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Evan Parker - Boustrophedon

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Artist: Evan Parker

Album: Boustrophedon

Label: ECM

Review date: Jun. 9, 2008

Companion to Roscoe Mitchell’s more clinically-titled Composition/Improvisation, Nos. 1, 2 and 3, Boustrophedon features the same all-star aggregate of improvisers under the leadership of Evan Parker. Curiously enough, Parker’s portion of the project relies more heavily on composition and conduction. Christened the Transatlantic Art Ensemble as reflective of both geography and Mitchell’s musical roots, the band is a carefully chosen roster from the saxophonists’ respective colleague stables. Parker likens the selection process to the picking of football teams and the session carries both competitive and collaborative aspects. Steve Lake’s liners provide Parker plenty of space to expound on his intentions and make for an illuminating read. The disc’s title refers to a Greek word translating to “turning like an ox while plowing”. The individual pieces, titled and numbered as “Furrows” expand on the metaphor. All but the “Finale” relies on pairs of instrumentalists opening with a percussive “Overture” played by drummers Paul Lytton and Tani Tabbal.

The next several pieces focus on gradual movement and cleanly-limned textures, goals advanced further by the pristine ECM sound capture. Flute and piano court one another on “Furrow 1” while “Furrow 2” focuses on the strings patterns of Phil Wachsmann and Nils Bultmann, each with measured ensemble backing. Parker’s structures contrast complexity and simplicity and lead to beautiful, if somewhat arid and occasional static striations. It’s not until the closing minutes of “Furrow 3” that the music explodes, sending coruscating ensemble shrapnel in myriad directions. Altoist Anders Svanoe, a former student of Mitchell given a dream spot here, rides out the roiling results as the ensemble vigorously shakes off its earlier compositional shackles. The density of aggression ends up only fleetingly sustained as subsequent pieces center on a stripped down chamber dialogue between trumpet and clarinet and the mannered bass braiding of Barry Guy and Jaribu Shahid.

The Eastern-tinged “Furrow 6” functions as something of a main event, a squaring of ecstatic solos by first Parker and then Mitchell. It’s a thrilling opportunity to hear their distinctive reed styles juxtaposed amidst the backdrop of highly complementary orchestral swells and emotive chords. Parker plies his usual helixical breathing, but channels it into a trance-inducing improvisation. Mitchell's multiphonics expound with an ululating urgency, Taborn’s flanking piano vamp bringing McCoy Tyner, and by proxy Coltrane, to mind. Half the duration, “Finale” packs in concise successive statements from all but the composer and the drummers. Parker’s ambitions are admirable and wholly evident, but it’s hard not to pine for a greater reliance on his more familiar language of spontaneous expression. To put it another way, the composer’s cap is ultimately ill-fitting on his pate, particularly with a lifetime of top tier improvising as its competing head gear.

By Derek Taylor

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