Derek Bailey and Evan Parker: Incus reissues

John Eyles By

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The happy coincidence of solo recordings by guitarist Derek Bailey and saxophonist Evan Parker being reissued in quick succession provides a convenient opportunity to reflect on the association of two of the most influential improvisers of their generation.

Bailey and Parker first played together in March 1967, recording as part of a Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME) that also included trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, trombonist Paul Rutherford, saxophonist Trevor Watts, bassist Barry Guy and drummer John Stevens. At the time, Bailey was 37, Parker was 22. Two years later, they were part of the line-up that recorded drummer Tony Oxley's seminal album The Baptised Traveller (Sony/Columbia, 1969). In 1970, Bailey, Oxley and Parker founded Incus Records, "the first independent musician-run record company in Britain," and the rest in history...

As well as playing in several large groupings such as SME, both Bailey and Parker developed the art of solo improvisation on their instruments, and also played as a duo. Their last recording together was in 1985, for the duo LP Compatibles (Incus, 1985). Soon after, they parted company musically and as business partners.

Bailey continued to run Incus Records until his death on Christmas Day 2005, from motor neurone disease. Parker set up his own label, Psi Records, in 2001. April 5th 2009 was his 65th birthday.

Derek Bailey
Lot 74

Recorded in 1974, Lot 74 was Bailey's second solo recording for Incus. It was released on vinyl (as Incus LP 12). This is its first appearance on CD. It is faithful to the original, with no additional tracks added (so faithful that the tracks are even listed as being on "side 1" and "side 2").

Side 1 consists solely of the title track. Martin Davidson, who recorded the piece at his home, reports that for technical reasons the released track was actually the third take, and that Bailey himself preferred the first two takes. However, based on the aural evidence it is difficult to fathom what Bailey may have found lacking in this third take. He used his stereo electro-acoustic set-up, and the recorded sound is highly appealing as notes fade in, swell and decay, or ring out with a bell-like clarity. With some phrases recurring, the piece has a remarkable logic and structure that carry the listener along throughout its 22 minute duration.

Side 2 consists of five shorter pieces. The abiding influence of the dramatic howling feedback piece "Together" is plain to hear. On two of the five, Bailey plays his unamplified 19-string (approx.) guitar rather than his more usual unmodified guitars. On "Pain In The Chest," the instrument imbues the piece with an almost eastern feel.

"Improvisation 104 (b)" closes the album and is the longest of the five at six minutes. Recorded in 1973, it was originally released on one of Incus's three inch reel-to-reel tapes, known as Taps. Yes, the world was a different place back in 1974. Nonetheless, Lot 74 is far more than mere nostalgia or history; it is fine music that would have been appreciated at any time from 1974 onwards.

Given the later rift between Bailey and Parker, "In Joke (Take 2)" makes poignant listening. It is one of Bailey's renowned "chats". In it, amidst flurries of notes, he jovially reminisces about the early days of free music in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as if from years in the future. Particularly noteworthy is this quote: "I remember Evan Parker. Wonderful chap. Came from Twickenham."

Speaking of which...

Evan Parker
Saxophone Solos

Saxophone Solos was Evan Parker's first solo saxophone album. When he recorded it in 1975, solo sax recordings were still comparatively scarce. Anthony Braxton and Steve Lacy had each released influential solo albums, but in Britain Parker was a lone pioneer of solo sax (his only rival for that title being Lol Coxhill).

This CD includes the original four tracks from the vinyl release, "Aerobatics 1 to 3," recorded live—again, by Martin Davidson—at Parker's first solo concert in June 1975, plus the studio-recorded "Aerobatics 4". They are coupled with nine more studio-recorded tracks that were issued on a rare cassette included as part of Incus's 1989 Collected Solos Parker box set. Those "Aerobatics" titles were well chosen; Parker performs the musical equivalents of looping the loop, barrel rolling and spinning, defying gravity. And to do so, he needed concentration and stamina equal to any stunt pilot!

As well as exhilarating music, the album captures Parker exploring the language, syntax and methods he has employed and developed ever since. He experiments with note duration, embouchure, attack and breathing. No, it wasn't "woodshedding"; remember most of it took place in live performance.

Opinions differ about Parker's "best" solo album, with Monoceros (Chronoscope, 1994; not yet re-released on Psi), The Snake Decides (Psi, 2003) and Lines Burnt In Light (Psi, 2001) all having their advocates. Whichever it is, Saxophone Solos is sure to contain the roots of its music and methods. As with the Bailey album above, this is not only of historical interest but also fine music in its own right.

Tracks and Personnel

Lot 74

Tracks: Lot 74; Together; Pain In The Chest; Planks; In Joke (Take 2); Improvisation 104 (b).

Personnel: Derek Bailey: guitar.

Saxophone Solos

Tracks: Aerobatics 1; Aerobatics 2; Aerobatics 3; Aerobatics 4; Aerobatics 5 The Light Of The understanding And The Fire; Aerobatics 6 Equinox Memorable Equinox; Aerobatics 7 Shadows Of The Evening; Aerobatics 8 The Dark Nurse; Aerobatics 9 Not With The Fire In Me Now; Aerobatics 11 Shadows Of The Opus...Magnum; Aerobatics 12 The Vision At Last; Aerobatics 13 And The Aspirations; Aerobatics 14 And The Resolutions.

Personnel: Evan Parker: soprano saxophone.

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