EVAN PARKER’S ELECTRO-ACOUSTIC ENSEMBLE

Memory/Vision
ECM 1852

Accelerating involvement in electro-acoustic creations has characterized one of British saxophonist Evan Parker’s many activities since the mid-1990s.

Parker, whose more than 35 year career has involved membership in groups ranging from massive big bands to two matchless improv trios, and who helped create the solo saxophone recital, has mastered a different genre with this CD.

In its parameters and evocation, this 70-minute plus continuous performance, commissioned by a British contemporary music festival, amplifies the reedist’s partnerships and conceptions. Performed by a nonet, two of the players — bassist Barry Guy and percussionist Paul Lytton — are Parker collaborators of decades standing and combine in one of his long constituted trios. Two others — British/Ugandan violinist Philipp Wachsmann and Spanish pianist Augustí Fernández have worked with Parker in duo and larger group situations, both electronic an acoustic. Parker and Guy alone have recorded with Lawrence Casserley who mans the signal processing equipment here; while computer sound processor Joel Ryan has worked with Parker and French bassist Joëlle Léandre, another Parker associate. Italians Walter Prati on electronics and sound processing and Marco Vecchi on electronics have participated in the saxist’s other electro-acoustic sessions.

On this CD, both the drummer and violinist sport electronic enhancements to their instruments; Fernández plays prepared as well as regular piano, and the saxophonist himself adds tapes and samples to his emblematic circular breathing and freak effects.

With five acoustic instrumentalists and four machine manipulators, it’s to Parker’s credit that the performance doesn’t take on the sort of mechanical sheen of some Continental electro-acoustic sessions. Then again, with the players masters of extended techniques, unexpected sounds are par for the course on Parker-led dates.

Contrapuntal and polyphonic, the sound streams reach a climax starting at mid point. Counter to the busy movements within the piano and from spiccato strings, the reedist comes up with a whistling, almost flute-like timbre that accelerates from single puffs. Meantime the strings produce dissonant tones that rotate and separate into partials. Around those, ejaculating sine waves curve so that the entity takes on the character of a large, stable church organ.

Repetitive reed cadences flutter across the scene, augmented to saxophone section volume by looped samples. Soon the multiplying saxes subdivide still further into duos, trios and quartets, as one — the live Parker — brushes aside exploding echoes for a distinctive ostinato. As all this downshifts to silence, plucked and scraped bass and violin lines — extended with processing — join with the soprano to float on top of dynamically vibrated note clusters from the prepared piano. Spinning every which way among reed and string textures, Fernández pummels cascading harmonies into a powerful solo of staggered chords and ghostly string runs.

Pushing and thrusting deeper into its innards, creating unfathomable broken timbres, the pianist is accompanied by a hollow pop from Lytton’s snare and plucked and scraped strings that circle him like vultures. Now electronically produced fuzz from the cymbals melds with the massed pizzicato strings that too are extended with processing — producing a multiplicity of scraped and abrasive tones. Suddenly, backed only by Lytton, Parker re-enters the fray with a polyphonic counterline that moves up the scale in mini bleats, neighs and slurs. Eventually focused pings and percussive ruffs from Lytton are joined by rumbled crashes from the piano innards, which sound as if an aluminum pie plate has been heaved on top of the strings.

Building up to a crescendo with more aviary sounds than Alfred Hitchcock imagined for “The Birds”, Parker’s irregular vibrations appear never-ending as they’re joined by high frequency piano overtones than processed side bands of what in other circumstances could be brass. Now the electronica, which has been threateningly understated before this, takes centre stage — sound-wise — as the miasmic colors burst into reverberating, sine wave crashes, tubular bell-like textures and scours processed from anything strung. For the finale, Fernández introduces double counterpoint, breaking up his contrasting dynamics as the meshed arco violin and double bass output turns muted. Parker breathes a final distinctive circular tone to silence.

Digressions on all these strategies occupy the beginning of “Memory/Vision” as well, with preparations, piano rumble, ponticello strings and slurred reed trills following one another or inflating to curt controlling textures. Grainy, grating timbres predominate over smooth themes however.

Memorable in its cohesiveness and melding of both electronic and acoustic elements, MEMORY/VISION proves that Parker and company can twist any sort of output to fit their requirement. Still for longtime Parkerites, there’s the feeling that fewer associates and less electricity would give him more scope for improvisation.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Part 1 2. Part 2 3. Part 3 4. Part 4 5. Part 5 6. Part 6 7. Part 7

Personnel: Evan Parker (soprano saxophone, tapes and samples); Philipp Wachsmann (violin and electronics); Augustí Fernández (piano and prepared piano); Barry Guy (bass); Paul Lytton (percussion and electronics); Joel Ryan (computer and sound processing); Lawrence Casserley (signal processing equipment); Walter Prati (electronics and sound processing); Marco Vecchi (electronics)