EVAN PARKER / TONART ENSEMBLE:
BROT & HONIG
Evan Parker needs little introduction to friends of adventurous music. Although Parkers work as a saxophone virtuoso is prolifically documented, it has been rare until now to hear the master of circular-breathing and multiphonics as a leader of a large formation. In collaboration with the many facetted 13 member TonArt Ensemble, Parker created two improvised symphonies in October, 1999 which display a rich palette of sound colors, subtle interplays, and surprising musical turns.
When the TonArt Ensemble invited Evan Parker on the occasion of this Hamburg improvisers collective`s tenth anniversary, this was in good stead with an ensemble tradition established by joint projects with Anthony Braxton, Vinko Globokar and Fred Frith. However, this time things were a bit different. While Braxton, Globokar and Frith are all well-known for their work with large ensembles, Evan Parker was, in this respect, an unknown quantity. Parker had certainly gained ample experience in big groups such as the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, Chris McGregors Brotherhood of Breath and Globe Unity, but he had hardly ever exposed his own large ensemble concepts. On the other hand, the 13 musicians of the TonArt Ensemble were for the most part completely unknown to Parker. So the collaboration was anticipated by both sides with a certain degree of apprehension.
It is a testimony to Parkers total trust in the method of improvisation that he approached the collaboration in the spirit of complete openness, without any reliance on premeditated concepts, notated material or graphic scores. Collective playing and the following discussion of the recorded material began an intensive five-day process. Soon some rather general structures emerged: alternations between tutti passages and small sub-groups designated by the individual players. Subsequently, more concrete ideas for the identity of these large and small group sections formed: ideas concerning timbre and dynamics, register and texture and the modes of interaction. Only then did Parker, who up to that moment had modestly integrated himself into the group, assume the role of the composer (in the literal sense of com-ponere: the assembling of existing parts) by establishing, shortly before the concert, a set sequence of the tutti and chamber group passages.
There were diverging opinions in the ensemble over the necessity for such a formal act. Some players felt that the music could easily organize itself through the flow of playing, and that the prepared sonic models would integrate themselves into this process more or less automatically; others welcomed the clarity of a macro-form which might give the musicians more freedom to concentrate on improvisational details. It might be seen as a reflection of this subcutaneous dissent that in one of the two pieces the nicely prepared plan was subversively ignored, which interestingly enough while causing considerable uneasiness among the players, did not affect the musical result in any negative way. (As Parker aptly put it, listening to the tapes after the performance: "It was nerve-racking to play, but it sounds good!")
The contrast between these two improvised symphonies is clear: while "Brot & Honig" ("Bread & Honey") establishes a calm flow without harsh interruptions and dramatic solos, "Syrah & Papidoux" focuses on dynamic contrasts, large-scale culminations and individual improvisational statements. Together, both pieces reveal the spectrum of what was musically possible in the five days of this productive and pleasurable collaboration. By the way, the titles refer to certain morning and evening rituals that went into the preparation and evaluation of the day`s musical work.
Peter Niklas Wilson, April 2000
Recorded live in concert (direct to digital two-track) at NDR Hamburg, Studio 1 on October 30, 1999 by Johannes Carstens.
Special thanks to Wolfgang Kunert (NDR Jazz Department), Clemens Hoffmann-Kahre (Kulturzentrum Motte) and Dr. Helmut Tschache (Kulturbehörde Hamburg).