Evan Parker / Hamid Drake / Paul Lytton / Peter Brötzmann / William Parker / Alex Von Schlippenbach

March 28, 2005

The Bishop’s Move
VICTO cd 093

A extraordinary face off between veteran improv titans or as they prefer to say at the Victoriaville festival, un première mondiale, this meeting combines British saxophonist Evan Parker’s touring group with German reedist Peter Brötzmann’s Northern American band. More of a rapprochement than a battle royal, the 73½-minute session, recorded live at Quebec’s Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in 2003 categorically accentuates the similarities rather than the differences between the two improv power trios.

Could it be otherwise? Although Parker is famous for highly technical extended reed techniques like everlasting circular breathing, and Brötzmann is portrayed as the emotional, heart-on-his-sleeve Free Jazzer, they’ve collaborated at various times since the late 1960s. Parker, for instance, is on the German saxophonist’ seminal MACHINE GUN session in 1968. Brötzmann’s association with German pianist Alexander Von Schlippenbach, here officially as part of the Parker band, goes back even further and is more intense, since the two were initial members of the Globe Unity Orchestra. Parker recorded with New York bassist William Parker of Brötzmann’s trio in pianist Cecil Taylor European Orchestra in 1988. Only percussionists Paul Lytton, a Belgium-dwelling-Briton, and Hamid Drake of Chicago don’t have an extended history of playing with members of the other bands or each other. But considering both are among the most prominent on-call drummer in the global improv scene, connections have long been made.

That said, while “The Bishop’s Move” is a notable piece of high-intensity improv, there are only patches of interaction between members of the different trios, let alone among all six musicians at once. Customarily one threesome plays alone, followed by another triad grouping. Most of the time its Von Schlippenbach’s characteristic solos cum accompaniment that bridge the gap between both bands, especially when reed extravagance is highlighted.

Both woodwind players widen the playing field with distinctive slurs and snorts, after the initial Brötzmann renal explosion commences the onslaught. Shortly after the primary statement though, Parker’s trio takes centrestage. Mixing the saxman’s slurring, quacking counter tones and irregular vibrations with the pianist’s contrasting keyboard dynamics and high intensity fantasia of splayed notes, the section turns on Lytton’s pinpointed shattering clatter. Shadowing Parker — his playing partner of 30-odd years — the drummer uses cymbal snaps and snare rumbles to modulate the saxophonist’s timbres from elongated, repetitive snarls to the whorls and sprints of circular breathing.

Unexpectedly the pianist’s low frequency tremolos and descending runs not only reinforces a less programmed approach from Parker, but also help orchestrate a Free Jazz, rather than Free Music orientation. With the reedist pitch-vibrating and tongue-stopping, the three display triple counterpoint, each expressing complementary but very separate lines.

Von Schlippenbach’s resounding recoils from the piano innards test the instrument’s balanced tension and abrasively signal Brötzmann’s entry, first with a broken counter line to Parker, then almost immediately, with screaming altissimo and extenuated smeary honks. Power chording from the pianist also overcomes the faint thump of Parker’s bass, until Drake’s ratcheting snares and the pop of hollow percussion moves the sound into the other trio’s corner. Abrasively stroking his hourglass-shaped djembe and other surfaces with sandpaper-like swipes, Drake’s interlude, coupled with an interjection of metronomic arpeggios from the pianist, sets up the German reedist’s utilization of the tarogato for oddly accented, serpentine lines. Added to this is constant ascending pressure points from the bassist.

After Brötzmann’s distinctive choked screams and triple-tongued action finally brings out a split-second of screaming flattement from Parker’s sax, the German-American trio reconfigures itself. Drake’s African-oriented cavernous djembe reverberations serve as the perfect counterweight to the mellow, European-oriented chirrups Brötzmann produces from his clarinet. True to his reputation however, the German reedist is soon exploring the register above coloratura, making incursions to nephritic territory. When he quiets down though, hearty, iron-fingered pizzicato plucking is evident along with restrained portamento color.

Climax is reached as both saxophonists display their idiosyncratic tenor tones, the German snorting and the Briton flutter-tonguing. On top of the bassist’s shuffle spiccato and Drake’s cross sticking, they draw closer together, ejaculating screaming overtones that wouldn’t have been out of place in the militant days of 1968. Egged on by

dynamic patterns from Von Schlippenbach, the two echo one another’s note-placement in the instant composition’s penultimate minutes, with the finale a cross patterning of the pianist’s cadenzas and restrained breaths from the saxophones that fade to dead silence.

Subsequent tumultuous applause characterizes how exciting the ride has been, with only crotchety reviewers eager for more distinct trio interaction.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. The Bishop’s Move

Personnel: Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophones); Peter Brötzmann (tenor saxophone, tarogato, a-clarinet); Alexander Von Schlippenbach (piano); William Parker (bass); Paul Lytton (drums and percussion); Hamid Drake (drums, djembe and percussion)