The follow-up to Roscoe Mitchell's Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3 (ECM, 2007), Evan Parker's Boustrophedon features the saxophonist/improviser conducting and playing with the Transatlantic Art Ensemble, a collected group of musicians from Europe and the U.S. brought together to perform these two semi-composed works for a Symposium for Improvised Music in Munich. The group, consisting of former and current participants in both men's careers, is a broad and accomplished collection of musicians fully capable of realizing Parker's unique vision.
The work consists of six "furrows," book-ended by an overture and finale. Each furrow is designed to highlight two members of the group, one from each side of the Atlantic, a method allowing for a conversational approach throughout. "Overture," leads off with a splattering of notes building from soft drum lines into an amalgam of flute, piano, flugelhorn, and others before leading seamlessly into "Furrow 1," where Neil Metcalfe's already prominent flute takes center stage over the uncertain chordal outlining beneath. When Craig Taborn joins Metcalfe on piano, the piece further descends into its beautiful ambiguity.
"Furrow 2" highlights the string talents of Phil Wachsmann (violin) and Nils Bultmann (viola), a duet which continues in the direction explored in the previous section. Large orchestral swells occasionally move the piece into more kinetic territory before cellist Marcio Mattos and alto saxophonist Anders Svanoe take the piece toward a more driven sound in "Furrow 3," as the whole band dances about them with spurts of sound.
"Furrow 4" features clarinetist John Rangecroft and trumpeter Corey Wilkes. Rangecroft's clarinet smoothly recedes the torrential build-up of the previous section as he takes a dance-like solo before the orchestra adorns it with color. When Wilkes joins the conversation, it quickly turns the sound from one of the more overtly classical sounding sections of the piece into one of the jazzier ones. Wilkes' bellowing creates some unique and other-worldly sounds that mesh seamlessly with the rest of the band's entrances.
"Furrow 5" teams up bassists Jaribu Shahid and Barry Guy for a slow and rich tonal exploration of the instrument's characteristic warmth and resonance. Eventually hastening their pace, the orchestra soon joins in, driving the work forward with great force before tapering off for "Furrow 6." Beginning with all strings, this section features Parker and Mitchell as its soloists, and it is surely the most moving and rich section of the bunch, with Parker's circular breathing soprano solo riding high over the dark textures of the strings before Mitchell enters, swinging the piece away from its dark exploration into a more traditionally jazzy sound.
By the time of the "Finale," the piece is back to the same ground on which it started, stark and erratic with brief chordal swellings. It is a beautiful and fitting end to an hour-long composition that loses none of the excitement of Parker's Spontaneous Music Ensemble. Though this may be his most fully composed work, it is equallyif not moreexciting than what those familiar with his music have come to expect from him.
Personnel: Evan Parker: soprano saxophone; Roscoe Mitchell: alto and soprano saxophones; Anders Svanoe; alto saxophone; John Rangecroft: clarinet; Neil Metcalfe: flute; Corey Wilkes: trumpet, flugelhorn; Nils Bultmann: viola; Philipp Wachsmann: violin; Marcio Mattos: cello; Craig Taborn: piano; Jaribu Shahid: double-bass; Barry Guy: double-bass; Tani Tabbal: drums, percussion; Paul Lytton: drums, percussion.