A Fireside Chat with Evan Parker
AAJ: Manfred Eicher's label has become the standard for independent labels of my time.
EP: That is true. They are still independent in the sense that Manfred Eicher retains complete control over the output and over all the decisions that affect the company. He has not last any independence at all. He has been incredibly successful and very determined to hold onto everything and he has protected it very skillfully. I've known Manfred since before ECM even started. He was a freelance producer before he started his own company and I met him then. We stayed in touch and on good terms ever since. The fact that Steve Lake also works there are the producer responsible for the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, the relationship with Steve goes back very many years. When there is an understanding between people, it just becomes more rewarding to stay in touch and to stay working at things. Maybe this brings us back to that first question or one of the early questions you asked, Fred. When you sense that other people are in it for life, you can work with them. You know the degree of commitment is there.
AAJ: Having been a member of Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, you played alongside Louis Moholo, but even the Brotherhood of Breath's eventual conclusion, you have collaborated with him on numerous occasions.
EP: We do projects together and we play pretty much, not every month, but we do six or seven concerts a year with a small group in a particular club in London. I know we both value very much the opportunity to get together. We're different people, but we are also very similar people. Louis is fantastically committed to free playing. He has a brilliant spirit and a brilliant personal approach to it. I didn't met him before he went to South America with Steve Lacy, Enrico (Rava), and Johnny Dyani, that famous trip where they all got stranded somewhere in Argentina or somewhere (Forest and the Zoo), but I met him when he came back and we've stayed in touch since then. We've played together, obviously, in the Brotherhood of Breath and subsequent to the death of all the other guys in that band, we've stayed together to make the Dedication Orchestra projects and even the reunion of that, which we've just done a tour in England. The last word I had of him was by email from Steve Beresford to say that Louis wants us to go to South Africa with the Foxes Fox project. Yeah, that is another friendship which is alive and working.
AAJ: Friendship brings to mind Alex von Schlippenbach, who you feature in the trio along with Paul Lytton for this extensive North American tour. Does it ever get old?
EP: That's right. Well, there are those two schools of thought. One, which is that somehow you need constant new relationships with new musicians, unknown factors in the music, in order to keep the improvisations fresh. But I think, although I value that kind of meeting, new people, obviously, there is a lot of excitement in that, but there is also great benefits in working with the same people. We have now come to the end of this five week period with Alex and Paul, but when we go home, we may not see one another again until the end of the year. So it is not like you are playing every week with the same people. It is just that when you stay in touch with certain people and you play every year, concerts after concerts, then, of course, the understanding gets tighter and the communication gets more rapid and more intuitive. The level of understanding grows. I think that is a natural development and for me, it is an interesting part of the mechanisms of free improvisation.
AAJ: Critics always pine for the "golden age." In free improvisation, such a "golden age" is perceived to have passed with Albert Ayler and the extinction of the loft scene.
EP: I think we are starting to see a kind of maturity coming into the music, which was there with rough edges at the beginning, but whether you analyze the playing of individuals. The proliferation of solo recordings makes it possible to look at the way each individual has developed in their relationship with their own vision and also the way the approach to group music has evolved. I think what we are seeing now is a more mature music that comes out of those processes of evolution and refinement and it will continue in that way. If you take the golden age to be that point in time where the basic assumptions were made or the fundamental connections between the key people were made, then of course, there was a golden age. But by defining it in those terms, you've automatically ruled out the possibility of now being considered in those terms. What was missing then was that refinement and that evolution, which was inherent in that nexus of time and place and people.