REVIEW: Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble at Cafe Oto

Evan Parker performing in the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble
Cafe Oto 2014. Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All Rights reserved

Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble
(Cafe Oto, 26th October 2014; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The quietly energetic equilibrium maintained throughout the final concert of Evan Parker’s packed week of seventieth birthday musical celebrations at Cafe Oto and the Vortex, offered enriching views of the transcendental level to which Parker aspires in his playing and compositions, and the mastery of group dynamics that he has shaped through various groupings of the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. At the outset there was a lighthearted rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ from the house to which his response was, ‘There must also be some 71 year olds here!’

Parker commandeered an inspired improvising sextet to explore the complex areas of interaction between conventional instrumentation, unconventionally approached, and electronics, fashioning a soundscape dominated by liminal, incremental textures and insinuations that would intermittently evolve into frenzied, compacted eruptions and eerily claustrophobic spaces. ‘Not quite Butch Morris conduction, but my version!’ as he put it.

Bassist Barry Guy, electronics specialist Lawrence Casserley and violinist Phil Wachsmann have been with the saxophonist’s ‘Electronic Project’, as it was originally termed, since its inception in the early 90s. They were joined by two more recent associates, Adam Linson, also on bass, and Paul Obermayer on sampling keyboard, with each, apart from Parker and Guy, processing the acoustic sounds to differing degrees. As Guy mentioned to me, in the early days the computer set-up was tricky and took up much space. At Cafe Oto, the set up, with a high Mac presence, was now relatively painless and compact.

The Ensemble’s producer at ECM, Steve Lake, has explained their unique dynamics in this article: ‘The musicians play, and their sounds are sampled by the treatment stations and fed back to them (think of encountering a duplicate of yourself from a parallel universe, almost you but not you) … The players have to see the whole soundscape unfolding and contribute to it tellingly while having no idea of what may happen to the notes and phrases they are generating.’

Over the two sets, the overriding feeling was of a sublime and subliminal quiet – a sprightly, alert, tiptoed run through an unexplored landscape, with purposeful break-outs, particuarly in the latter set.

The individual virtuosity was compelling. Parker, on a weathered, vintage straight soprano, listened intently to chose his moments to enter the intense dialogue with taps of the pads, and rolling, trickling runs that gathered up clusters of complex overtones. The ever-mobile Guy unearthed hidden sounds on the bass strings – harmonics which were reciprocated by Parker and by Wachsmann, who sprung passages of staccato surprise with Linson. Key mover in the Electro-Acoustic concept, Casserley worked enthusiastically and feverishly on signal processing to blend strata to points where the processing and the live sounds became one, and he and Obermayer counterbalanced the brass and strings with flushes of near-sound effect electronics and keyboard rushes.

From jarring to softening in a matter of seconds, Guy’s single notes defined the space for the group’s final fade to bring a perfectly balanced evening to a close, and a joyful week’s celebration of Evan Parker’s unflinching curiosity and commitment to the creative musical spark.

Evan Parker / saxophones
Phil Wachsmann / violin, electronics
Barry Guy / bass
Adam Linson / bass, computer
Paul Obermayer / live electronics
Lawrence Casserley /signal processing instrument

Categories: miscellaneous

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