Live reviews

REVIEW: Evan Parker and Friends (Nikki Yeoh, Mark Sanders, John Edwards) at the Vortex

John Edwards
Photo by Patrick Hadfield

Evan Parker and Friends (Nikki Yeoh, Mark Sanders, John Edwards)
The Vortex, 21 June 2018. Review by Patrick Hadfield)

Evan Parker and Friends were rather like a force of nature: they seemed unstoppable, building up to torrents of notes, a storm of intense free, entirely improvised music.

The friends were John Edwards on bass, Mark Sanders on drums and Nikki Yeoh on piano. Whilst I’ve seen Edwards and Sanders many times before playing improvised music – not least in bands led by Parker – I’d never seen Yeoh in such a free setting. Which is a shame: her playing was a revelation. She played tender, sensitive passages; she plucked the piano strings and treated the piano with bells and a bow. She played loud, angry sections. She made the piano roar and thunder.

Edwards is a very physical player, seeming at times to wrestle with his bass. He beat out percussive rhythms on the bass’s body. He attacked the strings with energy and bowed them gently and lovingly. Sanders too played with both vigour and sensitivity, responding to the other players, always finding a beat within the freedom of the music.

Although he was standing in the shadows, Parker’s tenor saxophone was perhaps the dominant voice. Whether playing softly or loudly, he played with power and passion.

They played two sets, each straight through without a break. Before they started the second set, Parker announced “The second set will require concentration,” and one should almost feel the audience recoil, because the first set had been an intense experience. “It’s a complicated arrangement,” he continued “structured so I don’t play for a bit.” And indeed he sat out several minutes, as Yeoh, Sanders and Edwards all used bows on their instruments.

As a trio, it was an astonishing start, as together they developed their themes, increasing the power in the music. Yeoh started singing long notes to accompany her piano, and her singing became a scream.

And then Parker’s saxophone picked up the scream, backed by solid block piano chords. The other instruments dropped out leaving Parker soloing alone, a scream of notes uninterrupted as he gave a masterclass in circular breathing.

The other instruments came back in, slowly building on Parker’s intensity. Yeoh played melodic lines, the chords growing heavier and heaving until she was pounding the keys with her elbows and fists. Edwards and Sanders were a match, a tsunami of notes pouring through the Vortex.

And then, like the tide flowing out, it quietened, leaving Yeoh gently playing some patterns on the high notes of the piano, until she too stopped, bringing a remarkable evening of music to a close.

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield

Evan Parker and bassist Barry Guy will be playing as a duo at the Vortex on 12 July 2018

Categories: Live reviews

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