Evan Parker: The Ayes Have It
Evan Parker (saxophones), Paul Rogers (bass), Jamie Muir (percussion), Wolter Wierbos (trombone), Mark Sanders (percussion)
Evan Parker and Patrick Scheyder
Evan Parker (saxophones), Patrick Scheyder (piano)
Parker's releases might be conveniently if imperfectly divided into two camps: those documenting regular projects involving musicians who are in the mainstream of free improvisation, and those which record one-off meetings with remarkable musicians whose usual activities are not quite like Parker's. Emanem has mainly been concerned with documenting the former, Leo the latter. Both have their virtues; both have crucially important places within Parker's voluminous discography.
The Emanem release in fact captures two sessions separated by almost a decade; Parker and bassist Paul Rogers appear on both. The first was recorded in 1983, and finds Parker and Rogers in the company of one Jamie Muir for four mid-length pieces.
Muir's "kit" seems to consist mainly of bells, chimes and cymbals, and his approach to them is gestural and dynamic. Although he clearlyl has at least some drum rudiments, his whole attitude to the instrument is very distant from that of improvisors who trained heavily in jazz. He seems to put sounds just where he wants them; an extraordinary player who recorded very sparsely and has long ago absented himself entirely from the scene.
There's a bit over half an hour of music here, and it's valuable primarily for Muir's presence, but Parker turns in a classy performace which can't be denied. Paul Rogers will perhaps always be thought of as the saxophonist's second-choice bassman, which would be unfair, because he plays beautifully here, working closely with both players to create a layered ensemble sound in which everything is tied together without losing its sharpness of focus.
The remainder of the CD -- half an hour, because like most Emanem releases this is pretty packed -- is taken up by a quartet gig from 1991. Parker and Rogers are joined by Mark Sanders, a percussionist on whom so much praise has been heaped in these pages that it would be redundant to add more, and trombonist Wolter Wierbos.
Wierbos is a Dutch player who Parker nabbed during a brief visit to London. He plays with a firmness reminiscent of George Lewis, and works wonderfully with Parker, so that the two are able, with what appears to be complete relaxation, to spin a pair of contrapuntal lines for for many minutes at a time.
This is a much more jazzy set than the one with Jamie Muir, with a cymbal-tickling pulse from Sanders, solos and a generally swinging feel. It's relatively laid-back, though, and although it hots up occasionally it's nice to hear such a chatty dialogue between the two. Regrettably,.it seems that the oppressive heat of a London pub in August overcame the Dutchman, who drops out two-thirds of the way through and never returns. But by then he's amply proved his mettle, and fortunately label boss Martin Davidson was there to capture the whole thing for posterity.
The interaction between Parker and Wierbos is a joy to listen to, and immediately one wants to hear more of it. Of course, the saxophonist is known for his penchant for duets, and although this one is a quartet it's very much divided between rhythm and front-line. One hopes that one day the pair will record together some more. This set has moments of stunning synchronicity between the two, and there's a real sense of fun and advnture about their meeting.
One duet which is a bit of a surprise is the one documented by Parker's latest release on Leo Records. The other party in this case is pianist Sheyder, Chopin interpreter and period instrument type; on paper it sounds more like a clash of cultures than a meeting of minds. Parker, of course, loves this sort of thing.
Classical musicians doing improv can, of course, be a horrible mess, but Scheyder does well here. His playing owes a thing or two to the high Modernists, as you might expect, but Chopin's simple-sounding complexity is here as well, his cool avoidance of the big sweeping gestures of Romanticism. He is, in other words, a very able improviser.
This set from 2000 finds Parker in a sensitive mood (one thinks, briefly, of "Time Will Tell", except that Scheyder is nothing at all like Paul Bley). The saxophonist cleaves to his parter by playing a melodic kind of jazz which remains entirely in his own voice, moving deliberately from cool to hot waters but staying mainly in the former. The recording strongly disfavours Scheyder, which is a bit of a shame, but the music is really superb.
These two releases are from different ends of Parker's universe, and both contain essential music. There will be listeners who favour any one of the three sets, depending on temperament: hardcore improv fans will adore the trio with Muir, free jazz afficionados will love what Wierbos does, and those who like Parker's softer (but no less adventurous) side will enjoy the duets with Scheyder. Most Parker fans, however, should get both discs without delay.