Barry Guy/Evan Parker, LIVE/STUDIO ­

Birds & Blades



My introduction to British Jazz came via my purchase at age 15 of fusion wunderkinds Soft Machine's THIRD in 1970. Alto player Elton Dean frightened me the most early on, despite his strong identification with many American Jazzers like Coltrane, but I kept listening because something knocked about in this music which I felt challenged to understand. Eventually of course I did 'get' it and moved on to the more instrumentally (if not musically) traditional Brit bands such as Keith Tippett's Ark and Dean's own Ninesense.

Evan Parker, occasional holder of the tenor chair in Ninesense early on and a tremendous fount of inspiration on the Brit Jazz scene since the mid-1960s, is from an European avant direction. His improvisational lines are often serialist in content and his melodic bent as abstract as Dean's can be, but Parker has less of a tendency to go for the 'ecstatic' upper register. Instead Parker will twist his train of thought inside a smaller space, leading the listener on a series of notes which interlock and attack the center of a chord; once he touches on that center he'll leap out to an adjoining chord and do the same again. It's a sort of abstract impressionism, and can be heard to peerless effect on this double set (one studio, one live) with Brit bassist Barry Guy.

On set one's "Barrage" (studio, with Guy leading) Parker's tenor modulates in its middle register with a tremendous compression. He seems to want to hit every possible note in the chord he's exploring with differing accents and differing sequences. This may seem a bit akin to Coltrane's method in his days with Miles Davis, only Parker has a mathematical precision and a taste for stringing tones together that one might have expected of Varese. Often the chords are ones Parker's made up!

Guy, Parker's cohort on this excellent set, was the leader more often than not of the late and lamented London Jazz Composers Orchestra (also on INTAKT Records) and a scion of Brit Jazz for as many years as Parker. These two have been in LJCO simultaneously as well as in a fine trio with percussionist Paul Lytton, among many other bands. Guy is as outward-directed as Parker is inward, and some of his lines have a Xenakis-like flavor. This confluence of preferences makes me think that if you are a fan of the European 20th and 21st century classicists, this might be the set that opens the door for you into improvised music. Wittily in an interview with Bill Shoemaker in the companion book, Parker makes it clear that composing and improv do both include the process of "putting things together." About Parker's thoughtful Mandelbrot-set-like arabesques in "Birds and Blades," Guy strikes in near- concentric shapes past him, shaving metallic longbowed tones at one point as if he were using dry paintbrushes on a set of ride cymbals. Freed of a need to do other than nod here and there to the implied rhythm ­ in fact Parker will often play as many bass notes as Guy does, even with his soprano ­ Guy will triangulate on a related cloud of notes to where Parker is exploring, (especially on the four lengthy live bits on CD2), imitating the horn's attack (cf. "Point In Line") making a frame of reference for Parker to bubble and fulminate inside. But on the live set's "Circling" they'll locate themselves side by side, flaring like twin suns. This is 127 minutes of peerless improvisation; cheap at twice the price! ­

by Ken Egbert

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