evan parker and friends


Evan Parker Photo: Gérard Rouy

PERFORMANCE OF FEBRUARY 9, 1978 at North London Poly, England.

Evan Parker / soprano and tenor saxophones, John Russell / guitar, David Holmes / percussion.

PERFORMANCE OF FEBRUARY 12, 1978 at London Musician’s Collective.

Evan Parker / sopranino, soprano and tenor saxophones, David Toop / flutes, etc., Paul Burwell / percussion.

Evan Parker’s search into the extensions of saxophone language, greatly aided by a keen ear for timbre, lightening reflexes, and a remarkable control of breath, was much in evidence in these two concerts. The former began auspiciously, with John Russell experiencing amplification problems, forcing him to play acoustically and thus virtually inaudible (at least where I was sitting) most of the time. David Holmes, a new player, revealed himself to be quite a compelling drummer – his playing full of tension and little, sudden implications that always changed quickly – and functioned well with/behind Parker. Parker, as familiar to the readers through his playing on various recordings on the Incus label, performed with his usual inventiveness. His soprano has the ability to cut through whatever is going on around him, no matter how deafening (not that it was deafening on this occasion) and assert its presence. Perhaps what is most important in his playing at this time is the elevation of his tenor playing to that of the soprano. The one-note “chording,” the rapid timbral/pitch changes, common to his soprano playing, are now prevalent in his tenor work as well, something I had not heard before (not that he was ever a slouch on tenor…). My one reservation was that with the several short sets they played they did not seem to fully develop their playing and exchange as much as they could have. This was (I believe) the first time they had performed together as a trio, and perhaps this was partially the reason for the short sets.

The trio with Burwell and Toop was radically different in several respects: perhaps the main reason being that it consisted of two long sets, thus giving the music plenty of time to grow; the other being that Burwell (though he easily could have) chose not to get behind and “propel” the group, as Holmes had done in much of the first concert, but instead got into the main mix of the music, occasionally leaving his drum seat to play on various instruments throughout much of the performing space.


David Toop and Paul Burwell

At times, the interplay between Parker and Burwell became intense to the point of cutting Toop off from the rest of the proceedings, but this never came to pass to any large degree. Parker’s work on soprano was remarkable, but again it was his extended passages on tenor that caught my ear, one time sounding like one of Toop’s flutes, another time like a trombone. As is now well known, all Toop-Burwell performances feature a duet on dog whistles that explore the uppermost levels of human audibility; couple that with Parker’s sopranino, using circular breathing to create a continuous high-register exploration, throw in a kyeezee (Burmese spinning gong), and you have a pretty fair idea of how the sounds careened about the performance space, including the phenomenon of hearing a sound in one ear a fraction of a second before you hear it in the other.

Yet all of these concepts were not used as mere musical gimmicks, but rather toward the creation and investigation (and sometimes tearing down) of new relationships between the performers, the music, the audience, and the performing space.

Charles K, Noyes, 1978

selected Evan Parker recordings:


Evan Parker biography:

Evan Shaw Parker (born 5 April 1944 in Bristol) is a British free-improvising saxophone player from the European free jazz scene.

His original inspiration was Paul Desmond, and in recent years the influence of cool jazz saxophone players has again become apparent in his music — there are tributes to Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz on Time Will Tell (ECM, 1993) and Chicago Solo (Okkadisk, 1997).

However, Parker is probably better known for his 1960s work, which rapidly assimilated the American avantgarde — John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler and others — and forged his own, instantly identifiable style. His music of the 1960s and 1970s is harsh, raw and unsettling, involving fluttering, swirling lines that have shape rather than tangible melodic content; sometimes he makes use of pure sound in a manner that recalls Steve Lacy’s more radical 1970s recordings or the work of some AACM members. He began to develop methods of rapidly layering harmonics and false notes to create dense contrapuntal weaves; these involved experiments with plastic reeds, circular breathing and rapid tonguing which initially were so intense that he would find blood dripping onto the floor from the saxophone. He also became a member of the important big band, The Brotherhood of Breath.

Later recordings are equally impressive but rather less thorny, sometimes rather formulaic, as Parker’s style became less open to change; but an Evan Parker recording is still always something to contend with, and some of his recent discs, such as America 2003, are as gripping and satisfying as any of his earlier recordings.

He has recorded countless albums solo or as a group leader, and has recorded or performed with Peter Brötzmann (including Brötzmann’s epochal Machine Gun in 1968), John Stevens, Derek Bailey, Keith Rowe, Joe McPhee, Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, and many others. Two key associations have been pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach’s trio with Parker and drummer Paul Lovens (including the classic early recording Pakistani Pomade and the more recent Elf Bagatellen) and a trio with bassist Barry Guy and drummer Paul Lytton. On Parker’s 50th birthday, these two bands played a set apiece at a London concert; the results were issued by Leo Records as 50th Birthday Concert, a recording that is one of the highlights of Parker’s (massive) oeuvre and remains a useful introduction to his music. Parker is one of the few saxophone players for whom unaccompanied solo performance is a major part of his work.

Parker, Bailey and the drummer Tony Oxley founded the Incus record label in 1970, which was one of the most important labels to document improvised music. (The label continued under Bailey’s sole control, after a falling-out between the two men in the early 1980s.) Nowadays Parker curates the Psi record label, which is issued through Martin Davidson’s Emanem records. He also performs monthly at London’s Vortex Jazz Club.

Though Parker’s central focus is free improvisation, he has also occasionally appeared in more conventional jazz contexts, such as Charlie Watts’s big band and Kenny Wheeler’s ensembles, and participated in Gavin Bryars’s recording After the Requiem, performing the composition “Alaric I or II” as part of a saxophone quartet.

He also has appeared in pop-music contexts: on Scott Walker’s Climate of Hunter, and on dubesque albums with Jah Wobble, the adventurous drum n bass duo Spring Heel Jack and rock group Spiritualized. He has also increasingly become interested in electronics, usually through inviting collaborators such as Phil Wachsmann, Walter Prati, Joel Ryan or Lawrence Casserley to electronically process his playing in real time, creating a musical feedback loop or constantly shifting soundscape.


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