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Han Bennink & Evan Parker: The Grass is Greener

John Eyles By

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Now Evan Parker has his own label, one would assume that its releases of his own music are those he considers among his best. That was certainly true of Lines Burnt in Light, the label's extraordinary debut on which Parker played solo soprano sax. Han Bennink & Evan Parker are an excellent pairing, but this release falls well within the boundaries of "normal improvisation." In other words, it does not have the same immediate appeal as Lines Burnt in Light, it needs to have more time invested in it, and it releases its pleasures more slowly. However, that is not a negative comment; experience has taught improv listeners that it can take years to fully separate the exceptional from the acceptable. Consequently, I am loath to declare this "better" or "worse," merely "different."

Bennink is a duo player par excellence, able to accommodate and to challenge playing partners (as he has repeatedly shown, with Derek Bailey, Dave Douglas, Ellery Eskelin, Myra Melford, Irene Schweizer, Cecil Taylor...) Ever unpredictable, here he employs a vast range of techniques, from snatches of rigid rhythmic accompaniment through to the freest of free methods. There is always a hint of humour about his playing; he is a surrealist and a prankster. The cover photograph of him, lurking behind a stern-faced Parker, with a twinkle in his eye and a Magritte-like pipe firmly in his mouth, speaks volumes. So do his cover paintings of a grazing cow, and the humorous track titles (taken from Lewis Hyde's Trickster Makes this World ). All contribute to an air of fun and frivolity—not words that one would automatically use to describe a Parker album, however good.

Parker himself is on fine form. He employs tenor sax throughout and is characteristically focussed and rigorous. Although Parker and Bennink react and interact well, Parker is not drawn into Bennink's theatrical agenda. The contrast between the two players makes intriguing listening.

Track Listing: Traps of Appetite; Traps of Instinct; Outside the Usual Rules of the Eating Game; Smoke of Sacrifice; The Empty Hook; Coyotes are Eating Pure Bred Poodles in Beverly Hills; Pluto has a Moon; To Tangle Lure and Snare.

Personnel: Evan Parker, saxophone; Han Bennink, percussion.

Title: The Grass Is Greener | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Psi


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