I played briefly with David Toop,” he remembers. “David told me he was going to play loud – and he played really loud. I was lost in the mix, but actually I quite like being buried in the mix. I like contributing to layering, and in that situation there’s no point in looking for point to point interaction. “You’re in the lap of the sound engineer,” he continues. “A saxophone will never stand up to things that are miked or using pickups. It’s difficult to talk about the project because it hasn’t happened yet, but it’s already changed a lot for me. [Drummer] Chris Corsano was going to be involved. We’ve done trio playing together with John Edwards, so I thought that bit was guaranteed and I can find my way through the rest of it. Now Chris is working with Bjöörk and so we have Paul Hession. I’m guessing the tenor-bass-drums thing will be the banker for the situation – then I have to be more adventurous and find out what else is there.”
The Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, Glasgow CCA, 2004
Saxophone, bass and drums – a cornerstone jazz instrumentation famous from Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity, Sonny Rollins’s Way Out West and Ornette Coleman’s great 1960s trio. For improvisors of Parker’s generation, a relationship with jazz can be love/hate; love the inspiration of the American pioneers who stuck their necks out to establish the music, hate the creative get-out clause of expedient licks while hating even more jazz’s usurpation as ‘America’s classical music’ by the exclusive, regressive attitudes of Wyntonism. Parker’s own relationship to jazz has been noticeably relaxed. He’s played Benny Goodman hits with the big band led by Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, and was a regular member of Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood Of Breath. His work with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler dates back to the salad days of the Little Theatre Club, when both musicians were associated with drummer John Stevens, and Parker has been able to define his own niche within the pastoral key and time signatures of Wheeler’s later scored compositions. Two recent CDs of duologues with Stan Tracey, suspensions & anticipations and crevulations (psi), find Parker nudging the veteran jazz pianist away from the marrow of his jazz language for the first time on record since the 1970s, when Tracey took an interest in freeform music.
Whenever Parker is faced with ‘jazz’, his instinct is to plug in his own preoccupations. “Some of that’s to do with the context and the places,” he reveals, as I suggest the jazz roots of his tenor playing have become more discernible over the past decade. “Take the Vortex [in North London], for instance, a club where I play once a month with a band of my choosing. Given its history and the other things that happen there, it’s not the right place for a chamber music based approach to improvisation. Here you need robust music, and I like playing with bass and drums. Now you’re dealing with a weight of expectations that channel music in a particular way. The challenge is to stay in that channel but keep it fresh and alive.” If The Electro-Acoustic Ensemble are Parker ‘making sense’ of the Xenakis part of his Brussels equation, then it’s been in German pianist Alexander von
Parker in discussion with Courtney Pine (far right) during a Charlie Watts Orchestra rehearsal in 1986
38 The Wire EVAN PARKER