Saxophonist Evan Parker's marvelous and moving Boustrophedon is a companion piece to saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell's Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3 (ECM, 2007), recorded live in Munich the night before Mitchell's suite and using the same musicians, The Transatlantic Art Ensemble. Both Parker and Mitchell were commissioned to compose music for a symposium for improvised music, meaning real-time creativity, as well as the mixture of the composed and the improvised.
Comparison between the works is inevitable, but they are more different than alike, demonstrating that, even with the same musical forces (hand-picked by both leaders) at their disposal, creativity knows no bounds. Parker's work does sound more organically conceived, but then again, Mitchell's recording contains selected movements from a larger work.
What is fascinating is how expertly Parker has merged composition (including "suggestive composition") with improvisation, even more so than Mitchell. As the music unfolds, and the individual parts and lines in varying registers come together, the result sounds directed and controlled, hence composed. However, each particular part, when listened to in isolated concentration, sounds very free (within the constraints of the surrounding music) and, hence, improvised.
Boustrophedon translates as "like an ox plowing" and is used to mean writing in which alternating lines are read in opposite directionslike an ox is turned around at the end of each furrow. This does not mean, however, that the music is meant or can be heard as being reversed in each section. However, one must assume that the name has some intention. The piece consists of six "Furrows" surrounded by an "Overture" and a "Finale," with each "Furrow" highlighting a pairing of musicians from each side of the Atlantic, thus providing diversity by contrasting timbres and improvisational styles.
While the material for each "Furrow" seems unrelated, there is an undeniable sense of forward movement and development (enhanced by the lack of space between each) from the opening drums of the "Overture" to the widely spaced chords separating ten "cadenzas" by the highlighted players in the "Finale." Along the way, the "Furrows" are connected by Taborn's piano presence, as they reach a preparatory climax in "Furrow 5" that feeds into the mighty "Furrow 6."
"Furrow 5" begins with Shahib and Guy playing an intense and ominous duet, but then the piano, playing a repeating figure, and drums enter with the first overt pulse thus far, pushing and carrying the basses forward into "Furrow 6."
Parker and Mitchell both get a chance to shine in this movement that features a vague Middle Eastern scale supported by a deep pedal point. The pure sound produced is glorious, washing away all before it.
With Boustrophedon Parker presents music that defies categorization and gives meaning to space and time during its duration.