2 x 3 = 5
Leo / CDLR305
Evan Parker / saxophones, Alex von Schlippenbach / piano, Barry Guy / bass, Paul Lovens / drums, Paul Lytton / drums
Was it coincidence or bizarre choice that Parker should kick off this epic hour-and-a-quarter jam with the same five notes which open “A Love Supreme”, played with almost exactly the same inflection? Probably the former, but it’s a very odd moment every time you put it on. It’s not the only one, either.
Not that there’s anything gimmicky here; it is just as it appears, a quintet session of reeds, piano, bass and double percussion. It does some of the expected things, with breakdowns into trios and duets, whether planned or not, giving shape and variety to the piece.
It’s Parker’s sound which is extraordinary here, nothing like what we’re accustomed to. He attacks the music with an iron tone on tenor, sounding like Pharaoh Sanders, at the height of his powers, having just dropped something heavy on his foot. Parker roars through this set, playing all sorts of things which will surprise even those who know his music well.
Partly it’s the presence of Schlippenbach which explains this. The two have worked regularly together for many years, and although this side of Parker’s work is less well-known, it’s clearly something he feels deeply connected with. And what they play is jazz; Schlippenbach, on this session, is under the considerable shadow of Cecil Taylor. As for the saxophonist’s approach, one is reminded of another atypical Parker record, “The Fire Tale”, his duet with the barnstorming Borah Bergman.
Parts of that session didn’t really work — for all that Parker might like to be a high-energy tearaway, he works best when he has room to manoeuvre — and there are sections here with don’t quite happen for the same reasons. To be fair on the saxophonist, however, he does blow for all he’s worth, and while this may not win any awards for subtlety the quality of his playing at such full tilt is still exceptionally high.
Putting Lytton and Lovens together was a recipe for only one thing, and that’s what you get: in the quiet passages a pitter-pattering and in the loud passages a wall of continuously exploding noise. Again, not much room for nuances, but that seems most definitely not to have to have been what this group was formed to do.
Schlippenbach, for instance, spends much of his time whaling on the keyboard with more enthusiasm than judgement, but when he takes a solo it’s typically thoughtful and full of ingenious development. As members of the group join him, they shore him up more and more, but they can’t maintain the momentum. Guy starts a soloistic contribution, the group wobbles and — gasp — the music suddenly peters out.
They pick it up, of course, but this seems illustrative of the sacrifice one makes when playing music of this density. Even people as smart and quick-witted as these guys will falter if they try to get too clever. The reason this is a problem is that it isn’t really comfortable ground for any of them, and there are times when, quite honestly, they all sound a bit lost.
All of which makes the record sound like a disaster, which it isn’t. It’s natural that a single improvisation of such length will have dodgy moments. Many listeners will be happy enough with the payoff between the attention to detail for which all of these players are known and the exhilarating energy they’re reaching for here. Those who have seen him live will know that Parker can raise the roof when he wants to, and this was obviously one of those occasions. This writer, however, would be surprised if he chose to record like this, with this group, in the more reflective atmosphere of the studio. Richard Cochrane