January 1, 2013
Evan Parker & Agustí Fernández
Booklet notes for: The Voice is One
NotTwo Records MW 878-2
With improvised music dependent on in-the-moment factors and inspiration, it’s sobering to imagine that this masterful 2009 concert featuring British saxophonist Evan Parker and Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández was in fact a make-up date. Scheduled as part of the annual Festival de Jazz de Barcelona in November, the gig was actually rescheduled from the summer of 2008 when a sudden violent storm in the medieval Plaça Del Rei, necessitated cancellation after the sound check. “Everything was ready for the music: instruments, musicians, audience,” recalls Fernández, “but the weather had other ideas. There were rivers of water everywhere on the streets; we couldn’t walk.”
Luckily the 600-seat Sala Oriol Martorell, which is part of Barcelona’s main concert venue, is indoors, and the rescheduled show took place. Now with this CD, listeners can experience the exceptional improvisation which so energized the audience that it demanded a short encore after a protracted episode of vociferous applause. Confident, following a concert the previous night in Huesca, the only pre-planning arranged between the two musicians had been that each would play solo at one point.
Parker is an old hand in situations like this, having over the years matched musical wits with keyboardists ranging from pioneer free jazz players such as Alexander Von Schlippenbach and Cecil Taylor, to younger stylists such as Matthew Shipp and Marilyn Crispell. At the same time the lanky Catalan pianist is a known quantity and frequent playing partner for the saxophonist. The two first recorded as a duo in 1995, and the pianist became a member of the saxophonist’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble in 2002, around the same time he joined bassist Barry Guy’s all-star New Orchestra, in which Parker was already playing.
Born in Palma de Mallorca, and a professional since the age of 13, Fernández’s early experience encompassed playing in rock bands, working as a pianist at a resort hotel where he interpreted standards for tips, and extensive classical studies in Spain and abroad. Tellingly, judging from some of his voicing on this disc, it was hearing Taylor’s music for the first time that converted Fernández to improvised music. That was in 1978, when Birmingham-born Parker had already been playing professionally for about a dozen years with the likes of guitarist Derek Bailey and drummer John Stevens, constantly reinvented his playing while investigating the furthest reaches of improvisation. Also in 1978, the Catalan was studying with Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, another acknowledged influence, when free music entered his life.
Soon Fernández was a committed sound explorer. As well as composing for dance, theatre, film and television and giving solo concerts, he co-founded the large scale IBA (Improvisadors de Barcelona) Orchestra and later the Trío Local with sampler player Joan Saura and saxophonist Liba Villavecchia. Internationally, he has recorded duets with Bailey, Crispell, Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and bassist William Parker, and today helms a trio filled out by Guy and Spanish drummer Ramon Lopez. Since 2000, Fernández has also taught improvisation at Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya, the Catalan college of music.
Bonding throughout this CD, Parker and Fernández limit themselves to a single track each of solo expression. Yet even the distinctive features of those bravura performances are put to use in the duo improvisation. Given extended space they meld kinetic impulses with a combination of drama and menace. Ruggedly exploring the piano’s surface and innards, as on “The Voice is One Part I”, Fernández can shift from outputting unabashedly romantic passages to showcasing cascading glissandi with a touch of boogie-woogie, before concluding with focused and harsh syncopation. Following alongside like a hound after a fox, Parker’s smeary multiphonics divide into snarling cries and tongue pops before solidifying to meet the keyboardist’s concluding impressionistic asides.
In contrast “The Voice is One Part 5” is alive with scatter-shot keyboard plinks encompassing multiphonic explorations and single note emphasis. As Parker’s corrosive snorts turn to febrile split tones percolating against one another, Fernández crests his aleatory actions with a dynamic waterfall of emphasized notes and octave jumps. Reaching a point in double counterpoint where as many textures are apparent from the keyboard, strings and soundboard as the saxophonist puffs from his metal tube and reed, the two conclude in perfect harmony. The requested encore is brief, an interlude in which warp-speech-like declarations from the saxophonist and adagio plucks and strokes from the pianist dissolve into a delicate and conclusive lullaby.
With no need to draw attention to themselves, the duo’s most aggressive work is fittingly dropped into the middle of the set. On “The Voice is One Part 3” Fernández’s furious bowing and plucking on exposed internal strings joins Parker’s juddering and staccato tongue-stopping for a climax that leave timbres quivering even after they finish playing.
True its title, this CD establishes without question that sympathetic improvisers can combine their distinctive voices into one with no loss of individuality. Ironically, this model of linguistic unity came about by happenstance in response to an earlier natural debacle.
Ken Waxman (www.jazzword.com) Toronto September 2011