Agusti Fernandez and Evan Parker
Tel Aviv, Israel
September 4 and 5, 2008
Catalan pianist Agusti Fernandez and English master reed player Evan Parker have been cooperating for more than a decade in different formations, as a duo on Tempranillo
(Nova Era, 1996), on the collaborative quartet Topos
(Maya, 2007) and on Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble's The Eleventh Hour
(ECM, 2005). Both are master improvisers and both are gifted with a highly idiosyncratic musical language that sounds like it's never abandoning a desire to push beyond its expressive limits. On their first visit to Israel they were featured in two concerts of solo performances, duos and trios with Israeli reed player Assif Tsahar. A third concert, which I unfortunately missed, presented Parker with Israeli musicians.
Fernandez opened the first night with a mesmerizing solo concert. He began by rubbing the piano strings with his bare hands and, later, with a metal bowl and a wood block, creating delicate, vibrating overtones, leaving them space to linger before articulating the next sound. He even gently shook the whole piano to stress these reverberations. The resulting, often unworldly, sounds were later transformed into a more coherent pattern when Fernandez began to play the keyboard. Then you could appreciate how he uses these subtle sounds as references to mark much more elaborate patterns, often sounding minimalist and impressionist, but never at a loss of intensity.
Fernandez continued to play polyphonic chords while still toying with the strings before climaxing with a violent, repetitivealmost in a Steve Reich-ian modehammering of the keys, again creating resonating overtones just by the sheer force of his strong and percussive touch.. It was an extraordinary experience to see Fernandez improvise/compose such a multilayered and cohesive piece of music.
There were no surprises during the Parker solo recital for any one who has followed his solo endeavors over the last decades. Parker's playing transmits a total command of his instruments as well as a mature tranquility, though the music's logic calls for uncompromising sonic storms. Parker alternated between the soprano and tenor saxophone, on the former instrument playing two extended and dense solos featuring his unique approach to circular breathing, one enabling him to sustain notes and to develop them at the same time. His two solos on the tenor sax employed a different approach, one emphasizing longer lines and a more linear method of improvising/composing, in contrast to the snake-ish, elliptical lines of the soprano sax. After completing four breath-taking solos, he said modestly: "I don't have anything more to say" bringing the first magical night to a conclusion.
The second night featured Fernandez, Parker and Assif Tsahar playing in duos and, eventually, as a trio. These sets showed the intimacy between Fernandez and Parker, as well as the adaptability of Tsahar to the impressionistic musical language of Fernandez and to the energized and complex language of Parker. The young Israeli musician was unassuming enough not to challenge the two masters but honest and bold enough in his playing to hold is own as a worthy colleague in this elite league of free improvisers.