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Evan Parker/Joe McPhee: Chicago Tenor Duets

Harsh, splintered tone, notes pulverized into tiny fragments of sound, brutal lines that flow with infernal logic: that’s the Evan Parker tenor sax style. Or is it? In the first of the Chicago Tenor Duets the English master and Joe McPhee almost breathe together, in uncustomarily (for Parker) longer note values and straight sax sounds, without overtones or multiphonics. Shocking! There is more relatively mellow Parker in several other duets, too, even, dare I say it, instances of melody by the pair in “Duet 9.” On most of the CD you can hardly tell who is playing what, especially since McPhee now and then appropriates Parker’s distinctive techniques. The American is by nature a much more discursive player, and Parker’s response is to move with him, abandoning large designs and gaining some rhythmic variety. If the disc has meandering passages, there are also plenty of successes in which lyricism and complexity twine (and for all their stylistic extremes, there are lyrical strains in both players). Recorded in 1998, this session is the most recent among these five CDs.

One reward of considering these albums as a group is hearing Evan Parker change characters for each setting. His best sustained playing and grandest designs are on Nailed; at least as much as Cecil Taylor, he makes this disc valuable. In keeping with the endlessly hyperactive momentum of pianist Taylor, bassist Guy and drummer Oxley, Parker creates flowing lines of shattered phrases that yield long, convoluted sonatas. The first few minutes are soft while Taylor, especially, quietly adds layers of density to the textures. Great tension emerges almost imperceptibly; somehow the quartet becomes a maelstrom of fast, virtuoso intensity. Guy and Oxley are especially supportive of Taylor’s tornados. The bassist works extensively in high tones while Oxley rat-tat-tats a wide range of sounds, in constant colorful activity. The content of this 1990 concert is mostly exhilarated violence, with much repetition in Taylor’s extensive high spatters and swoops. By comparison, another Taylor-Parker meeting, The Hearth (FMP, 1988), conveyed a wider range of feelings and velocities.

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