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Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Quartet
Concert in Iwaki
Uchimizu 02

Evan Parker + Richard Barrett

The 2020-21 lockdown has been a boon to recorded music, artists sorting through older tapes, gauging their meaning and interest, sometimes revealing significant work. These two recordings present little heard or unheard facets of Evan Parker’s longstanding interest in electro-acoustic improvisation, an Electro-Acoustic quartet in which the electronic musicians function as a virtual orchestra and a recording in which Richard Barrett functions as an independent partner.

Concert in Iwaki comes from a tour in Japan in 2000 by a chamber version of the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble with Parker on his usual soprano saxophone, Paul Lytton on percussion and analogue electronics, Joel Ryan on “computer music instruments” and Lawrence Casserley on “signal processing equipment.” There are three pieces here of diminishing length, from “Ichi” (26:08) to “Ni” (23:16) to “San” (20:30), but they are virtually movements in a singular, expansive piece. “Ichi” begins almost as a dream state, Parker’s soprano invoking the slightly muffled sound of a shakuhachi, joined by serene winds and the call of birds. As the music expands, Lytton’s percussion enters, often featuring bright, high, tapping sounds that then develop as part of the electronic orchestration. As the music develops, there are often section-like held chords, slightly altered winds passing for string sounds as well, orchestral sections building rich harmonic layers to support and match Parker’s polyphonic lines.

This orchestral quality develops further with “Ni,” with ostinatos, counter melodies and some startling orchestral passages in which rich harmonies arise, enriched spontaneously by the unprocessed sound of Parker’s soprano. The concluding “San” presents a sustained, high-pitched saxophone cry first heard amidst brightly resonant metallic percussion, then gradually draped in dramatic waves of low-pitched vocal sounds that create the impression of a cathedral’s ritual, before giving way to the central horn surrounded by percussive sound that includes the rattle of enormous deep-voiced chains, all creating the impression that it is the literal physical setting that is changing rather than the music, as if the saxophone is participating in a concerto-like initiation into another order of being. The mass again shifts, the soprano etches its high permutating song against a string-like lacework made of itself, a dream-like evocation of water, sky, and light, before a somber echo arises.

The duet of Parker and electronic musician Richard Barrett comes from 2001. Barrett describes the background in a note to the download-only release:

“My first musical encounter with Evan was at the Paris venue Les Instants Chavirés in 1994, where we’d both been invited by George E Lewis to perform in an international septet. During rehearsals George had Evan and me play together as a duo, during which something like a stylistic identity came spontaneously into being, something that I’ve experienced only a very few times in my playing life.”

Unlike many of Parker’s electro-acoustic projects, Bennett works as an independent voice, generating his own sounds, lines, and rhythms, only employing a previously recorded and composed sample of Parker on one of the five tracks. The pieces are identified by the first five letters of the Greek alphabet, the opening 2001 – α (alpha) has a confrontational energy, the two throwing lines at one another, Parker’s acoustic consistency matched against Barrett’s rapidly shifting timbres, his individual lines making broad register leaps with blips, blats, squawks, and swirls leaping and colliding across their own sonic surface only to suddenly dovetail with Parker’s phrasing. On 2001 – γ (gamma), the two merge, with Barrett’s prior Parker sampling heard here, amplifying and extending the polyphonic soprano which already seems to approach the multi-tracked density of Parker’s Process and Reality from 1991, a building block in the electro-acoustic music.

Parker turns to tenor for two of the pieces, with 2001 – β (beta), pressing toward a close relationship of sounds, Parker creating his own maze of warbling harmonics and tones bending into one another, counterposed here with Barrett’s industrial hive and sudden shifts. On 2001 – δ (delta), the two begin in a kind of mammalian rumination before shifting to a dense rhythmic dialogue, rich in plosives and unpredictable shifts.
–Stuart Broomer


William Parker
Mayan Space Station
AUM Fidelity 115

William Parker
Painters Winter
AUM Fidelity 116

Multi-instrumentalist, composer, and all-around renaissance man William Parker was widely celebrated as one of the most revered bandleaders to emerge in the last half century following the release earlier this year of the box set, Migration of Silence Into and Out of The Tone World: Volumes 1-10 (Centering Records) and a biography written by Cisco Bradley, Universal Tonality: The Life and Music of William Parker (Duke University Press). Not one to rest on his laurels, Parker follows up these milestones with a pair of new trio albums that further expand the range of his artistic oeuvre. Mayan Space Station is an unprecedented electric guitar-based session, heavily informed by free-form psychedelia, while Painters Winter is more meditative, melodic, and groove-oriented. Like most of the aforementioned box set, these albums were cut at Park West Studios in Brooklyn, during the winter season. While always a prolific composer, these records continue a particularly fruitful run that Parker began in 2017.

Mayan Space Station features rising star Ava Mendoza on electric guitar and the ubiquitous Gerald Cleaver on drums. Parker is especially vibrant here on double bass, holding the tonal center whether playing pizzicato or arco. Parker first worked with Mendoza during his July 2019 residency at The Stone in NYC. Her impressive talents have elevated several projects as both leader and collaborator over the past decade, including work with artists like Jon Irabagon and William Hooker. Her expressive distorted tone and modal phrasing traces a lineage to the same stylistic school as Pete Cosey, Sonny Sharrock, and Raoul Bjorkenheim. A versatile drummer, Cleaver can play in the deepest pocket or shade in the contours of the most open forms. Cleaver has participated in a number of Parker’s ensembles, including his Organ Quartet and Double Sunrise Over Neptune, with the most notable being the full-improvising trio, Farmers By Nature, with pianist Craig Taborn.

The sonic expectations of this line-up manifest in a rugged physicality; Parker and Cleaver’s elastic approach towards propulsive rhythms is complemented by Mendoza’s freewheeling fretwork. These six lengthy compositions draw as much from rock and psychedelia as they do the jazz and blues tradition, from the opening scorcher “Tabasco” and the scintillating explorations of “Canyons of Light” to the concluding swinger “The Wall Tumbles Down.” The galloping title track best exemplifies Parker’s power trio concept. Moving in tandem, Cleaver lays down a driving pulse, Parker alternates between plucked ostinati and bowed glissandi, and Mendoza unleashes a prismatic array of celestial blues, perfect for travelling the space ways.

Painters Winter features Parker (on bass, trombonium, and shakuhachi) with multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter (on trumpet, alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet, and flute) and drummer Hamid Drake. Parker and Carter have been colleagues since meeting in the early 1970s. Their work together in Other Dimensions In Music with Roy Campbell and Rashid Bakr lasted for well over two decades. Drake, one of today’s most in-demand percussionists, commands a vast lexicon of drum languages, learned while traveling the globe. Drake and Parker began their partnership in 2000 and have been performing together ever since. In trio format with Carter, they recorded one previous album together, Painters Spring (Thirsty Ear, 2000), the blueprint for this session.

Reminiscent of the early efforts of the AACM, but with a greater focus on rhythm, this date is calmer and more austere, with Parker serving as the foundation, as demonstrated by his rock-solid bass playing on “Groove 77.” He even maintains a solid pulse when embracing the lilting cry of the shakuhachi on “Painted Scarf” or when switching to the dulcet sounds of the trombonium on the title track, to duet with Carter’s flute. “Happiness” is exemplary; Carter’s alto weaves introspectively through Parker’s pliant basslines and Drake’s keen accents until the episodic number finally resolves in an ebullient coda. The decades of experience these three have shared playing together is readily apparent in the congenial rapport heard throughout this set and its painterly approach towards jazz as world music for all seasons.

Parker’s restless spirit and dedication to exploring the tone world over the last five decades confirms his legendary status. But despite being the subject of a new biography and numerous career-spanning box sets, the diversity of approaches and sounds found on these two very different releases proves that Parker is far from finished making exceptional music – in fact he may not have even hit his stride yet.
–Troy Collins


Jon Raskin
Book ‘P’ of “Practitioners” by Steve Lacy
Temescal (no number)

If you know anything about Jon Raskin’s music, whether in his many dazzling small group recordings or in his decades-long membership in ROVA, it’s that he is committed to the clarity of the line. No matter how many outrageously good extended techniques you might encounter in a given performance, there’s a focus to his music that lends it structural heft even in a free setting. And so, as longtime ROVA junkies already know, it’s no surprise that Raskin loves the music of Steve Lacy. The late soprano saxophonist was a prodigious composer, and between 1983-85 he penned three books’ worth of solo pieces, only one of which – Book “H” Hocus Pocus – was actually documented. Raskin was given the scores for Book “W” and Book “P” and recorded them right before the pandemic hit. What a delight that he’s released both, with “W” on alto and this one on baritone.

“Peacock,” which Lacy dedicated to Bud Freeman, opens with sustained growling overtones and vocalizations, resolving into a single held note before a gorgeous scalar melody pops up from a sudden pause. It’s the kind of piece that Lacy insisted on writing while thinking of its dedicatee. But listening to Raskin’s beautiful tone as he navigates that uniquely Lacy rise-and-fall lyricism, his playing is so organic to this music that it’s as if they were all written for him. He sways through dancing rhythm, he pulls back for brief chromatic runs, he lingers in different sections of the lines, each phase of the piece exploring an element of the dedicatee’s, for lack of a better term, plumage. “Pelican,” for Buck Clayton, opens as a riot of choppy breath exercises, pauses and pops, and then back to a melody with the clear family resemblance that you’ll get to know throughout this recording. There’s that focus again.

I’m not exactly sure what to make of the fact that “Penguin” is dedicated to Vladimir Horowitz, but it certain is a title that seems apt to the music itself. Raskin’s bari scuffles and waddles in a circle, like some wonderfully bizarre Lacy riff on Peter and the Wolf. Pay attention to his differing attack and articulation on this marvelous piece. His playing is even more ornery on “Porcupine,” which is perhaps fitting for Russian art critic Serge Diaghilev, but there’s an elegant core to it that coos with buttery tone. Again, I love how thoroughly Raskin inhabits these tunes, varying his phrasing and duration, stuttering a line here, inviting you in with it there; sometimes swinging, and elsewhere metronomic.

The Elvin Jones piece “Platypus” is so graceful, with Raskin working his way patiently into the upper register with which he began the record. With great deliberation, he moves the simple phrase up and up and then back again, rolling along eternally like Elvin. And then “Pterodactyl” (for Cat Anderson) opens laconically, working a slightly frazzled and ragged interval before launching into a crying theme that sets the stage for the record’s most expressive and far-reaching improvisation, multiple basic elements combined and reprocessed.

On each of these pieces, Raskin finds the grains of difference and multitude through repetition and return. It takes extreme discipline and focus to navigate these pieces in this way. But as a result, you get polished jewels. And there are a few pieces left to record, Raskin told me over email. We can only hope. For now, proceed with alacrity to this one and to “W” too.
–Jason Bivins


Hank Roberts Sextet
Science of Love
Sunnyside SSC 1625

Cellist Hank Roberts’ new album, Science of Love, finds the former 1980s Downtown music scene veteran returning to New York City, after raising a family in Ithaca, New York. Roberts is well known for playing alongside peers like Bill Frisell, Tim Berne, and Mark Dresser, as well as leading ensembles that encapsulate a wealth of folk, rock, classical, and world music influences. Seeking inspiration in the creative energy only a metropolis can provide, Roberts began composing new music in NYC at the end of summer 2015. Later that year he became acquainted with the individuals that would eventually constitute his sextet. Trombonist Brian Drye invited Roberts to perform with his group; multi-reedist Mike McGinnis and pianist Jacob Sacks were sought out by Roberts; McGinnis subsequently introduced Roberts to drummer Vinnie Sperrazza; and Roberts met violinist Dana Lynn playing locally. Roberts then arranged and scored the music during rehearsals and at performances, finally recording the sextet at Oktaven Studios in June 2017.

All the musicians share an inclusive language that incorporates jazz, improv, and classical idioms. As a former trombonist, Roberts has long been attracted to the instrument’s possibilities (as heard on his 1987 JMT debut, Black Pastels) and Drye’s playing aligns perfectly with the composer’s ideas. The combination of trombone, cello, and piano allows Roberts to experiment with low pitch clusters, phrasing, and intonation, contributing to the ensemble’s unique sound, whose instrumentation resembles a small orchestra. Informed by traditional and non-traditional harmony and rhythm, complex frameworks with meticulously arranged voicings extend into abstraction. Roberts provides his sidemen the opportunity to expand upon the written material in their improvisations, with each member’s interpretation building a more communal expression.

The set begins with the rollicking “Sat/Sun Pa Tu X,” a deconstructed expansion of “Saturday/Sunday” from Little Motor People (JMT, 1993). The ambitious “Composition G” follows, a 14-movement suite that dominates the album’s run time. Orchestral in scope, its startling rhythms and kaleidoscopic harmonies create a variety of moods and textures, alternating between thorny counterpoint and chamber-like voicings, as heard in a brooding duet between Roberts and Sacks on “Earth Sky Realms.” “The Sharp Peak of The Science of Love” offers an example of the suite’s breadth, with a gamboling solo by Sacks that complements the music’s inexorable drive. Dynamic strings and close harmony highlight “Shifting Paradigms in Pre GLC 3,” while the slow “Shuffle of GLC Magnetic Floating Stripper” provides an intriguing setting for McGinnis’ soaring soprano. There are similarly vivid solo interludes from all scattered throughout the suite, accentuated by exhilarating ensemble sections. The delicate ballad “205” concludes the program with bittersweet sentimentality.

Reaffirming his penchant for lyricism, Roberts’ heavily arranged tunes are brought to life by the extended improvisations and group interplay of a new generation. The cellist’s move back to the city to compose new music resulted in new friendships, on which he reflected “Of significant inspiration is the tangible force in the universe that creates systems of consciousness, cooperation and life-sustaining energies, Love.” Science of Love is a testament to his perseverance and ability to convey the power of love through music.
–Troy Collins


Ches Smith / We All Break
Path Of Seven Colors
Pyroclastic Records PR 14/15

With the Afro-disaporic music of the Caribbean deep in the music’s “roots and routes” (Amiri Baraka’s phrase), American jazz began to explicitly delve into Caribbean connections in the bebop era: the Afro-Cuban explosion, via Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo, Machito, Mongo Santamaría, and Cándido; Puerto Rico, via Juan Tizol, Ray Barretto and Eddie Palmieri; the calypso undercurrent in Sonny Rollins’ work. Afro-Cuban jazz has continued its legacy, from Irakere to Paquito d’Riveira and Gonzalo Rubulcaba, with Yosvanny Terry’s recent New Throned King (2014) a particularly imaginative celebration of Ararán music. Yet, over the decades, Haiti has never been at the forefront of such work, despite its years of US occupation. In Haiti itself, jazz entered the sphere of cultural influence, principally via the radio, in the 1940s. The resulting transposition, generally known as “djazz,” was exemplified by the competing big bands of Jazz de Jeunes and Arab-Haitian gallery owner Issah el Saieh; as scholar Matthew J. Smith notes, this music mapped – not always in uncomplicated terms – onto new-found black consciousness, pride and “noirisme” in pushback against continuing US political interference.  Djazz, however, tended to be more a hybrid form of dance music for jazz instrumentation than jazz per se; succeeded by the faster-paced, rock influenced kompa, jazz per se never really took hold as it would in Cuba and the Cuban diaspora.

In the 1970s, however, the Duvalier regime led to fresh migration to New York and the evolution of new styles more closely moulded with American jazz, not least among them the work of guitarist Alix “Tit” Pascal. Previously a pianist, Pascal had departed Haiti following an unprovoked shooting attack by a member of Duvalier’s notorious tonton macoute which left him paralyzed from the waist down. Switching to guitar, he acted as musical advisor to dance band Tabou Combo and formed his own band, Ayizan, whose music approximated the interlocking, dialogic nature of Haitian rara drumming through a twin guitar setup, emphasizing the space rara styles left for improvisation and borrowing from the vocabulary of modal jazz. Organizing the music’s entire rhythmic structure around Kreyol lyrics, Ayizan found little success with Anglophone record labels in America; Pascal consequently released their sole album, Dilijans, on his own Determination label in 1984. Drummer Andrew Cyrille, himself of Haitian ancestry, guested with the group, and in 2011 he invited Pascal, along with the late percussionist Frisner Augustin, to join the group Haitian fascination alongside Hamiet Bluiett and bassist Lyle Atkinson, who’d played Afro-Cuban music with Milford Graves in the 1960s. The group’s album, Route des Frères, drew on Cyrille’s memories of trips to Haiti as a child and a re-imagining of his parents’ experience emigrating to the US, and though Augustin passed away in 2012, Cyrille has performed with the project in other iterations, most recently at the 2019 Vision Festival.

To the story of Afro-diasporic music we can now add Ches Smith’s We All Break, a band explicitly inspired by Cyrille’s recording, but perhaps closer in sound to Terry’s New Throned King in its more protracted attempt to integrate traditional music into the framework of post-bop, avant-leaning US jazz. Released on pianist Kris Davis’ Pyroclastic Records, the beautifully produced box set Path of Seven Colors pairs the band’s debut album from 2015, previously self-released, with a new recording from early 2020, alongside two booklets containing Smith’s lengthy and lucid essay on the project, track breakdowns, lyrics and studio photographs. The care that’s gone into the visual presentation is mirrored in Smith’s evident attention to all aspects of the music. As will be common knowledge to those who’ve followed his career from rock band Mr. Bungle to groups led by Craig Taborn and Tim Berne, Smith is himself a white non-Haitian, and the first question he addresses in the liner notes concerns the tricky question of cultural authenticity and appropriation. Having first encountered Vodou rhythms when asked to accompany a Haitian dance class in San Francisco more than twenty years ago, Smith recalls that he initially kept his growing fascination with the music semi-secret out of concerns about “the long history of sketchy behaviour regarding appropriation by persons of my ‘demographic.’” Yet when listeners commented on tendencies in his playing that he’d drawn from his study of Vodou drumming as if they were his own invention, he realised that this silence was in itself, if anything, more problematic – a refusal of acknowledgment rather than the avoidance of colonizing mentality as which it was intentioned. Resolving to explicitly combine the two musics, opening this element of his musical life up for critique and enabling a more honest approach. Having heard Cyrille’s Haitian Fascination through Frisner Augustin, Smith began working in New York with his teachers, Markus Schwartz of Moyzayki and Lakou Brooklyn and Daniel Brevil, musical director of the Rara Tou Limen Haitian Dance Company, in a new project designed to combine the two approaches.

To Smith’s nuanced discussion of appropriation, it should be added that Afro-diasporic cultural forms from Vodou to Cadomblé to Santería, Haiti to Brazil and beyond, have themselves exemplified a diasporic, syncretic form of Blackness that emerged in resistance to the culturally purist subjugation of European colonial regimes. Meanwhile, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Latin varieties of jazz have always been transpositions, fusions, syncretic, cross-cultural forms, often in dialogue with exoticist US expectations and projections of exactly what the Caribbean or the “Latin” might be, from calypso to bossa nova, rhumba to samba. Milford Graves, an African American born in New York, got his professional start playing Cuban music alongside Italian-descended Chick Corea while studying African hand drumming and Indian tabla playing. His mature music would draw on all these elements in the pursuit of what he called “spirit,” a borderless “human feeling.” If such discourse suggests the “universalism” by which the United States conducted its project of Cold War cultural appropriation and colonisation, it also connects to the creolisation of world culture recently noted by George E. Lewis: rather than the cannibalistic, imperial spread of whiteness, its undermining and disintegration. Amiri Baraka makes a similar point in his liner notes to Cyrille’s Haitian Fascination album when he describes in (counter-)Hegelian terms “that feeling of the Afro-Latin gestalt that envelops the whole western world [...] this whole Mundo Nuevo [...] an everyday mix. With the African speech, dun dun, at the base, speaking those many thousand years.” Smith’s position is, of course, more complex in its relation to an Afro-diasporic heritage than of African American musicians like Graves and Cyrille, yet We All Break exists firmly in this tradition, exemplifying a thoroughly collaborative, cross-cultural approach. The titular “break” refers to the kreyol term kase – a sudden alteration in the music sparked by the principal drummer’s introduction of a new rhythm – and that sense of the break, the alternation which contains the seeds for the next moment, suggests something of the music’s changing and varied moves, dropping down and storming back, a thread that was never really broken. This is a music about transition, transaction, the movement across and ahead, and the musicians find countless fascinating ways to play with repetition, development, and changes of direction.

The self-titled 2015 album is more stripped-back in style and instrumentation, with Smith playing drumset and boula drum alongside teachers Brevil and Schwartz on rada and petwo drums, and pianist Matt Mitchell. The music is dominated by Mitchell’s piano: repetitive figures somewhere between the Cuban guajeo (the ostinato accompanying an improvised montuno section), the obsessive repetitions of Roscoe Mitchell’s ‘Nonaah,’ and the angular melodies favoured by saxophonist Tim Berne, with whom both Mitchell and Smith have played. This approach yields unusual, sometimes startling effects, as when a percussion break, with Mitchell’s repeated single notes functioning as an extra drum is suddenly interrupted by a Smith backbeat and the music briefly enters the territory of hip-hop style loops. Highly accomplished as the initial recording is, however, it’s the 2020 recording that really succeeds in integrating the two musics. Smith doubles the band’s size: to the jazz component, he adds bassist Nick Dunston and Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenón – whose own approach to the questions of culture outlined above is suggested by the title to his 2014 album Identities are Changeable – while, on the Haitian percussion side, Brevil and Schwartz are joined Fanfan Jean-Guy Rene and Sirene Dantor Rene, co-leaders of Vodou activist group Fammi Ascot. As Smith notes, it was Brevil who played the key role in selecting traditional Haitian songs and lyrics to fuse with Smith’s original compositions, the Kreyol lyrics, helpfully printed in original and translation in the second booklet, traverse the devotional to the secular and political.

Like the lyrics, the music on both discs is witty, expansive, and full of life. Much thought has clearly gone into neither simply juxtaposing two separate musics nor forcing together disparate entities. Sometimes the percussionists and vocalist play together with the jazz instrumentalists, sometimes Haitian vocal group and jazz band alternate. Smith describes the contrast between the two albums as that between a “vertical” approach (2015) – an overall polytonality – and a “horizontal” one (2020) – traversing multiple tonalities over a short space of time within the course of a single melody. More specifically, the 2020 band pays more explicit reference to traditions such as bell patterns, clave-style rhythms, and a melodic clarity that anchors the music. There is listening and patience here, but there is also fire and joy, exemplified for me in the 2020 recording’s final track, “The Vulgar Cycle.” Dedicated to the trickster gede spirits celebrated on All Souls Day, the track begins with traditional songs played by the Haitian ensemble alone, their lyrics imploring the spirits to “open the gates, so we may pass through” in reference to the divisions between the worlds of spirit and flesh so crucial to Vodou’s holistic conception, while a succeeding secular lyric warns against taking money from the vulnerable, exemplifying the twinned concerns for spiritual and social co-existence that, in Vodou, are inseparable. In the track’s second half, Mitchell delivers a hyper-virtuosic solo, a bebop-plus-whirlwind approach that pushes the boundaries of speed and the heights and depths of the keyboard in constant motion; Zenón delivers slightly acidic bebop lines and he and Mitchell sound out urgent unison riffs, percussion bubbling and boiling underneath, the music ending mid-phrase. Exciting, expansive, and controlled at the same time, such moments exemplify the music’s energy, drive, and joyful agitation.

Recorded in February 2020 just before the global spread of the COVID pandemic, such music offers an expansiveness all the more attractive in a time of social constriction and global uncertainty. More specifically, as I write in August 2021, Haiti is once more rocked by disaster – presidential assassination, a fresh earthquake, yet another stage in the long history of an island whose revolt against imperialism in 1791 marked a key stage in world history but which has struggled to extricate itself from imperial and post-imperial legacies since. This music’s open and exploratory work is not an explicit reckoning with that history, but it suggests a living alternative in sound: container of spirit, index of resistance, maintenance of what’s living in tradition and what brings needed change. Highly recommended.
–David Grundy


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