REVIEW: Evan Parker and David Toop – Sharpen Your Needles at Cafe Oto

Evan Parker and David Toop behind the turntables at Cafe Oto.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Evan Parker and David Toop – Sharpen Your Needles
(Cafe Oto, 27 March 2015; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

In the third of their series of DJ sessions under the banner Sharpen Your Needles, the banter between Evan Parker and David Toop revolved around how each coveted the other’s original LPs. This device lightly masked the serious intent behind their trawl through both record collections, which was to share vinyl gems and their thoughts around them. Their first session (reviewed herewas a year ago, and they followed up at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in November.

Behind a couple of turntables linked to faders, they wove their way through a phenomenal selection of hard-to-find LPs of music from remote, neglected and sadly abused parts of the world, recorded by champions of its depth and diversity, often in the 60s, when Toop and Parker bought their copies of these albums.

Parker elucidated the agenda which lay behind their selection – a reflection on cultural extinction and the destruction of the forms of musical expression that adhere to those cultures, and the parallel acceleration of the extinction of threatened species in the natural worlds – “very hard to deal with.”

The music was a fairly uncompromising proposition, too, a fascinating and entrancing sequence of hypnotic tracks drawn from disappearing – or disappeared – communities from the earth’s four corners. Carrying the weight and powers of deeply rooted beliefs, the music had something of the cultural DNA of those peoples, whose survival was often poised on a knife edge.

Jacques Brunet’s and John Levy’s field recordings figured strongly, but by no means exclusively. The world tour stopped off for extended listening in Cambodia for The Dance of the Wild Horned Cattle, the flat gongs of the Mnong Gar in Vietnam, and resonating bamboo clarinets from the Iawa Indians of the Upper Amazon region of Venezuela – of interest, they ventured, to fellow improviser, Terry Day. Haunting Aboriginal music from Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territories was high on the list, and Guadalcanal women’s funeral chants from the Solomon Islands struck a strong chord with Toop – and “for Max Eastley fans, an Aeolian Organ – very large flutes exposed to the wind”, a reference to the creative dialogue, started in the 70s, which underpins Sharpen Your Needles, and continues to this day.

The bonds of mesmeric repetition took on a mystical aspect with ventures to India and the encoded camouflaging of Sanskrit Vedic chants and the silent singing these practices involved. Young women’s sung duets mirroring those of birds led to the classic Musique du Burundi LP, via Laos, and then to the Inuit and to Bhutan – “Basic Channel, Techno – all done there,” said Toop, with a knowing smile, touching on the ancient roots of rhythmic repetition which pervades so much of today’s music.

An illuminating and demanding evening’s listening – with Parker and Toop not quite the Smashey and Nicey of jazz and improv!

Categories: miscellaneous

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