David Rothenberg: Why Birds Sing & Evan Parker With Birds

Kurt Gottschalk By

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David Rothenberg
Why Birds Sing
Terra Nova

What higher compliment could be paid a singer than to say she (Sarah Vaughan, perhaps) sings like a bird. And certainly any saxophonist would be proud to be compared to Bird. The birds set the standard, perhaps outclass human musicians, which might be why we don't let them join our bands. For the most part, at least. Clarinetist, author, and philosophy professor David Rothenberg is willing to jam with the blue jays (and the grasshopper warbler, laughing thrush and lyrebird) on Why Birds Sing, a set of songs recorded in aviaries, against tapes of birdsongs and with songbirds in mind (on display at Cornelia Street Café last month).

He's a good player, and is joined on various tracks by flute, guitar, tuba and percussion (and some unfortunate electronics on one track), achieving what he set out to do: merging the intentional music of an improviser with the more mysterious sounds of feathered friends. Rothenberg is also the author of a book with the same title, an exploration of theories about why birds sing.

Evan Parker
Evan Parker With Birds

It's not just any bird that gets to sit in with Evan Parker—and in fact none really do on the charming Evan Parker with Birds. Rather, Parker plays more or less solo, joined by John Coxon and Ashley Wales (billed on other releases as Spring Heel Jack), processing prerecorded bird sounds to accompany the saxophonist.

In one sense it's a sort of fantasy solo disc (and few stand up to Parker's unaccompanied horn), but it's also an extension of the remarkable work the electronicists did on their series of Thirsty Ear discs. There they created beautiful washes without ever stepping on the toes of their collaborators (Parker among them) and here they do the same, only with nature sounds. It could be New Age if you want it to be—hell, it could be a walk in the forest if you just close your eyes—but it's also forty minutes with one of the greatest improvisers we have.

The gold relief kangaroo on the cardboard sleeve suggests a very different setting, but still points to an unusual, understated work of art. Evan Parker with Birds is one of the first three Treader releases, all limited editions that were summarily snatched up like worms stared down by early birds.

Why Birds Sing

Tracks: Trio Menura [live]; Spheral, Spheral; Beezus, Beeten, Breep [live]; Temperate Woodland [live]; Bou Bou Swell; Sheer Frustration, Really [live]; The Lyrebird Suite [live]; Pillow of Air [live]; White-Crested Laugh [live]; The Language of Water; Rhythm Migration; No Water and No Rock

Personnel: David Rothenberg: (clarinets, overtone flute, electronics); Michael Pestel: (flute); John Wieczorek: (percussion); Petri Kuljuntausta: (live treatments); Robert Jurjendal: (guitar); Richard Nunns: (Maori flutes); Patrick Donahue: (tuba)

Evan Parker With Birds

Tracks: #1, #2, #3, #4
Personnel: Evan Parker: (saxophone); Spring Heel Jack: )electronics)


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