Almost as much as I struggled with the bland mainstream wash of Jessica Williams, I struggle with 'non-idiomatic' free improvisation and its radical (but all too predictable) sounds. I always like to distinguish this music from free-jazz, and despite having huge admiration for the likes of Evan Parker and Derek Bailey, who are and were respectively true originals, I find their sounds only mildly engaging over short intervals.
I don't need to add much to my comments on the recent Unsolicited Music Ensemble posting, but am pleased to have investigated improv enough to arrive at a point where autobiographical connections to this beguling but ultimately alienating music can be used.
EVAN PARKER & GUESTS
Free Zone Appleby 2002
PSI (03.02/3 2CD)
Gong (For Phil Seamen); Whitethroat; Re Eden; Subject Matters; Dunsany; Ferber String Quartet; Pin Drop; Sense; Phantoms; Pica Pica; MGT4ALL; Morsman Octet.
Evan Parker (ss); John Rangecroft (cl); Neil Metcalfe (f); John Edwards (b); Marcio Mattos (clo); Mark Sanders (perc); Philipp Wachsmann (vn, elec); Sylvia Hallett (v, vn, sarang).
Recorded July 2002.
Neil Ferber has been promoting jazz in the picturesque Cumbrian market town of Appleby for a good ten years now. Starting with Stan Tracey and then branching out to cover a who’s who of English jazz, he has always been a staunch supporter of the idiomatically ambiguous music of Evan Parker. Memorable collaborations with Marilyn Crispell and Keith Tippett’s ‘Mujician’ thrillingly blurred the boundaries between free-jazz and improvised music, and linger long in my memory. Presented on the main stage in the early days, the alarming tendency of festival-goers to flee the marquee whenever Parker appeared exposed the troublesome issues of tolerance and diversity with regard to his ‘difficult’ music. Ferber stuck to his guns though and came up with a separatist solution - the ‘Free Zone’ - a festival within a festival.
Given free licence to invite musical guests to perform in the unique surroundings of St Michael’s church, Parker now has his very own version of ‘Company Week’ for one afternoon a year. This collection presents the 2002 edition, where the balance of artists is loaded heavily towards ‘chamber’ instruments, leading to a very post-serialist sound. Almost without exception, the performers seem unable to break out of the ritualistic process of free improvisation, and the results are both forensically clinical and self-indulgently sprawling. Players seem to be striving towards a composition that is just never quite within reach. Only John Edwards’ solo bass feature and the opening section of the octet contain any suspense or surprise. I stopped attending the ‘Free Zone’ three years ago when the roster of artists and their pared-down aesthetic became excruciatingly predictable.
Sadly, because Parker is a true original and has been a great innovator, the event is now a literal festival side-show, relying on the good will of Ferber rather than ticket sales for its survival. If old-school improvised music is to have any future relevance to more than an ever diminishing circle of cognoscenti, its creative spark must somehow be rekindled. Perhaps recent work with Springheel Jack and William Parker’s talented acolytes is just the type of cross-fertilisation Parker needs? This is one for members of the audience and obsessive collectors only, I’m afraid.
(Jazz Review, September 2003)