Evan Parker

The Topography of the Lungs
psi 06.05

More heard about than heard, ever since Britons Derek Bailey and Evan Parker had their falling out in 1987, which included the proviso that The Topography of the Lungs (Incus 1), would not be reissued as long as Bailey ran the Incus label, the 1970 four-track LP has taken on the status of a totemic object.

Finally available again on Parker’s psi label, following Bailey’s death, and expanded with two additional tracks, the 1970 session lives up to its reputation as a defining artifact of European Free Improv. Yet 36 years later what resulted from the collaboration among Parker on soprano and tenor saxophones, Bailey on guitar and Dutch percussionist Han Bennink now sounds if not commonplace, at least contemporary. The saxophonist’s split tones and extended slurs, Bailey’s fastidious string manipulating and bending plus Bennink’s volleys of cymbal scratching and drum top pummeling have become lingua franca of a certain segment of the improv world.

To be honest the “new” tracks “Found Elsewhere I” and “Found Elsewhere 2” don’t add much to the existing session. There is bell-like resonation from the drummer’s kit, vibrating piles of cracked notes from the guitarist and quacking tongue slaps plus false register forays from the saxophonist; but these strategies would be explored in more detail in subsequent decades. One standout, however, is the virtual spiccato fiddle line Parker creates on the first track. In this case, the altissimo resonation is almost unique among his solos.

As for the touchstone session itself, its celebration of dissonance and absolute music at a time when jazz-rock and lesser instrumental sounds were in ascendancy could be its most revolutionary aspect.

Even the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM) players who were beginning to be recorded tempered their freeform experiments with rhythmic and blues-like echoes of earlier styles. Not Bailey, Parker and Bennink.

From the first minutes of track one, “Titan Moon”, the saxophonist is contrapuntally matching pressured tongue stops and smears against slurred finger picking and single string snaps from the guitarist, while Bennink clatters away on snare, toms and ride cymbal. Bailey’s rasping claw-hammer downstrokes on the area below the bridge plus Parker’s strident echoing squeaks and power multiphonics are already firmly in place.

But 2006 listeners might be most surprised to realize that the mid-point of the piece includes a period of protracted silence, the touchstone of 21st century reductionism, which also seems to have been presaged by this trio. Equally revealing is that the self-consciously non-jazz – note not anti-jazz – Bailey, Parker and Bennink of the epoch, include a stop-time section in the piece built on Parker’s irregular pitch vibrations and Bailey’s slurred fingering.

Not only is jazz referenced here, but so is rock, with Bailey – of all people – almost obliterating the saxophonist’s clusters of sharp and sour notes and the drummer’s rattles, rumbles and pops with an assembly of distorted notes whose reverb easily links to the amp feedback so favored by ProgRock bands of the time.

The three remaining tracks enlarge on the primary statement, as you hear three musicians gradually forging a unique take on the music. Although his technique was not as developed as it is today, Parker’s triple-tongued fluttering effects begin to ascend towards polytones contested by Bailey’s chiming descending drones. Meanwhile Bennink’s rolls and pumps are often spelled by traditional – in this context – drum rolls and rim shots and the odd shuffle rhythm.

Don’t expect earth-shattering revelation when you hear The Topography of the Lungs. Instead listen to it for its historical music and inventiveness.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Titan Moon 2. For Peter B & Peter K 3. Fixed Elsewhere 4. Dogmeat 5. Found Elsewhere I 6. Found Elsewhere 2

Personnel: Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophones); Derek Bailey (guitar); Han Bennink (percussion)