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Evan and Barry Guy, Paul Lytton Parker: The Redwood Session

The Redwood Session and Summer 1967 are timely reminders that even though British saxophonist Evan Parker is a relatively new name to the bulk of the American jazz audience, he has been honing his astonishing music for 30 years. Given Parker’s elevation by partisan critics to sax god status-one not unwarranted, given his truly phenomenal use of multiphonics and circular breathing -these recordings also usefully place Parker among long-standing peers and, in the case of the late drummer and London free music scene catalyst John Stevens, a mentor. Most importantly, these historical bookends-Summer 1967 is the earliest extant Parker recording; The Redwood Session is a snapshot from Parker/Guy/Lytton’s ’95 North American tour-provide an outline of Parker’s stylistic evolution.

Coarsely put, Stevens was the Blakey of London’s free music scene; the alumni of his 28-year stewardship of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble included Derek Bailey, Dave Holland, Julie Tippetts, Trevor Watts, and Kenny Wheeler. He pioneered the use of unorthodox kits-the early augmentations of bongos, tiny cymbals, and wood blocks heard on Summer 1967 were refined over the years around a snare and twin high hat core. Comprised of eight compact duets with Parker, and two expansive trios including bassist Peter Kowald, Summer 1967 finds the elements of Stevens’ approach in place. His use of offsetting colors and textures never totally obscures his inveterate propulsiveness, and his intense outbursts are leavened with a light, low volume touch. Parker’s work, especially on soprano, is at a fascinating prototypical stage. While the rhythmic and melodic aspects of his phraseology are jelling, there are only hints of his trademark buzzes and squalls; as a result, his solos seem tentative. As the SME had recently downsized from an all-star septet, in which Parker was the newcomer, Summer 1967 documents an important step in his artistic matriculation.

The Redwood Session is a well-engineered case in point that Parker’s trio with bassist Barry Guy and drummer Paul Lytton is the premier improvised music ensemble of the ’90s. Theirs is as readily identifiable a sound as that of the MJQ or the AEC, one as equally built on finely meshed complementary voices. Yet, it is exactly that well-honed identity and well-oiled interaction that gives their music its spark and its surprises. Respectively, Guy and Lytton have impressive arsenals of timbral effects to shade both Parker’s darting phrases and the thick knots of entwined multiphonic lines on soprano. They also have ample torque to propel Parker’s massive slabs of tenor texture. Conversely, Parker prods his cohorts at every turn; Guy leaps through registers, splicing together furiously plucked phrases with precisely bowed overtones; Lytton rapidly morphs rhythmic patterns and splashes of color. The resulting listening experience is analogous to watching time-elapsed photography, an exciting compression of physical reality. The Redwood Session renders the phenomena faithfully. Guest artist Joe McPhee adds his mercurial trumpet to the last track. – Bill Shoemaker

Originally Published