Evan Parker / soprano saxophone. Recorded: June 17, 1975 in concert, London,
and (one track) September 9, 1975 at FMP Studio.
Derek Bailey / electric and acoustic guitar. Recorded:1975.
The expansion of instrumental virtuosity that has occurred in the Seventies can be seen at least in part as a necessary response to new musical demands: i.e. as sounds in a piece have tended to become more and more “independent,” so have instrumentalists sought to extend sound vocabularies and to expand the range of sounds that might be played simultaneously. So it is that Parker and Bailey have come to almost single-handedly rewrite the languages of their instruments.
Parker’s tone on the soprano is as big as a tenor’s. The sounds he squeezes out – hard, brittle, metallic, full of harmonics – are such as to imply a fundamental change in the relationship between player and horn. On one level, the instrument can be heard as the source of a single elemental sound, split by the player at the moment of execution into its various tones and sub-tones, different from each other (and each suggesting in fact a whole universe unto itself) yet related in a deeper, more profound sense than previously imagined. Parker builds his work around any number of these more or less fleeting tonal pivot points. They are not exactly tonal centers but act as references for the moment, rather like moving from one axis to another, any one of which might throw the music into an entirely new direction. These work to “ground” the music (and occasionally, while circular breathing, Parker may work around one or more of these for up to four or five minutes) while at the same time serving as points of rhythmic tension to propel it forward, or outward, as the case may be. For Parker’s work has a definite vertical component to it, sounding at times like two or three saxophones, and achieved, it would seem, through frequent double-tonguing, quickness of execution and alteration of embouchure, and a certain amount of “false” fingering. Additionally, Parker often sings along with himself in a low Tibetan monk-like chanted tone that moves in and out of phase with the sounds of his horn. Appropriately, the improvisations on Saxophone Solos are titled “Aerobatics,” and that they are, state-of-the-art balancing acts of saxophone artistry.
Bailey’s work over the years has gone through several stages. In the first instance, his desire to preserve intact the integrity of each sound led him to a more “minimalist” music (hear, for example, Incus 2). He utilized a large number of single tones, building space between them by means of timbral differentiation and dynamic contrasts. Then he began to make greater use of electronics, overlaying sounds, further altering their timbres, and moving them about through an expanded use of the volume pedal. (Selections from Live Performances at Verity’s Place, Incus 9, is a good example of this.) More recently, the electronics have receded quite a lot but, in place of the earlier single tones, Bailey now employs dense clusters of notes (and the overall expression is denser), running them into one another and setting them in jagged succession.
As always, his attack is hard and percussive, but it seems to have become even more so, and this allows his sounds to stand in very high definition while simultaneously lending a greater forward movement to the structures as a whole. Yet rather than build around one or more of these, as Parker does, Bailey is more likely to suspend them in space, allowing each to be its own point of reference, from which anything might follow.
DIVerso features Bailey in fourteen short improvisations, only one of which exceeds four-and-a-half minutes. For the first time, we have a recording that captures Bailey’s sound as well as it may ever be heard on record. Particularly striking is the bigness of that sound, its total “presence.” This is especially evident on the acoustic tracks, which seem to be all of side two. The music is some of Bailey’s finest: concise, self-contained (yet not self-enclosed), and spanning its usually wide and provocative range of expression.
Parker and Bailey have added entirely new dimensions to the concept of instrumental virtuosity. Their contributions have been documented elsewhere, but perhaps nowhere better (and this is especially true of Evan Parker’s record) than on these, their most recent releases.
Henry Kuntz, 1976