FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004


Steve Lake


. . . the sense of permanence dominating the invocation "Abide With Me" and the sense of flux dominating the sequel "Fast Falls The Eventide". Ideals fashion themselves around these two notions, permanence and flux. In the inescapable flux there is something that abides; in the overwhelming permanence, there is an element that escapes into flux. Permanence con be snatched only out of flux; and the passing moment can find its adequate intensity only by its submission to permanence. Those who would disjoin the two elements can find no interpretation of patent facts."

"E cantero di quel secondo regno,
Dove l'umano spirito si purgo,
E di salire al ciel divanta degno."

On this entirely amazing album, Europe's foremost solo saxophonist extends his explorations beyond his instrument and enters the world of multi-tracking, using studio technology as another improvisational tool.

"I'm currently interested in approaching the challenge of reconciling free improvisation with studio recording in a slightly different way," Evan Parker told writer Graham Lock early this year. In contrast to his previous solo albums, Process And Reality is comprised mostly of short tracks. "You can work with short durations and it's almost as though you're trying to improvise a larger form through the use of short pieces. That's what I want to get to. To edit as you go, to construct the pieces according to the bigger form you seem to be evolving."

This is an exciting and probably necessary step in the development of the music. In the past, improvisers have seldom had the opportunity to make records. More often, a producer dips a bucket in the great improvising river and hauls up a document whose misleading "permanence" - it looks and feels like a record - is almost arbitrarily drawn from the creative "flux". Vinko Globokar has suggested free music albums be heard once and then discarded, this being the only way to stay faithful to the music's in-the-moment intentionality. Well, I wouldn't let go of my copy of Parker's Collected Solos without a struggle, but I know that recordings capture only a fragment of the whole music. Something abides, yes, something precious, but what about the great solos not collected ? What about the electric thrill of discovery in the here and now? One has to accept that the best recordings of "raw" free improvisation are just markers in the stream; the music flows around them. Free improvisation remains a live music. (It's hard to keep this in perspective when jazz magazines drop their concert cove rage to become CD guides, and musicologists and historians persist in explaining the music by way of recorded examples.)

With Process And Reality, Evan Parker examines the potential of recording as a complementary medium. The first half-hour is "pure" solo recital, albeit modified by the awareness of a particular goal, but subsequently the studio is tackled as a studio, not a concert platform. His 1990 album Hall of Mirrors, in which the soprano generously submits itself to the "electronic intervention" of Walter Prati, could be seen as a preparation for the current album. For Parker, both recordings are "part of a general reconsideration of the work". He takes advantage of the possibilities for reflection that the studio permits, but not too much advantage. He reflects, but does not dwell. The album was recorded quickly. The improviser's "edge" is not lost - nor the Coltrane-rooted intensities and drive for transcendence. Take the Dante quotation corralled for track fifteen as a motto: "And I will sing of this second kingdom/ln which the human spirit cures itself/And becomes fit to leap up into heaven."

Tracks 1-15 form a spontaneously organised suite. By "Fast Falls" the "second player" in Parker's live sound seems to be clamouring for his independence; this is granted by the overdubbing process on "Parós gemutató" ("a pairwise presentation" - term borrowed from Bartók). The multi-track sound-aggregates become increasingly complex, featuring first two, then four, then eight sopranos. Since Evan, with his sleight-of-hand-and-reed mastery of neo-polyphony, often sounds like several horn players in his solo performances (listen to the staggering "Broken Wing" for example) textures become incredibly dense by the time the process is completed. Flying blind (or should it be deaf?) quite literally on "Blindflight", he recorded the eight tracks of this piece without the use of headphones, overdubbing without listening, considering the process his humble equivalent of Xenakis's meditations on chaos and probability.

Anybody still doubting the extent to which Parker is in control of his alternative saxophone vocabulary (built around circular breathing plus tonguing, speeding finger patterns, and optimum exploitation of the overtone range), will be silenced by those overdubbed tracks here which display his ability to be so thoroughly in accord with himself. The impossible conclusion of "Parós gemutató", for example, is some advanced magic. Absolutely breathtaking. Such moments might profitably be studied by some of Parker's occasional duo partners (and will be, for sure). When Parker plays with Parker the horns sing so beautifully together. And, for all the complexity of the interwoven lines, so naturally. Was the process as easy to realize as it sounds? "If l'd stopped to think about it too long it might have been harder. There were times when I noticed that the other saxophonist seemed rather . . . unbudgeable. But l've played with musicians like that!"

A brief note on some titles: "Amanita", intoxicating in its own right, is named for the hallucination-inducing mushroom whose cultic use goes back some 6,000 years; "Mothon", in Homer, can variously mean "battle din", "fight between animals", "licentious dance, a flute tune", or "a young impudent fellow low" - take your pick. "Borlung" is an "Aboriginal ancestor seen high in the sky in rainbow form." (There's nothing programmatic about the titIes, of course, and the listener is at liberty to form his/her own associations ...) "Fast Falls" derives from the Whitehead quotation above. Listening to "Bubble Chamber", I thought of Nancarrow's labours, long months spent punching player piano rolls to achieve effects not so dissimilar to those this improviser can call up out of thin air. But then again, the piece - like all those here - attests to a quarter-century of refining techniques. To be "spontaneous" you have to be ready. Along with Hall or Mirrors and another important studio recording, the Schlippenbach Trio's Elf Bagatellen, Process And Reality (in particular its "quartet" selections) reveals Parker's new willingness to incorporate melodic material in the work. Melodic slivers were inevitably disgorged in the solo sax sound-continuums of old, but now Parker is allowing them to develop more fully. He's also using more of the horn's natural tone. I'm quite convinced that free improvisers actually make the best melody players, all that experience of music's other dimensions lending authority to their lines. In any case, both the straighter playing here and the unorthodox/ idiosyncratic playing benefit from the expanded palette, each becomes more vivid in the contrasting.

The dynamic range is simply broader. "Lapidary" forms an amusing postscript to the fifteen-part "Process And Reality" sequence. This piece has been on the drawing board for a few years and here it serves to debunk the modern studio processes. You want rarefied technological approaches? How about this? Now the microphone is inside the soprano, Parker drums rhythm patterns upon the keys, and the horn "listens" to a record of Steve Lacy playing to a record by Ruby Braff! How much we hear of Lacy's "Cryptosphere" hinges upon which soprano keys are open at any given moment.

Is Process And Reality a blueprint for Parker albums to come or simply a fascinating one-off? It seems like a big departure, yet it can also be viewed as a logical progression from the territory mapped out on Saxophone Solos, Monoceros, Six of One, The Snake Decides. After years of juggling with the illusion of polyphony and counterpoint in his music, multi-tracking gives Evan access to real polyphony and counterpoint. If the facilities are there, why not use them? I'm glad that Evan Parker stepped back from free music's exclusive allegiance to so-called real time for this one ... and intrigued to find out what he'll bring from this project to the next round of solo concerts.

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