Alexander von Schlippenbach Trio – Bauhaus Dessau (Intakt)
Uwe Oberg/Evan Parker – Full Bloom (Jazzwerkstatt)
Evan Parker/Sten Sandell – Psalms (psi)
Evan Parker/Urs Leimgruber – Twine (Clean Feed)
Evan Parker – Whitstable Solos (psi)
British saxophonist Evan Parker is just a few years away from his Jubilee Celebration as his country’s most celebrated jazz export. What has contributed to such remarkable longevity – particularly consideringhe inhabits the punishing avant garde sphere – is that he has been international in scope and omnivorous instyle since almost the very beginning. He’s a founding father or elder statesman in theory; in practice, he plays with the same curiosity as he did at the outset. His most stable outlet has been in a trio led by pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach with drummer Paul Lovens. Bauhaus Dessau, named for the German art center where this 2009 concert took place, is the latest in a mini-flurry of releases since 2003 by the group, which has existed for over 40 years, making itone of the longest-standing free-improvising ensembles in history. Few marriages last as long. And like a successful marriage, there is a delicate balance between knowing someone more than intimately and still being surprised by them. The three tracks, in descending lengths of 41, 12 and 9 minutes, featuring Parker solely on hefty tenor, both capture a particularly fine moment and represent a blip in their trajectory, a strange tension between history and ephemerality percolating with each moment. Three duos represent how Parker works in small groups of lesser pedigree than the Schlippenbach Trio. He maintains his personality but becomes magnanimous in how he applies himself. German pianist Uwe Oberg, 18 years Parker’s junior, firmly inhabits the world of European and international improvising Parker helped create. He is a far different player than Schlippenbach, often solemn and pastor also Parker’s tenor on Full Bloom sets aside some of its stridency for exultant beauty. Younger players looking for a sax tone to emulate should listen to this wonderfully recorded disc as a paragon. And since Oberg works in spacious, delicate movement, a kinder, gentler Parker emerges and details in his approach that might go unnoticed elsewhere are clearly audible.
Another pianist with whom Parker has worked with some frequency within the past decade is Swede Sten Sandell. He’s joined Parker’s trio with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton and both appear in drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s Townhouse Orchestra. For the aptly-titled Psalms, recorded in the North Sea-side town of Whitstable, Sandell is behind the St. Peter’s organ matched against Parker’s tenor. Sandell is to becommended for even being able to improvise on such an unwieldy instrument. The combination of floating organ and rich saxophone is an unusual one, often sounding alien or fit for piping into a Surrealist art exhibition. One would require a very progressive congregation to hear the piety in these searching, slow-moving pieces.
Twine is an odd entry into Parker’s discography. Not because it is a saxophone duo, a format he has visited intermittently, but because his partner is Swiss tenor and soprano saxist Urs Leimgruber. To the untrained ear and perhaps even the trained one, Parker and Leimgruber’s approach to their shared instrumentsis very similar: overtones, circular breathing, plangents quawks. Leimgruber’s career started about a decade after Parker’s and one imagines the older player was a great influence. As such, we have a very different interaction than Parker’s previous meetings with, say, Steve Lacy or Joe McPhee. Instead of two distinct voices or sharp color contrast, the pair explore almost 67 minutes of grey, tones and breaths floating by, over, under, through each other, less a conversation than a series of oblique echoes.
Parker is back in Whitstable for his 13th solo saxophone disc since he began exploring the format inthe late ‘70s. It has been remarked that Parker’s solo playing, especially on soprano as is found here, is one long improvisation across the decades. Certainly it is a connecting thread as Parker moves from blustery trio to large ensemble to duos to recent interest in electronics. His solo playing is like a chef’s signature dish, minutely altered and transmogrified over the years, a dash more spice here, a longer broil there. What makes this particular serving special is the acoustic profile Parker gets from the rural church, the partner with which he duets. Whitstable Solos is not adefining statement but another footprint in Parker’s long and fascinating journey.