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Live From New York

Evan Parker At The Stone

By Published: October 30, 2009
October 15, 2009

This was a particular highlight of the season, given English guitarist Fred Frith's elusive nature on the live platform (at least in many cities). Also, he was one of the less likely playing partners in this run. And there was the music too! The pair appeared immediately relaxed, and more prone to having a guffaw than most of the previous teamings. It's not clear whether this is a natural vibration between the two, or if Parker was now becoming more settled at The Stone after two weeks in residence. By the time the second set took off, they were even more at home.

Frith's being is so visually and sonically active that he had a tendency to remove the attention from Parker, particularly during the first set. He's a blur of utter resourcefulness, switching from the usual guitar position to laying it on his knees and applying a vast array of extraneous devices, aiming to transmogrify the sound of the strings, yet retain an essentially distinctive tone. He slipped off his slip-ons, going barefoot on his extended semi-circle of effects pedals. Frith has a volume fader for each foot, and presumably one of them is linked to the pick-ups attached just below his machine head.

Over the decades, Frith has evolved a complete alternative vocabulary, and even though other guitarists might utilize some of these common practices, none can deftly amalgamate his entire language. It's an extremely cutting combination of dexterous string-attack, distortion, sampling, waggled attachments and volume swoops. Initially, it was as though Frith wasn't listening to Parker, but this might have been caused by the audience still coming to terms with the guitarist's dense event-catalog. Only after a certain period of adjustment could the viewer impart a democratic spread of attention. The second set found Parker becoming increasingly dominant, as Frith toned down the visuals (with their resulting sonics), playing more in the conventional position, and even playing more rhythmically and riffingly.

Parker swapped between soprano and tenor with unvarying inevitability, but his actual output was anything but predictable. Each of the extended improvisations could change shape in turn from fractured gabbling to ambient texture-laying, the latter tendencies once again seducing Parker into an area that's not particularly his natural home. Every micro mood-change made by Frith produces a continually shape-changing rush of sounds. Parker was snuffling soprano bell into kneecap, or emitting high peals that instantly joined up with a Frith feedback manipulation. Frith spread out tin lids, bowls and paintbrushes on his prone strings, then clattered harshly as he dropped a chain sharply onto whichever metal receptacle. He'd e-bow an organ tone, then sample a palm-beat or a harmonic finger-pattern. Parker would chatter at an even greater speed.

This was improvisation of magnificent substance.

Evan Parker/Tim Berne/Earl Howard

October 16, 2009

The set was originally billed as a saxophone trio, but it turned out that Earl Howard was more interested in probing his electronics side. He was playing a synthesizer, but creating sounds that would be more commonly found within an electroacoustic computer program. The remaining horns were handled by Parker and Tim Berne, one of the more unusual couplings in this Stone residency. The meeting of these two stringent strategists produced some resonant harmonies, particularly when Parker chose soprano to clash with Berne's alto. They were working in an entwined fashion, very conscious of the music's whole. Howard was padding around them, sometimes capturing their sonic matter and shaping it anew. His electronic palette was particularly strong in its avoidance of any warbling cliches. At one point, Howard decided to pick up his alto, joining in as the trio formulated a precise interlocking of high frequencies and rippling accumulations. Once again, Parker found himself experiencing a completely different journey with the evening's chosen partners. This was the season's key success: that the saxophonist could constantly renew himself each night, consistently finding fresh musical zones to inhabit.

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