Review: Evan Parker/ Tony Marsh

Evan Parker Quartet
Vortex, August 27th 2009
Review by Adam Tait

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Serendipity. It’s a funny old thing, and at times convenient too. Funny- when you’re sitting at the back of the 149 bus on your way to the Vortex Club, and the saxophonist you’re on your way to see gets on. Convenient- when you’re not sure where you’re supposed to get off. “If I’d known you were coming here, I’d have told you where to get off the bus” Evan Parker called to me as he took the stage. “Don’t worry”, I replied, “I followed you anyway”.

Introducing his fellow musicians, Neil Metcalfe (flute), Ollie Brice (bass) and Tony Marsh (drums), Parker explained “this is a quartet of…I wouldn’t say old, but familiar musicians”. But it did seem old to me. Not in the way that Parker meant, with reference to the artists’ age, but in style. Be sure to understand me here, I do not mean this in any derogatory sense at all. This seemed to me to be archetypal jazz, the sort of jazz a child associates with the word before knowing what it really means.

The impressive virtuosity of all of the quartet was immediately apparent, but, it seemed to me, this was ‘The Evan Parker & Tony Marsh Show”. And quite rightly. A look at Parker’s record shows him working with a vast variety of acts, not just limited to jazz musicians but also appearing on work by drum-and-bass act Spring Heel Jack and dub genius Jah Wobble. Thursday night’s performance showed the versatility in his skill which has made him so desirable to such a wide range of acts. His ability to feel his way through the music, as improvising musicians must, is starkly evident, Parker seeming almost trance-like for large portions of the performance.

Special mention must be made of Tony Marsh, whose prowess with the sticks was sheerly mind-blowing. Marsh has real fire in his belly.So I was surprised how unimpressed the Vortex Club regulars seemed by his hair-raising improvised drum solos and his ability, along with Evan Parker, to lead the music in which ever direction their mood took them.

This great performance fell short of being a great show though. Partly this was down to the audience, who sat stony-faced for the majority of the set. Not being a regular attendee at improvised jazz shows, I don’t know what the usual audience reaction is, but it seemed that the virtuoso display at least warranted a smile. I am a big believer in the audience playing a large role in making live performances truly great or not. When an audience fails to get involved, to show some appreciation of the music, atmosphere seems to fall by the wayside. Perhaps part of the reason is that this gig is a monthly occurrence for Evan Parker. I just found I was missing that ‘one-night-only’ excitement.

Regardless, this was a very impressive display and anyone who gets an opportunity to see these men play together should jump at it, and when you do see them, tap you feet and nod your head and show the band you’re having a good time.

(Photo Credit: Albrecht Maurice/ Jazz a Mulhouse)

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