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Evan Parker - Strings With Evan Parker

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Artist: Evan Parker

Album: Strings With Evan Parker

Label: Emanem

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

Imagine the guffaws and har har hars that accompanied the naming of this triple CD. No doubt they were thinking of that other Parker, Charlie, whose controversial recordings with strings expanded his audience and alienated some of his more purist fans. But despite the similar nomenclature, this is an animal of a different breed. Charlie submitted himself to the will of his producers, and pretty much just showed and played over the top of someone else’s lush arrangements. Evan, on the other hand, is the producer of this adventure; he convened the nine string players (eleven on one prototypical recording from an earlier session), gave them minimal instructions, and turned them loose to improvise nearly a dozen full group and ten sub-group performances. Parker doesn’t even play on over half of them.

The musicians span the English improv scene in age and approach, young (Kaffe Matthews) and old (former Music Improvisation Company member Hugh Davies), electronic and acoustic. I prefer the largest, longest pieces, which happen to be the ones with Parker. The nine people plucking the catgut achieve a huge sound, seething and billowing and flashing like a lightning storm I once saw over distant mountains in New Mexico. Parker sticks to soprano, and if you’ve heard his solo work on that instrument then you know about his ability to blow elaborate, spiraling lines of impossible length. I love how he sounds when he does it against the strings’ apocalyptic backdrop, but at the same time, I wish he did something a bit more surprising.

Still, on the two half-hour long epics, “Double Headed Serpent” (which is also reproduced without Parker’s overdubbed part) and “The Spider’s Web” (a live performance that closed the recording session), the effect of horn and pocket orchestra is overwhelming. This isn’t just music, it’s an environment to inhabit.

There is such a thing as too much of too much; after all, this thing is nearly three and a quarter hours long. Did we really need every note that was recorded? Some of the sub-groupings, which tend towards the sort of prickly abstraction that people have in mind when they characterize English improv as insect music, could have been dropped. This is a very impressive piece of work and I’m glad I own it, but some self-editing by the producer would have made it even better.

By Bill Meyer

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