John Zorn's intimate venue, The Stone, bases its calendar around selections made by invited curators, but few of them elect to actually perform on all dates of their given stint. The English saxophonist Evan Parker chose to appear at every gig of his two week residency, mostly in a duo setting, but occasionally expanding into a trio format. Audiences were at full capacity for the duration, and musical landscapes were significantly varied.
Parker's duet with the Chinese guzheng player Wu Fei offered a rare chance to hear the saxophonist in a spacious, near-minimalist habitat. Wu Fei has been living in the States for nearly a decade, and released the Yuan album in 2008, on Zorn's Tzadik label. She too has been a curator at The Stone. The guzheng has much in common with the Japanese koto, and is a large, bridged zither-like instrument. The player wears fingertip pluckers, and also has the option of using a slide device.
This meeting was high on empathy. The development of each piece, as Parker switched between soprano and tenor horns, took on the quality of pre-composed music, so precisely attuned were the pair. Wu Fei kept her eyes on Parker, echoing or doubling, sometimes prompting a fresh direction. She could strike quite violently, but this action might be followed by a silken stroke. Parker united fingers and breath into a furred tenor whisper, or keened sharply on soprano, rippling out shrill co-habiting frequencies, sustained into a pure tonal presence. Parker was leaving more than the usual quota of pauses in his lines, found at his most meditational.
The second set provided a fitting contrast, as well as sharing certain facets. Parker was reviving an old partnership with Joe McPhee, deliberately limiting himself to single horn, thus creating a twin-tenor format. Once again, the pair's pieces were so organized, so instinctively united in their sudden conclusions, that a sense of controlled composition pervaded. Parker and McPhee were working through conjoined tonal and rhythmic patterns, springing very much from a jazz foundation, but still maintaining abstraction. Their combined tones reminded the listener just how good these horns sound within The Stone. Its ceiling is just the right height, the simple space perfect for cosseting its inhabitants. Often, the two would share a sound, either showering fleet linear runs, stuttering pocked half-lines or just fingering without mouths being involved. Alternatively, one player would step aside, contrasting his mode with the other's, setting up a variance. During the last fifteen minutes or so, it was hard to escape the sense of their beginning to exhaust the possibilities (wilting in the heat), but this was largely a set to be savored intently.
Evan Parker/John Zorn/Ned Rothenberg
October 8, 2009
A keen sense of anticipation was in place for Parker's duet with John Zorn. The gig was at capacity around thirty minutes before its very prompt start. Once again, Parker left his soprano downstairs, set on being the abraded-velvet counterpoint to Zorn's rattling alto. There was only one plastic chair left in the performance space, and Zorn grabbed it, momentarily making Parker believe that he desperately needed to sit down for the set. Not so, as Zorn hasn't quite become the elder statesman of squall. He just wanted an aid for his characteristic leg-up/horn-into-thigh posture. Their launching salvo was in reality the epitome of youthful raging, though directed with a supremely controlled old-guy precision. Zorn was self-limiting sounds with his camouflage trousers, clipping curt blarts, throttling in a contained manner. Parker was being more lyrical, more avant-Coleman Hawkins, but at a racing pace. This first improvisation made the audience tense and breathless just as bystanders. Once again, Parker found a new mood, playing in a very different fashion when compared with his McPhee duet the day before. This was getting back to the roots of what probably inspired Zorn in his youth. They couldn't possibly sustain such extremity for the second and third pieces, so these explored at a slower rate, drawing phrases out further.
The reedman Ned Rothenberg was booked for the night's second set, but decided to guest on the first set's climactic number. All three players were seated for this one, transforming into an instant chamber group, as Rothenberg hoisted his bass clarinet. Zorn revealed how he's chosen these particular white plastic chairs for their non-squeaky properties. This last piece turned to yet another side, as the trio poured out warm, harmonious layers, accumulating a gradually thickening blanket. Zorn had been religiously checking the time after each improvisation, and at barely forty-five minutes he led the retreat, even though the audience were heartily clapping for more. Time is money, but this was a rich delicacy indeed, so maybe there shouldn't have been too much complaining...