Improvizacija kao način komponiranja. Jazz strukturiran poput života: obrasci i ponavljanja. No svaka je sitnica sačinjena od jezovitih čvorova. Svaki trenutak može pasti sa žice i razbiti se na vrištećem podu. Jazz horror.
Rob Young: Evan Parker - Tabling The Elements
Wire Issue #144 (February '96
Sitting for pictures in the cluttered, ivy-walled courtyard of a Covent Garden pub, picnic tables tumbled in winter disuse, Evan Parker suggests a concept for a TV series. "Not How Do They Do That?, but Why Do They Do That?, he chuckles. Brainwhirl: Anthea Turner bursts in on Michael Portillo to ask about his motivations for sitting in office; Anneka Rice points the mic and the finger at Rupert Murdoch; Jeremy Paxman confronts the Shell boardroom. The thought os such a programme revealing lack of reasoning and motivation, or simple greed, appeals mightily to Evan's sense of the value of personal dignity, the importance of individuals to find and work through their own ideals for living and expression.
Having passed his 50th birthday last year (the event marked by a London concert and double CD release on Leo Records), the saxophonist has truly earned the dread appendage of 'veteran'. Since parting company, not altogether amicably, with Incus Records, the label he formed in 1969 with Derek Bailey, he has been granted new freedoms as a roaming freelance player: the last 18 months alone have witnessed a generous handful of good-to-great CDs: The Fire's Tale with American pianist Borah Bergman on Soul Note; the (relatively) contemplative Imaginary Values with regular compadres Barry Guy and Paul Lytton, and last year's chewy Obliquities duos with Guy, both on the latter's Maya imprint; Time Will Tell with Paul Bley and Barre Phillips, amazingly his first appearance on ECM. 1995 also saw the reissue of the monumental 1975 Saxophone Solos set on Chronoscope, and Three Other Stories, a collection of unreleased, otherworldly duets with Paul Lytton from 1971-74 on Emanem which bears witness to Parker's quiver of extraordinary homemade instruments: mouthpieces, hosepipes, the dopplerphone, the lyttonophone...
Not even Evan will deny that the freshness and surprise of those early larks has been suppressed, or at least isn't so readily on show now. "That is the strange thing, the way time speeds up; but all of those [early] things are still very current for me. Especially when you listen back and hear that in some ways you were doing more adventurous things, you were taking more risks, your attitude was looser. Once you discover that you can do anything, nobody can stop you taking any line you want. That is a kind of artistic freedom that comes with your decision to risk living that kind of life. Then you start asking: 'What are the things that particularly interest me among all these things that I know I can do; which are the things I would really like to focus on?'"
It's this kind of obsession with the minutiae of sound - the player's own sound - that can make the improvised world inhabited by Parker and his ilk somewhat forbidding for new listeners, even younger ears for whom the detuned noises popularised by Sonic Youth, Public Enemy and Aphex Twin aren't a problem. ("I'm not crazy about young people," Parker will later claim.) Yet is's possible in Parker's conversation to detect an awareness of audience response becoming part of his method. "There's no point in doing things if you're not looking for a social response, which I think every performer is, whether they admit it or not. And the other factor that would have contributed to the changes, which can be described as tighter focus, would be to do with: Who are we doing thus for? What is the context that this is understood and perceived in, and how can be sharpen that sense of relevance to that context?"
Doing it for the kids, then? Not quite, not yet. Nevertheless, there are ways in which Parker's music is becoming drawn into the liquid reconfiguration of late 20th century sound. Tip Evan into a parallel universe: I'd contend that the response to the solos on Conic Sections or Process and Reality - "the ten-minute egg of hard boiled abstraction," as one writer described such work - is not unlike the sensations inspired by a record such as Autechre's Tri Repetae: both tap into the thrill and terror or unearthly shape, keeping at stake the capacity to harness rogue, unformed sound, adapting it to music while not trampling over its essence. The sources are different, but the destination is the same: music that can only be named in an invented language. "Borlung", "Mothon", "Fleam". "Dael", "Bronchus", "Gnit". The first three are Parker tunes, the last three are by Autechre.
Complex Electronica can resemble the twisting architecture of a seashell depicted by 3D computer imaging; Evan's writhing, worming sax lines might just be the mollusc that could live within. But the connection is a little more concrete than that. Last year, Autechre toured with :zoviet*france:. This month, Even will perform on a London stage with...:zoviet*france:.
"I heard them play live," says Evan, now tucked inside the pub. "They could have been up there playing a tape they'd been working on for months, but I don't think they were. I think they were constructing it live, in the moment." He travelled to the group's Newcastle studio. "We jammed a little bit, you could say; we played together, they took my sound, played it into the mix, and I enjoyed myself. And that's it, that's all that ever happens when you play with any other musicians: you go and play your sound, they use it in some way, and it goes into the mix. he fact that they're working with different kinds of instrumentation - bits and pieces of electronic equipment and not with tubes with holes in them and strings and air -that doesn't worry me at all. They're up there live, working with memory, licks, patterns, bits and pieces that they've looped and stuff they've prepared in advance - I'm also working with stuff I've prepared in advance. I spend every spare moment in my kitchen trying to work out bits and pieces in advance.
Does he also admire the way they conduct their business covertly and anonymously?
"I like that. Also they're more or less invisible when they perform, and I like that too. I've always thought it would be great if I could be invisible."
Why hasn't he tried?
"Because when you get behind a screen, you change the acoustics." What about switching the lights off? "Darkness I've tried, but it tends to irritate the audience."
Parker's generation of improvisors - musicians commonly associated with such labels as Incus, FMP, Leo, Soul Note - largely forsook the notion of the studio as instrument; failed to pick up on the extra transmogrifications offered by dub technology or digital innerspace. Sometimes this doesn't matter: the first (1968) Music Improvisation Company recordings, made by Parker and Derek Bailey with Hugh Davies's electronics and Jamie Muir on percussion, sound incredibly fresh even now; igniting space as intensely as Japanese gagaku ritual or the terse village music of Azerbaijan. Although nowadays whole albums can be recorded in a bedroom, the legacy of MIC and similar groups has been to preserve the ceremony of the studio session: getting-in, mic placement, acoustic checks, tweaked levels and all.
"I like the heightened atmosphere of the studio occasion," Evan concurs. "It's just another performance occasion, another kind of real-time in a way. The things that don't interest me about the studio are the multi options, the ability to change your mind after the event. Yet that is obviously for many people the main reason for working in the studio: that you can check whether a [playing] decision was appropriate or not by listening back. I don't like to do that: I like to only make the decision when it feels right, and then not to have second thoughts about it afterwards."
So, despite the all-too brief dabble with overdubs on 1991's Process And Reality, Evan won't be leaping into the digital abyss just yet. Do he and his contemporaries consider the studio some kind of betrayal of acoustic truth, creating unwanted sensory illusions?
"Well, it might be as simple as this: until recently, the studio was an incredibly expensive instrument. You never could afford to find out whether you thought it was an interesting instrument or not. It's like saying: would you enjoy owning a Rolls Royce? Probably you would, but you're never going to have the money to find out."
And yet for many musicians, samplers, compact mixers, sound modules are a means to freedom, spoken of in the same language as Evan used to use for improvisation.
"The freedom to change your mind? Well, I'm not a Stalinist about it. I wouldn't want to stop anyone using a procedure that suits them. It's just that I'm trying to make sense of a whole body of work...which has been driven by a particular kind of...existential performing attitude. It's not an artefact, it's something that is the product of somebody doing something in real-time."
A document of the synapse decisions he makes during a performance?
"Yes, even if those real-time decisions get overlaid through multitracking, there is still a kind of attempt at honesty - don't let's put it any higher than that."
The 'wrong' sort of editing, says Evan, is the kind used in classical post-production ("where there's an edit every ten seconds") and increasingly by Hollywood (when we first met he said he'd been amused by Director Paul Verhoeven's offer to paste a digital erection onto actor Kyle McLachlan in Showgirls). "[They] generate something that appears to have a seamless continuity, which actually never did have that. Whereas editing a juxtaposition of shots, as in film montage, is a different kind of process. And the rhythm, the art of doing that, i supposed to be evident. The art of musical editing is very often not to be apparent: to be seamless, unseen, unperceived. That kind of editing troubles me a little bit."
It's a dirty question, but someone's got to ask it. How did his relationship with Incus break down? "It was like a horse with two heads - a pantomime horse." Surely that's got a head and a tail? "I was never sure whether I was the tail, or the other head of a grotesquely misshapen pantomime horse." So he got out, though he says he misses it enormously: "To see a thing through from beginning to end. I love those little things [ie CDs]."
One association that has remained constant since the early days is his partnership with the trumpeter Kenny Wheeler: they still perform regularly together, although curiously have rarely appeared in tandem on record since 1968's Karyobin, the first Spontaneous Music Ensemble release which also featured Bailey, John Stevens and Dave Holland. Their divergent careers after that moment - Wheeler into the tasteful environs of the ECM label and fully-fledged 'composition', Parker into obliquity - highlight a greater fracture within jazz, one that's unlikely ever to be fully restored. Last year's Time Will Tell attempted some damage limitation, however, and 1996 should see a live follow-up to that record on ECM, plus an electronic project deploying Italians Walter Prati and Marco Vecchi alongside the Guy/Lytton rhythmic axis and violinist Phil Wachsmann. Given that Parker hasn't much time for the electric Miles Davis groups that actually fed the early ECM line-ups for a while, were MIC and SME formed in a spirit of opposition to the encroachment of groove into jazz?
"No, not especially. But apparently Dave Holland took the tape of Karyobin and played it for Miles. And Miles said, 'That's nice, but you're not going to play that with my band.'"
When I suggest to Parker that he managed to avoid some of his colleagues' ideological paralysis during the mid-70s, his answer begins, for this conversation, unusually askew. "I saw a thing in the paper today about what's his name, the bloke in Blur. He says 'I'm not sure about telling people to vote Labour - I once suggested to people about safe sex, and they said Shut up and play Grandad!'
"Music is better than politics. Let the politicians be influenced by our values, musical values, the way we operate, the way we negotiate, the way we compromise, all those things. Politicians can learn the art of politics from watching the way musicians relate to one another. And that's the hierarchy of intelligence as far as I'm concerned. Politics...attracts people of rather low intelligence to it. Low sensibilities, low human values, that's the unfortunate thing: we have to live with the consequences. They've got the power, but they don't have the vision. You only have to read the letters versus the editorial section of a decent newspaper. All the intelligence is in the letters, it's not in the editorials."
Does he think that, by whatever method and whether consciously or unconsciously, the general movement is to devalue music and art in contemporary Western culture; to ensure that, as someone once said, it leaves everything the same?
"I think there must be forces that decided that if music is going to have power, it should somehow tell the same story as fits with the Establishment - what the Establishment wants, in some way. Although...I would want to think about that. That's a complex story.
"That is the final frontier, in a sense: that's what's being attempted by the Murdoch empire and the real global Establishment, to take away that last sense of belligerent resistance to the idea that you really can live in your own values in your own head. Nobody can take that away from you. But that's what they are really trying to find out: 'Is that true, or can we also take that?' To the extent that music resists that effort, then it's an interesting phenomenon. To the extent that it assists, then it's an absolutely less than uninteresting phenomenon. And the kind of question I'm unclear about is: Is all music of mass-media circulation by definition on the side of the oppressor? I don't think it is; I think it's much more complex than that. And maybe the seed of resistance is in those complexities."
That, I guess, is why he does it.
David Toop: Jah Wobble & Evan Parker - Passage To Hades
- Wire Issue #204 (February '01)
Perhaps this is a disingenuous flash of hindsight on my part, but I'm convinced that when I heard Public Image Limited's first album, back in 1978, I fantasised an addition to the group. That addition was Evan Parker, whose Saxophone Solos and Monoceros releases on Incus (1976 and 1978 respectively) had cut a new seam in the rockface of saxophony. The prospect was very enticing: Parker's unremitting stream of reed shards cutting their own space alongside John Lydon's psychobabble and the acid rain riffing of Keith Levene, all three of them screaming like Brian Jones's hallucinogenic Jajouka panpipes over the dub pulse of Jah Wobble and PiL's drummer of the day (Jim Walker, I believe).
Be careful what you wish for, they say, because here is the nearest we will ever come to that 'what if?' fantasy spawned by the brief convergence of post-punk rock and improvisation in the messy, hectic late 1970s. In full tilt gentleman adventurer mode now that he has his own label, Jah Wobble is setting up sessions like a demon. What both players bring to this particular date (and there is an air of jazz blowing dates about these enterprises) is massive authority. A master of deception, Parker makes a virtue of easing into a piece, assessing the situation, deciding on a course of action. Like a shy man entering a crowded room at a party, he gives the impression that he's going to bolt for that safe spot by the cooker in the kitchen at the first opportunity and hide there all night. Within moments of these tremulous, uncertain beginnings, however, he storms to the centre of the action and holds his ground against all-comers.
As for Wobble, his rhythmic acuity is supernatural. He is on the one, up for the down stroke, rising from the bottom to the top. A clash of two such strongminded individuals can be catastrophic, but Parker and Wobble are tea and chocolate together: Parker's granular, pitted tone on tenor and hyper-glossolalic soprano contrasting magnificently with Wobble's lowdown, rubbery bass. Their rhythmic approach also defends opposite ends of the pitch. Parker worries at phrases, tearing them to thin strips, circling round for another bite, never quite settling; Wobble squats on a riff like the Soto Zen monk Ryokan sitting on a stone, absorbed by the beauty of the moon.
This is not just a lucky jam session, however. Wobble has clearly distinguished two core strengths in Parker's playing and shaped a propitious setting for them. Repetition is the more obvious of these qualities. With his deep explorations into circular breathing, long lines and small yet insistent variations in timbre, pitch and articulation, Parker closely aligns himself to theories and practices of trance. The repetition of Wobble's music, born out of his absorption of dub, Can and Dark Magus (see Epiphanies, The Wire 203), accentuates a delirious intoxication with lyrical movement through air and time, an invisible calligraphy, in Parker's playing otherwise only implicit in solos and improvised groupings. Most people who have the chance to hear La Monte Young's unreleased recording, "Sunday Morning Blues", respond by saying it sounds like Evan Parker jamming with The Velvet Underground. Passage To Hades is not quite that, but there are moments when it's close enough.
The other element that Wobble highlights is Parker's profound sense of connection to a global continuum in reed playing, vocalisation and other remarkable instrumental technologies and techniques documented by anthropologists, sound recordists and travellers. His intercultural Synergetics project is a proactive aspect of that, a practical and social interest in developing a global language of improvisation with likeminded souls, but there is a more subjective web of links to be drawn from the signature of his personal approach. There may be powerful echoes of John Coltrane and Giant Steps sounding throughout this CD, even Pharoah Sanders's "Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt" from Tauhid, but more strongly than those venerable inspirations I can hear the taquara clarinets of the Yawalapiti Indians of Upper Xingu, the free reed bamboo pipes of Cambodia, the giant nadhaswaram oboes of India, the tang-p'iri oboe of Korea, the hichiriki of Japanese gagaku, the sacred flutes of Papua New Guinea and the bagpipes of Eastern Europe.
From the launching pad of Wobble on bass and Mark Sanders on drums, the rest of the group takes off for regions mapped into a speculative world where land masses shift to join Lamaist Tibet and medieval Europe to the Mississippi Delta, the Cardomomes Mountains of Cambodia and the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco. Jean-Pierre Rasle's skirling bagpipes and harsh squalling on rauschpfeife are particularly effective, as are Clive Bell's Pi Saw flute from Thailand and his rather surprising Country blues harmonica.
At times, it's as if bastardised and accelerated backing tracks for Tapper Zukie's Man Ah Warrior have fallen into the hands of the ghost of David Munrow and his Early Music Consort Of London. If that makes Passage To Hades sound like some ghastly p-p-p-p-postmodern genre stitch up then I'm failing in my 'job'. There is a long tradition of this type of 'free jazz rides a groove' thing. Archie Shepp, John Stevens, Albert Ayler, Alice Coltrane, John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Don Cherry, Miles Davis, The Art Ensemble, Sun Ra, Sonny Sharrock, Clifford Thornton and Ornette Coleman all recorded glorious examples. Only last year, Derek Bailey made the disconcertingly fabulous Mirakle, with harmolodic funksters Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Calvin Weston. Jah Wobble and Evan Parker have added another classic to the canon. All things considered, this is my favourite pairing of unlikely talents since the recent reissue of Impressions Of A Patch Of Blue by Walt Dickerson and Sun Ra.
Stewart Lee: Evan Parker's musical utopia
If you have ever been tempted by free improvisation, says comedian Stewart Lee, Evan Parker is your gateway drug
At home in Faversham in Kent, Evan Parker has the physicality of a contented honey-bear and the joviality of a real-ale enthusiast. He lives, as artists should, in a whitewashed terraced cottage with the dimensions of a Cornish net loft, each subsequent stage stratified with shelves or records, CDs and books. Economics dictate that Parker, who operates at the upper levels of a music that's often commercially unsustainable, plays all over the world. "I make most of my living in Germany and Holland," he says. "Italy's love of improvisation goes up and down depending on the politics. Mostly I try to do things that make sense in some way. I am encouraged by people close to me to slow down a bit. At my age, the business of air travel becomes very tedious. I am trying to stop commuting to Europe every weekend. But I've played every year with the Alexander Schlippenbach Trio, in Germany, since 1972. I think the audience is waiting to see who keels over first." In between these jaunts, Parker returns to his hermitage, where he is evidently very happy. It's a relief to meet an artist who, despite producing hugely important work in relative obscurity, seems entirely contented. But Parker's journey to Faversham has been a long one.
Born in Bristol in 1944 to solidly lower-middle class parents, Parker says he "picked up the saxophone at 14 and went for lessons. I was listening to who my peer group told me to listen to, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Lee Konitz, with a lot of pleasure. But I was a very naive listener. You're thrown into the pond and you have to find out which way the river flows, and where it's going, and it may not be the river you're interested in." Parker describes a pre-internet era, unimaginable to anyone under 30, when music fans had to do detective work. "I was accidentally listening to all this smooth west coast jazz and then I remember the day Charlie Parker died, and somebody showed me Melody Maker, and it made me want to find out who this Charlie Parker was. I bought the 10in record Bird and Diz – still a very good record – and then I realised, 'so there's East Coast and west coast jazz', and I started to do my own research and put it together myself. By time I was 15 I was listening to new Coltrane and Miles Davis records as they were coming out."
By his own admission, Parker bungled his botany course at Birmingham University: "At the end of the first year they said to me,'We don't know what's happened to you. You knew more about botany when you came in than you do now.'" What did happen to him? "The saxophone. The saxophone happened to me. I had three gigs a week by the time I left Birmingham." Perhaps it's fortunate. If Parker's approach to botany had been the same as his approach to his instrument, one dreads to think what might have happened to the Linnaean system of taxonomic classification.
For Parker, the music known as European free improvisation began in 1966, and he was a witness to its birth. "I remember the first conversation I had with John Stevens when he invited me to come down to the Little Theatre club in Covent Garden. We talked about Milford Graves and Sunny Murray. Very few people would have known who those drummers were then, so it was like showing him a tattoo to prove you were in the club. After that all doors were open." Parker laughs, as if the full implications of the path he chose to follow have just crystallised for the first time: "But they were doors to very small rooms with very small amounts of people in them. Smaller than I'd been playing before."
The history lesson over, I explain to Parker that he's always the person I take sceptics to see. At first, free improvised music will sound like formless, pointless chaos. But the saxophone is an iconic instrument a new listener can relate to; Parker's ensembles clearly take risks, and the possibility of failure, like a wobbling wire walker, demands attention; and Parker himself, his lungs heaving in endless circular breathing solos, is clearly hard at work, with something of the circus strongman about him. Is his take consciously vaudevillian? "I believe a lot of what I am doing communicates because of those qualities, and when you get two or three things happening, they may not be actual physical solids, but they are the equivalent of balls being juggled. I don't claim anything higher than that for it really. It's just something that is meant to be absorbing. For me, the only idea is that it is interesting to listen to, not that it should demonstrate an understanding of anything beyond that."
An enduring aspect of this music, irrespective of the actual sound, is that it cannot be co-opted. In 2005, in my professional capacity as a comedian, I was emailed by someone asking if I could "provide any content" that was equally suited to internet applications, mobile phones, television, radio. But I am not a content provider. I try to make everything I do appropriate to the medium and the moment. And this unfashionable attitude is even more evident in free improvisation. Every second of every Evan Parker show is a considered refutation of the 21st century idea that a piece of art is a one-size-fits-all product to be cross-platformed into ubiquitous anonymity.
Free improvisation's political affiliations were formed in the beer-and-sandwiches days of the 1960s and 70s left, and the pioneering trombonist Paul Rutherford saw the music's emphasis on collective creativity as the embodiment of his own communist principles. Forty years later, Parker remains a romantic, but his politics are more oblique. "John Stevens talked about free improvisation being his 'other little life'," he says. "When I close my eyes and I am just playing with other people in a free situation, where we can all do what we want, I am in a utopian space. And I have been very lucky to spend a huge amount of my life in that utopian space."
Evan Parker: Deciphering the Noise
“ It's not a presentation of something that already exists...it's the presentation of a process. ”
Individual lanes silently determine your path whilst lifeguards monitor your tempo with their special brand of overprotective nonchalance. Even the reassuring sting of chlorine serves as a constant reminder, protection from the unpleasant, the random.
Now pluck this unsuspecting musical metaphor from the familiar embrace of the community pool and cast it into the unpredictable seas of free improvisation. Once sustained by common devices, the swimmer is now buffeted by waves from all sides. Aspects of the familiar remain but are simultaneously foreign, do you sink or swim? More importantly, where's your lifeguard now?
One thing seems clear: if you're anxiously treading water in the seas of free jazz, saxophonist Evan Parker won't be wading in to save you: "I don't want to play for people that are struggling to make sense of it (free improvisation)...or people that think there's some social or intellectual obligation to be enjoying something that makes no sense to them."
Parker's views on free improvisation are honest, direct and leave little room for misunderstanding: vital qualities when discussing how less familiar listeners can access a sometimes impenetrable musical format. The strength of Parker's convictions and the confidence in his art is arguably borne of unparalleled creative freedom and complete control, commodities rarely found in any musical medium.
A solo Parker performance is unforgettable, regardless of what one takes from the experience. However, observing the constituent parts of an assembled crowd at a Parker gig can also be an enlightening experience. Many will be regulars, noticeably swaying, eyes closed, lost in the madness. Then there are those that will listen once but will never return, driven away by the unlikely musical compound of the free and the uncompromising.
Yet what of the group that sits between these two extremes, the "moderates"? What of those obviously captivated yet simultaneously repelled; where do these competent swimmers go? "People often say to me, 'The first time I heard you play, I hated it!,'" Parker says, laughing. "Well, I ask them, 'What brought you back?' Something, in the meantime, must have happened. They often find that a hard question to answer."
Described as both a "pioneer" and a "gateway drug to free improvisation," Parker represents the ideal figure with which to discuss common obstacles to "accessing" a challenging form of music. The term "legend" currently suffers from a form of verbal inflation, seemingly thrown around with wanton disregard for its actual value. Whilst the word should be used sparingly, Parker, 67 is an appropriate recipient.
It is difficult to determine whether Parker is comfortable with such accolades, his true feelings remain hidden beneath a sheen of modesty. He adeptly sidesteps the opportunity to slip into self-celebration with a factual response: "I'm one of the first generation (within the free jazz scene) but not initially one of the senior figures." Within scene devoid of obvious musical conventions and commercial appeal there is a refreshing lack of hyperbolic back-slapping. Only talent and the ability to innovate seem important; as such, the term "senior figure" is as close as you'll come to "king of pop" round these parts.
Since switching from alto to soprano sax at the age of 16, Parker has forged an experimental path to deservedly assume the aforementioned mantle of 'senior figure.' The non-conformist influences of saxophonists John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, and pianist Cecil Taylor's trio dictated that Parker would not only challenge his decision to study Botany at university but musical norms.
"The senior guy at the time was John Stevens," says Parker. "People assembled around him in the early '60s; without exception they came from a background of playing conventional jazz." Stevens, a drummer, invited a young Parker to join him in the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME) late in 1966, an invite that was gladly accepted. Yet what was the motivation? Was conventional jazz simply not enough? "John Stevens used to talk about the music as being 'another little life,' a place where the rules are a little simpler," Parker replies.
Not for the last time during this interview, Parker's response seems tailored for an audience familiar with the obvious "rewards" of free improvisation. Prompted for a more detailed explanation for the jazz layman, he encouragingly warmed to the task: ""It's that nobody can mess you around for a bit, you know? You get up on stage and you can do what you want, there's freedom...you can't compare it. It's a place of sanctuary, and if you can convey some of that [the artist's experience] about the joy of being alive...that's it."
Parker has been asked a similar question a thousand times over, no doubt, yet the response is disarmingly passionate. Parker's concentrated enthusiasm remains undiluted by a stream of enquiring minds; his do not seem like stock answers.
Back to the history lesson: Parker would remain with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble or thereabouts (the lineup, aptly, was unpredictable) whilst pursuing a number of other associations and solo projects. Amongst others, these included the formation of the Music Improvisation Company with guitarist Derek Bailey in the late' 60s and co-founding Incus Records in 1970.
Despite lacking the obvious monetary rewards of more conventional genres, Parker's talent has enabled him to travel the globe for both ensemble and solo performances. Having taken in most of Europe by the end of the '80s, Parker subsequently spread his music further afield, including performances in America, New Zealand and Japan. Yet in a world where achievement is judged by the conventional trappings of success, is musical freedom sufficient payback for a career dedicated to such a specific discipline?
"Well, there aren't any other rewards," Parker gestures around the room. "There aren't any material rewards, the money's not enough to keep you where there's no qualitative assessment." The mention of riches and reward necessitates an almost Pavlovian assessment of Parker's house. Modest in size, the Parker residence is undeniably cosy but not in the double-speak of the estate agent. It has genuine warmth, each room heaving with the weight of books, records and knowledge.
Whilst the lower half of Parker's house is at best, charmingly disorganised, the upper half that constitutes Parker's office—is immaculately arranged. The duality of mayhem and organization provides an obvious but not inappropriate metaphor for Parker's music, but what role does structure play in music that appears to lack form?
While the lack of familiar musical devices and the absences of guiding musical "lanes" might alienate less familiar listeners, Parker passionately disputes that free improvisation lacks familiar, structure aspects. "Days have a lot in common with one another; life involves a lot of repetition, why should improvisation exclude itself from these constrictions? It's part of what being alive is all about. If you play as much as I do, basically it's a miracle if you can't find one thing you've never done before."
But if repetition is possible, then artists must also be victim to accusations of selling out or performing a brand of mainstream improvisation? "I've been accused of it," Parker says, laughing. "I've been accused of having 'slipped'; this is especially true of my solo performances. However, I hope it's based on a slightly superficial assessment, because some things are fixed, some things are variable." Once again, Parker's answer flatteringly assumes real familiarity with free improvisation, yet once again he accommodates the need for a more detailed answer.
"Look at The Rolling Stones," Parker says, "they've been playing songs like 'Satisfaction' and 'Jumping Jack Flash' for almost as long as I've been improvising, over the same historical timeframe. Everyone knows the structure of their songs, but when they perform live, if you're listening, really listening, you'll hear things that have never been done before." Parker's performances represent the other side of the musical coin; whilst the perception of perpetual experimentation is understandable, it is incorrect; the lanes do exist, they're just harder to see.
Guitarist Elliot Sharp once said: "No improvisation is ever truly free, excepting the unlikelihood of amnesiac improvising musicians," suggesting that both familiar devices and a degree of planning exist in an improvised performance. "You can plan an improvisation," Parker confirms, "but something else usually happens when you're playing solo, because it's a very focused situation, very controlled in the sense that the only things that are going to happen are the things that you're going to try."
At first the answer seems counterintuitive. Yet to fully appreciate Parker's point, it is best to attend one of his performances. Artists appear so caught up in their delivery, their 'other little lives,' that any preconceived ideas seem unlikely to linger, erased by a mass of swirling tones, obliterated within the musical chain-reaction. It begs the question—how on earth does a group performance survive within a maelstrom of free expression?
"When you're doing collective improvisation," Parker responds, "then the more chance there is that someone will do something that cancels out an idea you had anyway, you have to adjust immediately-but that, for me, is very exciting. It's not a presentation of something that already exists, it's the presentation of a process"
Parker's comparative seniority could intimidate fellow performers, yet his figure suggests otherwise: on the friendlier side of burly, Parker is reassuringly large, his appearance caught somewhere between Santa and Gandalf. The position of "group elder" seems appropriate; Parker appears to retain no inherent desire to dominate proceedings, despite the opportunity. "I could probably carry situations through [a collective performance], like a senior figure in the scene," he says, "not through force of my personality, but by dint of my status..."
Yet do younger, brash performers allow Parker to guide them? "Well, I can indicate 'no,' we're not going there; that doesn't have to be spoken, it's just played," he says, scratching his beard in contemplation, "but someone could easily say, 'Oh yeah, you old fart? This is where we're going." He laughs, continuing, "It's like a real-time negotiation, the sound of people discussing what this should be about."
Having accommodated a series of well-worn questions, further discussion about the absurd complexities of collective improvisation will have to wait for another time. Despite showing little sympathy for those curious, competent swimmers flailing in an ocean of unfamiliarity, Parker has still provided a life preserver. Does he truly not care whether or not people "get" his music?
"I've got bigger worries," he says, leaning forward earnestly. "This 'Occupy' movement, for example, it's extraordinary to watch. I can quite easily imagine people having greater concerns than improvised music." He's right of course; yet for those of us that wish to step into these unfamiliar waters, Parker (perhaps unwittingly) has provided some pointers.
Evan Parker/Wes Neal/Joe Sorbara, At Somewhere There (Barnyard, 2012)
Parker/Lee/Evans, The Bleeding Edge (psi, 2011)
Evan Parker/konstryKt, Live at Akbank Jazz Festival (re: Konstrukt, 2011)
Evan Parker/Matthew Wright, Scenes in the House of Music (Clean Feed, 2010)
Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton, Nightwork: Live at the Sunset (Marge, 2010)
Evan Parker, Whitsable Solo (psi, 2010)
Intevjui s Evanom Parkerom
"Among Europe's most innovative and intriguing saxophonists, Evan Parker's solos and playing style are distinguished by his creative use of circular breathing and false fingering. Parker can generate furious bursts, screeches, bleats, honks, and spiraling lines and phrases and his solo sax work isn't for the squeamish. He's one of the few players not only willing but eager to demonstrate his affinity for late-period John Coltrane. Parker worked with a Coltrane-influenced quartet in Birmingham in the early '60s. Upon resettling in London in 1965, Parker began playing with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. He joined them in 1967 and remained until 1969. Parker met guitarist Derek Bailey while in the group, and the duo formed the Music Improvisation Company in 1968. Parker played with them until 1971, and also began working with the Tony Oxley Sextet in the late '60s. Parker started playing extensively with other European free music groups in the '70s, notably the Globe Unity Orchestra, as well as its founder Alexander von Schlippenbach's trio and quartet. Parker, Bailey, and Oxley co-formed Incus Records in 1970 and continued operating it through the '80s. Parker also played with Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath and other groups with Bailey, and did duet sessions with John Stevens and Paul Lytton, as well as giving several solo concerts. Parker's albums as a leader and his collaborations are all for various foreign labels; they can be obtained through diligent effort and mail-order catalogs. Among his many releases are Process and Reality (1991), Breaths and Heartbeats (1995), Obliquities (1995), Bush Fire (1997), Here Now (1998), Drawn Inward (1999), Monkey Puzzle (2000), Two Seasons (2000), Alder Brook (2003), and After Appleby (2004). Eleventh Hour, officially credited to the Evan Parker Electo-Acoustic Ensemble, appeared from ECM in 2005. Parker released Time Lapses, his debut on John Zorn’s Tzadik in 2006, along with Crossing The River, and Topography Of The Lungs on his own PSI imprint. 2007 was equally prolific with three albums on three different labels including A Glancing Blow on Cleanfeed; the label also issued Belle Ville in 2008. Parker self-released Free Zone Appelby 2007 on PSI to round the year out. He made his debut on the Smalltown Superjazz imprint with Brewery Tap in 2009, as well as A Moment’s Energy with his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble on ECM and his Tzadik followup, House Full Of Floors, a trio recording with John Edwards on bass and John Russell on acoustic guitar, and help from Aleks Kolkowski on a couple of tracks utilizing a wax cylinder recorder, and playing the saw" - Allmusic