|Evan Parker at the Royal Naval Chapel Greenwich.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved
(Solo recital in the Royal Naval Chapel and interview, 19th June 2013; part of Trinity Laban’s summer jazz festival; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)
In his seventieth year, saxophonist Evan Parker is something of a national treasure. Innovator and technical wizard, champion of the improviser’s art, he supports musicians whom he respects, irrespective of their left-field or mainstream credentials, collaborates with those from all corners of the ‘that’s interesting’ spectrum, encourages fresh voices and has written illuminatingly on the nature of the art.
Evan unfailingly asks questions of musical – and political – norms and throughout his career has built up a tremendous well of experience, learning on the hoof early on, absorbing the lessons that others bring to the jazz improviser’s table, continuing to refine and develop techniques that are combined with his insights to shape his own highly distinctive voice.
In both his exquisite solo recital in the architecturally composed and finely decorated chapel and his fascinating interview by Martin Speake that followed in the theatre studio, what came across was the strong sense of the discipline that Evan applies to his playing and to the evolution of the patterns which form the foundations of his extemporisations. Evan offered an insight into the sheer effort of concentration and patience that lay beneath the surface of his multi-layered solo performance: “I’ll keep … refining and rejecting stuff I’ve done a thousand times before it is the basis for things I’ve never done before.” He talked about the crucial role of repetitive, rhythmic elements which need to be played “8 or 15 times” before they are actually heard, and how he will work to a point where he can “do something I can’t predict”. Indeed, the third of his four recital pieces was “an attempt to surprise myself!”
Opening on soprano sax the air was filled with clear, warm tones that were absorbed into every corner of the chapel. Creating a trance-like tension with interplay between upper and lower registers, notes flew around the room, different tempos closed in on each other and overlapped, and it felt as though two instruments were being played simultaneously. This was a remarkable accomplishment, unamplified, unprocessed, intensely bound up with the physical presence of the work, partly down to breathing techniques that Evan termed “controlled circular exhalation” in preference to “circular breathing”. “We all circular breathe till we die,” as he put it, “the point is the control of the exhalation.”
His one tenor sax excursion had a serial quality, with merest hints of a tune escaping between the quavering flux of left and right hand temporal interplay. With a clear image of where he was heading, a little roar was released, leading to a raw-edged jazz phrase, and the travelling rhythmic phrase was picked up to maintain the momentum and to provide the basis over which tones, harmonics and multiphonics were interwoven.
In a wide-ranging discourse around his love of jazz he had a few surprises – Paul Desmond’s alto was Evan’s way in to jazz, ultimately to be followed by the sheer impact of Coltrane. Often returning to the timelessness of Bach – Glenn Gould and Gidon Kremer were noted – he has also recently developed an appreciation of Steely Dan, which he said sends out shockwaves in certain company! Pharoah Sanders and Albert Ayler were significant influences, and the dynamic between John Tchicai’s sax and Milton Graves’ percussion in the New York Art Quartet was also singled out. He covered various aspects of his engagement with the British and German free jazz scenes and encapsulated for the many young players in the audience the essence of his unique magic, “transcend technique and get to the place where you sound like yourself.”
Evan Parker: soprano and tenor saxophones
Interviewer: Martin Speake, Professor of Jazz Saxophone, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance