Monday, February 15, 2010

Evan Parker, The Redwood Session, 1995

Saxophonist Evan Parker has been one of the most consistently challenging of instrumentalists in avant garde improvisational music since his first appearances in the sixties. He is virtually without peer as a sound color painter with a brightly bold pallet. He gets sounds from his soprano and tenor that take advantage of alternate fingerings, embouchure manipulation and other unconventional techniques. There is a series of sounds he has made all his own, and his unusual phrasing and unleashing of torrents of notes in the course of an improvisation make him instantly recognizable among those who follow the music.

Not every album he has made, however, is indispensable. That's only natural for such a prolific artist. When in 1995 he gather together in Rossie, NY with some of the "all-stars" of improv, something special was bound to result. It is hard to imagine more congenial fellow improvisors than these: Barry Guy, a bassist of complete technique, utterly personal sound, and the seeming one-to-one ability to play what he imagines, as he imagines it; then Paul Lytton on the drums, a man of great energy and another important sound innovator on his instrument; lastly, for the final number Joe McPhee joins the group on trumpet and adds the lucid improvisational voice that belongs to him alone.

There of course is the potential of a particular group of artists and there is what they actually do on any given date. The Redwood Session (CIMP) is a happy occasion where the potentials are realized in all their fullness. This is a set of music that startles with sheer power, tickles with its playful ruminations, excites with its terrific energy and devastates with its near-perfect realization of conceptual rigor.

What I particularly like about this session is the complete synchrony of all the members. There are deluges of musical content that come at you in waves, and all the players are keyed into one another to the extent that those waves are constructed nearly perfectly by the entire group. Evan and company phrase the deluges exceptionally well. The music is free but there is an remarkable telepathy among group members, so that the freedom is structured in the spontaneity of the moment, in the sympathetic resonances of each player to the musical thinking of the other players.

This is a monumental achievement in improv. It should be heard by anyone interested in this kind of music. It may not have gotten all the attention it deserves in past years, but it remains absolutely vital. And it is still in print!

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