Evan Parker Octet

Crossing the River
psi 06.02

Although there’s a numerical equivalence plus the crossover of several musicians, this octet shouldn’t be confused with the ensemble involved in tenor saxophonist Evan Parker’s electro-acoustic performances.

For a start there’s no hint of electronics here, even from violinist Philipp Wachsmann, who commonly uses wave forms as regularly as rosin. Plus while Wachsmann and Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández are on board, there’s no sign of the reedist’s long-time playing partners, bassist Barry Guy and drummer Paul Lytton. There’s no drummer at all in fact, while Wachsmann is part of a string choir of cellist Marcio Mattos, bassist John Edwards and guitarist John Russell – all of whom have played with Parker in other contexts. Most jolting is that the saxophonist is one of three horn players. John Rangecroft’s clarinet and Neil Metcalfe’s flute are the other wind instruments. Over the course of the more-than-77-minute CD, both get more space than Parker himself.

In short, Crossing the River highlights the crossing of yet another frontier for the constantly innovating Parker. Organizing a reciprocal interaction involving trios, duos and a string quintet as well the promised octet, he’s created a pointillistic improv chamber work, almost unique in his catalogue.

Admittedly this aggregation does take some getting used to, since the characteristic Parker slurs and circular breathing rarely appear. In their place are the distinct timbres of Rangecroft and Metcalfe, both of whom were in drummer John Stevens’ Spontaneous Musical Ensemble (SME) and are now part of the London Improvisers’ Orchestra. The flautist, who recently recorded with bassist Nick Stephens, even gets a track to himself and Fernández. Coupling his lyrical trilling with the pianist’s stops and strums on vibrating strings, the intersecting parallel lines create what could be termed a POMO impressionistic recital.

Matched with Russell and Mattos, the clarinetist’s trio outing is more dissonant. Focused on his espousal of the Parker canon, Rangecroft’s irregularly vibrated split tones work their way through the registers with tongue stops, ghost notes and shrill glissandi. Meanwhile the cellist shuffle bows, and the guitarist – whose showcase this is as well – provides the ostinato when he isn’t heartily downstroking or plucking exaggerated runs.

Staccato multiphonics and sweeping tremolo passages throughout the disc characterize the interpretations of Wachsmann, the ensemble’s most consistent soloist. Additionally, his unique techniques fittingly wedge themselves among the other players’ output in the octet tracks. Polyphonic fantasias, combined the octet outings take up more than 40 minutes of the CD.

On the first, strings and horns in broken chords ascend to an early climax. As Fernández accedes from low-frequency piano chords to powerful cross-handed arpeggios, the violinist and cellist harmonize double counterpoint, as flute peeps appear and disappear with regularity. Before the four string players turn to sul tasto and sul ponticello shuffle bowing extended with pressurized drones from prepared piano, Parker burbles and snorts. Spurred by sharp pizzicato asides from Wachsmann, the saxophonist’s lowing tones soon mesh with clarinet trills and flute vibration leading the entire octet to a finale, extended with chording piano and clarinet glissandi.

Shorter, though shaped by buzzing cross tones and contrapuntal impulses, the later octet tracks feature chromatic finger picking from Russell, an overflow of twittering aviary notes from Metcalfe and strident sul ponticello from the bowed instruments. With the associated result ping-ponging from opaque to translucent and back again, unmistakable Parker slurs and quacks occasionally surface then vanish within the polyphony. This swirling and whirling crescendo of vibrating timbres reaches a climax of multi-instrument interaction then leaches away. A 40-second coda of flute and piano places an unnecessary musical cherry on top of the musical cake.

Another wholly unforeseen essay in Free Improv by Parker and company, Crossing the River deserves a careful hearing. But remember it’s a disc of ensemble(s) work, not a Parker showcase.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Octet 1 2. Quintet 3. Trio 1 4. Trio 2 5. Trio 3 6. Duo 7. Octet 2 8. Octet 3

Personnel: John Rangecroft (clarinet); Evan Parker (tenor saxophone); Neil Metcalfe (flute); Philipp Wachsmann (violin); Agustí Fernández (piano); John Russell (guitar); Marcio Mattos (cello); John Edwards (bass)