — enter the soundscape as Parker's sonics are matched by violin-pitched scratches from Guy. Finally the mechanized storm reaches hurricane force and subsumes all other improvisations.

Duets between the electronics whiz and either Parker or Guy assume strange properties as well. In the face off between the saxophonist and the sound artist you often wonder whether the multitude of darting notes and fluttering tonguing you hear is actually coming from Parker. Or are they some earlier sounds that have been captured and fed back into the mix by Casserley at the same time as the soprano creates new ones.

Somehow, too, the treatment of the bassist's solos raises questions as well. You can easily recognize the characteristic Guy arco arch or his sprint up and down the strings, but there are times his expected double bass sounds are transformed into what could be emanating from a marimba or a wooden bass flute. All the while the tones seeping around him appear to come from robotic machines or ghostly bells.

It's puzzling as to why Maya sat on this 1997 session until now. It certainly gives you additional insight into Parker and Guy's accommodations with electronics, while confirming Casserley's ability to provide a human element from this mass of circuitry.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Frondescence 2. Dividuality 3. Aulos 4. Shifting 5. Scion 6. Zool 7. Spinney 8. Transmute 9. Calyx

Personnel: Evan Parker (soprano saxophone); Barry Guy (bass); Lawrence Casserley (live electronics, sound processing)

1. Frondescence 2. Dividuality 3. Aulos 4. Shifting 5. Scion 6. Zool 7. Spinney 8. Transmute 9. Calyx