evan parker | derek bailey and others


Derek Bailey | Evan Parker | Photo: Mark Weber

PERFORMANCE OF FEBRUARY 14, 1975 at Wigmore Hall, London

Evan Parker / soprano and tenor saxophones, Derek Bailey / guitars.

at the Unity Theatre, London.

Evan Parker / soprano saxophone, homemade saxophones, Martin Mats / french horn, Radu Malfatti / trombone, Derek Bailey / guitar, electronics, Phillip Wachsmann / electric violin, Steve Beresford / electronics, Paul Lytton / percussion, electronics.

Memories of the Anthony Braxton-Derek Bailey concert are still vivid: release of the concert recordings coincided with first news of this event (February 14) tending to bracket and potentially overshadow the later concert. There is, too, a shred of the old European inferiority complex left: perhaps for all Parker’s ability he’s going to prove only a substitute for Braxton in a re-runoff of the previous scene? No: things have changed in Europe; the old worries may nag now and then but they can be kept in perspective. So, expectation of a good concert, one demonstrably different from what went on before. Just how much it would take on its own identity, though, was a little surprising.


For the controlling factors were closely aligned: the opening remarks in the previous review about the heredity of the instrumentation could equally well apply here, and given that it involved much the same approach with the guitarist the same man in each case it wasn’t surprising to find the overall form/shape not too different. The dynamic range, the sound scale, was less wide than before, since Parker restricted himself to two instruments. Yet the overall feeling one took away from the event was totally different.

With Braxton / Bailey one had the feeling of experiment, successful in the way the two men hit their best form to meet at a very high level of intensity; with Parker / Bailey the impression was more of a known situation, never predictable either in detail or in the larger dimensions, but deeply understood at the levels of philosophy, musical compatibility and experience, a feeling of something shared; intuition perhaps? So often phrases begun separately, diverging widely, followed their own paths to reach a surprising common conclusion, and it was this idea of mutual understanding, coming across even in the most cross-grained moments of the music, that set the overall texture of the evening.

This was at no point “cosy” music, however; it’s not easy at all and attempts to “think it through” can get deflected by the highly uneven surface. Yet anyone who is prepared to be receptive toward it must, I feel, sooner or later come to some understanding of its basis, and with that will come the ability to see how the pieces fit together.

The evening began – surprisingly for musicians reputedly so dedicated to the austere – with an engaging coup-de-theatre. A start in absolute darkness, stage and auditorium. A tape of Bailey plays. Ten minutes later Bailey himself emerges from a side door, playing over his own sounds. Strolls among the audience, still playing, hung about with gear, portable amp, portable speaker, a satchel of Incus catalogues, playing one-handed from time to time as he gives these out. Back to the stage where Parker joins him as the tape fades for the rest of the set. Communication at many levels.

Evan Parker’s playing conveys now a remarkable feeling of inner strength: like most European musicians he seems to have listened widely, but he acknowledges no governing conventions except his own. The fragmentary phrases, the rhythms under such great stress, give his music a kind of hard granularity, but nevertheless leave behind the impression of a primarily melodic experience. True, it’s not a melody you could hum or carry in your head, for any debt to the song-form that dominated jazz in one way or another for most of its lifespan has long gone from this music, but even so there’s a hard core of a perhaps truer way of singing in the basis of Parker’s music.

Bailey seems to be developing these days an equally strong melodic frame of reference, to have become more and more outgoing with it, but I sometimes wonder – and this could be true of Parker too – if it’s just that now I understand better the basis of his music, that its elements have become clearer over the years to the point where language is no barrier to communication? Hard to say, but it was notable here that the “long string” technique, used to open the second set, something initially developed as purely sound along the rhythmic axis, included this time an identifiable vertical component. Either way, there can be little doubt as to the scope of Bailey’s abilities or his capacity to really expand one’s mind in this kind of setting. So altogether a fine concert, a totally satisfying evening.


Steve Beresford | Derek Bailey | Photo: Gérard Rouy

Bailey and Parker appeared again four days later as members of the “proto-orchestra,” in the considerably more ramshackle setting of the Unity Theatre which despite its worn appearance is rapidly becoming legendary for its Tuesday evening experimental concerts. Only rarely, however, is such a large improvising group put together there, or anywhere else for that matter, so the possibilities existed for something rather special even by Unity standards.

Generally speaking these possibilities were realised: at least as many as could be opened up and explored in the available time: the possibilities and permutations are of course much greater. A vast number of conventional musical relationships were jettisoned for the occasion, even some of those acknowledged even now as valid within the framework of jazz improvising. The orchestra’s guiding principal seemed simply to be that people can improvise together, that sounds of one description or another can be made to meet, mix and match, contrast and diverge, and function as music, retaining all the subtleties and satisfactions of good music while rejecting academic, preconceived trappings, and indeed the basic concepts of good, bad, serious, foolish, that all art has come to acquire and question over the centuries. The dangers of such totally uncharted areas are of course immense: but surely the dangers of stifled creativity are a greater threat.


Evan Parker | Photo: Mark Weber

Of course, to call such an approach “uncommitted” as I have done (see review of Steve Lacy’s Saxophone Special) is not really correct (though one of the problems of writing in this format is that to get everything in the space one does tend to develop shorthand terms that may not be exact first time). What might be better is “un-pre-committed,” though it’s clumsy: in other words to have no prior committment except to the music overall, and to let it develop its shape/form/ structure through the ensemble as it develops. But all this was merely the starting point for the orchestra, and through the two sets a massive cloud of improvising developed, unfolding along highly unpredictable lines. Not all of the musicians were of the same standard, either by way of technique or experience, but everybody took a genuinely orchestral view and so the emerging sound/energy mass was consistently shapely and essentially controlled. What has gone also, in the work of these younger musicians, along with so many of the musical conventions, is any final trace of the old show-biz “star” syndrome, so they are vastly better equipped to put their thoughts together as equally-contributing orchestral musicians than their predecessors have ever been.

dbmal.jpgTo try to go into any detail with the music would be pointless in the space available. It’s difficult to turn music into words at any time on a representational basis, doubly so in the atmosphere of multi-dimensional creativity being shown here. For in addition to being musically exciting it was also visually obsessing and it could too easily become a record of observed rather than heard events which, though fascinating, would give no indication of the fine balance of the music and the team-work that achieved it. So it will have to be enough, for now, to acknowledge another absorbing evening right out [ Radu Malfatti | Derek Bailey | Photo: Gérard Rouy ] on the frontiers of musical experience, and hope that the orchestra, prototype or second stage, will get together again soon.

Jack Cooke, 1975

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.


selected Evan Parker Solo recordings:



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