AT THE UNITY THEATRE Incus 14
Evan Parker / soprano and tenor saxophones, lyttonophone, etc., Paul Lytton / percussion and live electronics. Recorded: January 7, 1975.
Evan Parker has suggested more about new ways of playing the saxophone than any other player in the post-Ayler, post-Coltrane period. Parker’s roots, in so far as they can be ascertained, lie more in Coltrane’s work than elsewhere, but these are only very apparent on the two earliest recordings of his work I’ve been able to hear, Peter Brotzmann’s Nipples (Calig-Verlag 30604), and This Is Free Jazz (Wergo 80004) by the Pierre Favre Quartet (both recorded 1969).
The Favre record is particularly interesting as on a long soprano saxophone solo we are able to hear the first real indication that Parker is moving in a radically new direction. His work is full of quick, stabbing phrases, a tentative probing always on the verge of exploding from the hard, inner pressure, and resolving (if at all) into somewhat different “modal” areas. Already, the phrases are full of harmonic and timbral implications, areas which Parker has come to explore in the most intense way, though there is still a fair amount of reliance on note.
On Topography of the Lungs (Incus 1), Parker’s next recording, the hardness and explosiveness take precedence over the strictly harmonic explorations, the latter surfacing only as one part of an overall texture of largely “disconnected” sound. It is here, however, that Parker’s most important structural and procedural innovations become entirely evident. And, in a sense, all of Parker’s subsequent work has been an attempt to refine and explore in greater depth areas of sound made reference to here.
On the first LP with Paul Lytton, Collective Calls (Urban) (Two Microphones), Incus 5, there are moments of an almost unyielding spinteryness, but the main focus of much of the music is harmonic. Parker’s work tends to be in long areas of sound, more defined by timbre than by pitch which, by utilizing rapid changes of embouchure, he is able to surround with several seemingly independent sound sources. There are obvious similarities to some types of electronic music (and Lytton occasionally engulfs Parker in a virtual sea of electronics), but while Parker’s range is necessarily more limited than most electronic instruments, he is able to move about with greater ease and to impart to his work a greater urgency.
The new Parker-Lytton album features the only really extended statements by Parker now on record, and they demonstrate the extent to which he has been able to enter into his own stylistic innovations, the new technical realizations further advancing the complexity of the whole. So the harmonic gains, for one, have come to be more well integrated with the earlier structural ones, pushing into and moving out of them, though the two shorter tracks recall much of the sense of Incus 5.
Lytton’s work, meanwhile, grows out of a somewhat wider milieu than only a simple consideration of his own work would indicate. For despite the percussive innovations of the last decade (mainly of concept, and most notably by Sunny Murray and Milford Graves), no more than a marginal effort was made to expand the range of sounds of the percussionists themselves – even though that was part and parcel of the advances made on every other instrument. A number of European percussionists, however, have exhibited a particular interest in exploring precisely those possibilities.
Han Bennink was one of the first to add any number of unconventional devices to his percussive set-up. And in England Tony Oxley started amplifying parts of his instruments, later combining them with sounds produced entirely by electronic means. Paul Lytton initiated the combination of electronics and percussion, extending (according to Evan Parker) the “clear technical precedents” for what he did in the work of people such as Max Neuhaus and Hugh Davies into “a very stretched definition of poly-rhythm.” Lytton is thus able to work with an unusual scope and flexibility of sound; and he is, as well, a fine “standard” percussionist. This is evident on both of the LPs with Evan Parker, though his best work may be that on Incus 5.
The music of Evan Parker and Paul Lytton is part of an ever growing body of music that is entirely improvised, improvisation now becoming an end in itself rather than a means to a predefined (and more constricted) end. Their new LP – and their earlier one, if you’ve not already heard it – is highly recommended.
Henry Kuntz, 1976
selected Paul Lytton recordings: