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Evan Parker 80th Birthday Celebration


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On 6 April, the day after his 80th birthday, North London's Cafe Oto hosted a virtually sold out two-day celebration in honor of groundbreaking saxophone icon Evan Parker, bringing together a host of colleagues from across his career. Contingents from North America and Europe swelled the ranks of local well-wishers and were rewarded by some marvelous music reflecting different aspects of his artistry.

Starting off proceedings on the Saturday evening, the saxophonist revisited one of his most loved albums Evan Parker With Birds (Treader, 2004) in the company of the tapes and electronics of Spring Heel Jack (John Coxon and Ashley Wales). They accomplished an ideal solution to the enticing but often unsatisfying proposition of juxtaposing an instrumentalist and normally unresponsive ambient sounds, by manipulating field recordings and sound effects to answer Parker's soprano saxophone aerobatics, making it a truly interactive, and in this case almost meditative, meeting.

Rounding off the first evening one of Parker's most enduring units, the fabled free improv supergroup with bassist Barry Guy and drummer Paul Lytton demonstrated a stunning potency. Their set of dizzying, unfettered interplay was exhilarating, sparking a visceral thrill when all three pushed the foot to the floor. The speed of response betrayed no age-related dampening of the firing neurons, while momentary connections vouchsafed intent and shared purpose.

The Sunday afternoon began with drummer Mark Sanders' percussion ensemble, completed by Miles Levin, Jim Bashford and Tymek Jozwiak. They curated a blend of textures and rhythm which made their careful listening palpable, stirring from delicate rustling beginnings to thunderous crescendo and back again, without ever obscuring anyone's contribution. That was followed by a volcanic solo set by bassist extraordinaire John Edwards. His energy and physicality, conjuring a rich tapestry of cadence from every part of his instrument, ensured a riveting experience. Finally the whole cast joined with Parker for an incendiary close to the session, inciting him to some of his most blistering tenor saxophone playing.

After that Parker needed a break, one provided when the last leg of the event on the Sunday evening kicked off with the long-established duo of Aki Takase and Alexander von Schlippenbach, seated beside one another at the Cafe Oto grand. They gave a dazzling recital of compositions which mingled the abstract and the syncopated in equal measure. The highlight was perhaps their take on a piece from Bach's Well Tempered Clavier, that rampaged off the page and into the boondocks, but which was the perfect combination of what guitarist Sonny Sharrock once termed "the terror and the beauty."

For the last set, Parker returned with Matthew Wright's Trance Map Plus, which also included Guy and Lytton, and supplemented them with cellist Hannah Marshall, the electronics of Pat Thomas, Ned Rothenberg on clarinet and Peter van Bergen on bass clarinet. In a kaleidoscope of live sound and real time processing it was sometimes unclear where the circular breathed squalls originated, but that was perhaps appropriate for a performance in which the communal quilting trumped the individual stitches.

The entire heartwarming event was an affirmation of not only Parker's place in the creative music pantheon, but also the respect and affection which he still inspires.
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