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Drawn Inward

Even Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble (ECM - 1693)

ix 1999

Drawn Inward, the latest release of the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble is a very engaging souvenir of masterful musicians at work The album consists of eleven improvisations by members Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophones, khène), Philipp Wachsmann (violin, viola, electronics), Barry Guy (double-bass), Paul Lytton (percussion, electronics), Lawrence Casserley (electronics), Walter Prati (electronics), and Marco Vecchi (electronics). This is the second appearance for Parker’s ensemble on ECM: their first release, Toward the Margins (ECM 1612), was the company’s fifth album release. The Ensemble, with the recent addition of Casserly, is now divided about evenly between instrumental and electronic forces. With such a level playing field, the electronics can do far more than simply thicken the texture: they can actively engage in the musical dialogue and conflate the human with the artificial. For example, it can become difficult (and perhaps unnecessary) to tell human repetition from electronic delay. The issue is further confounded by the fact that the virtuoso instrumentalists are capable of exploring subtleties of timbral nuance and inflection in their instruments, making them sound indeed "electronic" at times.

The first piece, entitled "The Crooner," creates a sonic space rich in intricate detail and quiet intensity. Philipp Wachsmann capably explores a continuum from melodic lyricism to unpitched sounds on the violin, while the other musicians responsively dot the sonic backdrop. The improvisation, like several others on the disc, takes the listener slowly to a new space, concluding with a gentle return to the silence from whence it began.

The second improvisation, "Serpent in the Sky," begins with thinly processed strings, after which Parker seamlessly enters the texture on saxophone. Circular breathing coupled with extremely fast runs that move in and out of multiphonics and a constantly changing tessitura allow Parker to create long stretches of immense intensity, commanding a large-scale ebb and flow in the electronic processing. The percussion and electronics often seem to be an extension of Parker’s playing. Occasional short sequences in the saxophone create a subtle tension between verbatim repetition and gradual evolution.

"Travel in the Homeland" is one of the highlights of the disc. A quiet, reflective mood is aroused through what sounds like contact-microphone amplification of string sounds and bowed percussion sounds.The timbres are occasionally reminiscent of Hugh Davies’ improvisations as the electronics take a foreground role. After roughly four minutes of a largely "synthetic" sounding texture, bird-like sounds enter and are processed. The piece seems to be a metaphor for an argument between the synthetic and the organic, between the real and the imagined, where the synthetic and imagined win in the end.

"Spouting Bowl" is a brief dialogue in which string and saxophone gestures elicit almost immediate responses from the percussion and electronics. This improvisation illustrates well the ability of the electronics to integrate into, rather than distinguish themselves from, the ensemble.

In the fifth improvisation, "Collect Calls," Parker returns to riffs of extended saxophone techniques. This piece, like others on the disc, sparks visions of the physical gestures required to make each sound, which is perhaps one reason this recording remains interesting upon repeated listenings. A beautiful crescendo toward the end provides forward momentum and propels the listener toward a delicate ending.

The sixth piece, "aka Lotan," also shows the ensemble’s highly developed sense of action and response. "Reanascreena," however, is the most hauntingly alluring work on the disc. Barry Guy’s soft sul ponticello and harmonics at the beginning are enveloped by electronic processing and wrapped into an otherworldly texture. The electronics spatialize Guy’s playing quite effectively, and a gradual crescendo near the end, balanced by a low bass drone, gives the piece a nice shape. This is the one track, though, where the mix didn’t quite work as well: with a few exceptions, Guy seems to be much further back in the mix, with the electronics at the forefront most of the time. They could have been a little "closer" during the dialogue. A beautiful ending, however, makes one forget any technical imperfections.

In the brief improvisation "At Home in the Universe," the full ensemble is once again together, with the electronics using many of the same sounds used in the previous track. Parker again shows himself to be a virtuoso of his instrument. Only perhaps a few gestural clichés keep this piece from being more successful.

"Writing on Ice" is a sparse improvisation that forms a nice contrast to the other fast-moving and complex tracks. Short instrumental gestures trigger relatively simple and thin electronic sounds (unfortunately, many of them identical to those heard on other tracks). Wachsmann’s beautifully terse yet fertile gestures open the space for a dialogue with the electronics.

In "Phloy in the Frame," Parker turns to the khène, a South Asian reed instrument made of bamboo pipes. Parker’s short, repetitive phrases at the beginning correspond to his physical inhalation and exhalation, commanding a likewise undulatory action in the percussion and electronics and imbuing the work with a highly organic quality. The electronics, although again employing many of the sounds previously heard, create beautiful antiphonal effects.

The percussion and electronics are sartorially woven through a counterpoint of saxophone and violin in the final improvisation, "DrawnInward." Parker’s slow evolution into another virtuosic display over a more subtly lyrical texture of violin and electronics demonstrates a simulacrum of complexity and simplicity, perhaps metaphorically of harsh reality and bittersweet nostalgia. The ensemble creates a nice balance of the pointillistic and the sustained, and a spartan recapitulation of the arsenal of electronic sounds ends both the work and disc.

Overall, Drawn Inward is a very lovely release, and both the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble and ECM Records should be commended. Simon Emmerson’s excellent liner notes round out an altogether great release. One hopes larger labels such as ECM will continue to bring more adventurous music to a wider audience. They’re off to a good start.

Sound Bytes are courtesy of ECM Records.

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