Georg Graewe/Evan Parker

Dortmund Variations
Nuscope CD 1026

John Coxon/Evan Parker/Eddie Prévost

Cinema

Fataka 1

Rewarding meetings with old and new associates, these CDs demonstrate the intuitive tactics British tenor saxophonist Evan Parker adopts each time he improvises. One of his infrequent contacts with German pianist Georg Graewe, Dortmund Variations is an exploration of adversarial keyboard and reed techniques. In contrast Cinema is classic sound juxtaposition. Recorded in Bristol more than two years before the Dortmund set of 2010, it features Parker not only in the company of AMM percussionist Eddie Prévost, part of the same first generation of British improvisers as the reedist, but much younger John Coxon, playing electric guitar and prepared piano. One-half of the electronic duo Spring Heel Jack (SHJ), Coxon was fairly ubiquitous in Free Music circles then, releasing CDs where SHJ created a provocative variant of its own sounds mixed with live and sampled contributions from prominent Free players such as Parker.

Recorded live, Cinema is nothing like SHJ’s near-formula ambient-electronic blend. Instead the session highlights almost 55-minutes of three players reacting quickly and smoothly to each others’ inventive sonic expressions, shaping an intuitive interface in real time. Besides expected solos and trios, much of the improvisation involves different, ever-changing duos. Underlying the entire program is a dense continuum, variously created by electronic distortions from the guitarist and/or expanded drum stick cymbal scrubbing by Prévost. That means it’s up to Parker forge a singular path, to which he applies astringent split tones, often circular breathed. At points Coxon’s prepared-piano string plucks or spiky power chords cause the tenor saxophonist to deepen his slurps and vibrations min fortissimo mode; other times Parker’s patterns are practically legato when contrasted with the guitarist’s Free Music-like clanks and clips, along with the drummer’s scrapes and altered ruffs. Elsewhere Parker’s agitated, multiphonic output is matched by bent-note Heavy Metal-styled guitar echoes or hand-hammered smacks on passive strings. On the other hand, when an exercise in continuous breaths threatens to become a nearly endless, it’s challenged by steady twanging from the guitarist plus cymbal buzzes from Prévost. Moreover in one instance, a distinctive near-animalistic quivering pitch from the saxophonist is matched by the guitarist’s slurred fingering fills. Finally as Parker’s puffs dissolve to near-inaudible and Coxon’s licks become similarly understated, the cumulative effect is that of a single instrumental tone backed by the drummer’s carefully delineated rubs and resonations.

Two years later in Dortmund there’s no attempt at a similar textural melding. Rather the pleasure derived from this duo is in chronicling the parries and thrusts of each participant as Graewe and Parker come to musical understandings. More than 37-minutes in length, “Dortmund Variation I” is the obvious major statement. A vast unfolding extended exposition matches the pianist’s initial low-frequency, atonal thumps and soundboard-affiliated ruminations with obtuse flutters and tonguing from the saxophonist. Finally half-way through there’s a heavier concentration of multiphonic impulses as Parker’s split tones roughen and becomes more sour as Graewe unleashes episodes of key fanning syncopation and keyboard pummeling. As the pianist alternates hunting, pecking and hammering certain notes with entire passages of cascading and sweeping patterning, Parker turns to reed-biting and tongue slapping, matching in intensity Graewe’s theme variations. As the reed tempo slows, the pianist continues to key clip, paralleling Parker’s tongue slaps and noisy overblowing with vibrations which confirm his pianistic individuality.

This individuality is intensified throughout the other variations. While there is no outright sonic hostility displayed, on “Dortmund Variation II” for instance, after Parker’s note-stuttering and tongue slapping strategy relaxes into chromatic lines, Graewe’s tremolo syncopation not only maintains its toughness, but even speeds up the tempo with spectacular results.

Maintaining Free Music’s ability to unsettle and surprise as well as in part to soothe and sympathize both of these discs are well worth exploring.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Dortmund: 1. Dortmund Variation I 2. Dortmund Variation II 3. Dortmund Variation III

Personnel: Dortmund: Evan Parker (tenor saxophone) and Georg Graewe (piano)

Track Listing: Cinema: 1. Cinema

Personnel: Cinema: Evan Parker (tenor saxophone); John Coxon (guitar and prepared piano) and Eddie Prévost (percussion)