Over the course of a dozen years and four albums, British saxophonist Evan Parker's groundbreaking Electro-Acoustic Ensemble has grown in size and scope, from the sextet that released Toward the Margins (ECM, 1997)and still remains at the core of the group todayto the 11-piece ensemble responsible for The Eleventh Hour (ECM, 2005). Retaining the careful balance between acoustic instrumentation and electronics, sampling, and processing, the 14-piece Electro-Acoustic Ensemble on The Moment's Energy adds more instrumentation in the form of Peter Evans (trumpets), Ned Rothenberg (clarinets, shakuhachi) and Ko Ishikawa (shō, a reed-based Japanese mouth organ). The result is an album where there's both greater density and delineation, an even broader dynamic scope and, quite simply, one of the most ambitious mixtures of form and freedom, and extant and new-found textures.
The innovations of the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble continue to expand, finding new ways to marry technology and conventional instrumentationalbeit oftentimes with unorthodox approaches, including Parker's remarkable and seemingly endless circular breathing, Rothenberg's percussive approach and incredible intervallic leaps, and pianist Agustí Fernández's prepared piano.
The 62-minute, seven-part title suite may not be for the faint-at-heart, but for the open-minded it's a lengthy exploration of music that also expands the concept of live recording. All of the material was recorded at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddlesfield, UK, but only a small portion comes from the ensemble's actual concert ("The Moment's Energy Part IV" and the closing "Incandescent Clouds," which goes from jagged, swirling sonic intensity to delicate near-silence over the course of five minutes), with the rest recorded at sessions on the days leading up to the performance. Post-production, in this context, is equally important as the plethora of sounds generated were later molded into shape by Parker, engineer Steve Lowe and ECM producer Steve Lake. It brings new meaning to the concept of composition, where what is heard in concert is nowhere close to what is heard on record, but nevertheless occupies the same conceptual sphere.
It's also a new approach to composition in that the performances are truly collective improvisations, yet the end result is nothing less than a deliberate, structured pieceeven if it lacks conventional markers like melody and pulse. Instead, it's an expansive work of no small resonance, ranging from harsh dissonance and relentless energy to ethereal atmospherics and spare colors. Instruments ebb and flow from the mix, as do the electronic sounds and live, reprocessed samples that seamlessly mesh throughout.
It's no surprise that Parker won a Hamlyn Foundation Award for composition in 2008 as a result of the music heard on The Moment's Energy. While there's less of a clear roadmap here than on Parker's Boustrophedon (ECM, 2008), in many ways that only makes The Moment's Energy all the more remarkable. A composition that could never be performed the same way twice, its careful construction of sound in real-time and post-production makes for an ambitiously considered experience of great power and unsettling subtlety.
Track Listing: The Moment's Energy: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII; Incandescent Clouds.
Personnel: Evan Parker: soprano saxophone; Peter Evans: trumpet, piccolo trumpet; Ko Ishikawa: shō; Ned Rothenberg: clarinet, bass clarinet, shakuhachi; Phillip Wachsmann: violin, live electronics; Agustí Fernández: piano, prepared piano; Barry Guy: double-bass; Paul Lytton: percussion, live electronics; Lawrence Casserley: signal processing instrument; Joel Ryan: sample and signal processing; Walter Prati: computer processing; Richard Barrett: live electronics; Paul Obermayer: live electronics; Marco Vecchi: sound projection.