Evan Parker talks about some of his recordings

An abbreviated version of the following discussion was published in the November 1994 issue of ImproJazz, the French magazine specialising in improvised music. Evan Parker was interviewed by Philippe Renaud and Patrick Gentet on May 1st, 1994 during the Europa Jazz Festival du Mans (France), where the saxophonist was a featured artist; transcription was by Patrice Roussel. No part of the article must be reproduced without the permission of Improjazz

ImproJazz (IJ): We would like your reflections about some of your records. Let's start with Globe Unity Orchestra for example.

Evan Parker (EP): Globe Unity Orchestra?

IJ: Yes, maybe 20TH ANNIVERSARY, from 1986.

EP: Yeah. Globe Unity, that was the Berlin, official Berlin Festival, was it? Or was it the FMP festival?

IJ: I don't know.

EP: I think that's the official festival. So it was in the Philarmonie, quite a nice... well, a very nice concert hall. Sort of big occasion. A document of it. A big occasion of a band that doesn't get the chance to play together too often...

IJ: Do you still have contacts with Alex Von Schlippenbach?

EP: Oh yeah! Yeah! Because we play the trio together. A very good contact.

IJ: He's a great musician.

EP: Yes, I agree. And for the moment I think he's a little bit underappreciated, undervalued his position in the history of the development of the music, specially in the European context, I think his position is undervalued, misunderstood or poorly understood and poorly valued. If you think of the origins of Globe Unity, I think, go back to 1966 or 1965. I wasn't in it from the very beginning so I don't know the very early stories but this is a very visionary project. I mean, that was European before the EEC existed, for example. He really did his best to make a real international group and beyond nationalisms and all of these things. That was a very visionary thing. I hope history will keep the right perspective to the importance of Alex, because I mean, OK he is my friend, but if I didn't respect him a lot I wouldn't care so much. Fortunately we play together a lot, in his trio with Lovens and myself. We do something every year, at least one tour and maybe some other things. So we are in solid contacts.

IJ: You have a new CD.

EP: Physics? We seem to have settled down a policy: we make one live and one studio, one live, one studio. So Physics is live, technically, and the one before, the Elf Bagatellen, that was studio. So that seems to be our pattern now. We've just done one in London, which will be live, again, so I am already contradicting myself but ... It's not for FMP so ... The traditional thing is with FMP: one live, one studio, one live, one studio.

IJ: And then you can do what you want outside FMP (laughs).

EP: Yeah!

IJ: London Jazz Composers Orchestra.

EP: Which one?

IJ: Maybe Ode.

EP: Ode, the original recording. This was a live recording at Oxford Town Hall, I think. Part of a classical music festival. In the days when classical promoters were taking an interest in contemporary jazz for the first time in England. I remember high stage, quite difficult acoustics, and trying to record everything to eight tracks, which was state of the art; in those days, I think it was eight tracks. It's very difficult. A compromise, it's not enough to make a real multitrack recording. Too many to get a documentary style recording. So, there were many technical problems because of that eight tracks system of recording. Quite difficult music. We probably could have used a little more rehearsal time. But, in essence, that original work, I think, contains everything that Barry later has developped. And I think now that he has a band of people that play the music better with more feeling, more understanding, than maybe that original group. But as a kind of statement, first statement of everything that was later to come it's a very very instructional work.

IJ: I thought that at the beginning it was an orchestra with composers.

EP: I don't know quite well the sense of the name was [laughs], because, in fact, it became ... it was always quite unusual if we played anything but Barry's music. I do remember we played some pieces by Howard Riley, Tony Oxley. There are few exceptions. Oh! (remembering) also we played Braxton music more recently, and George Lewis, but basically it's Barry's music mostly.

IJ: Pierre Favre Quartet in 1969.

EP: I thought it was an interesting group, a very interesting group. I am confused about the recording. We did two different sets of recordings and the first thing that we did didn't get used, I don't know why, you'll have to ask Pierre about that. We did some recording I think in Baden Baden, and they weren't not used. And then we went back and did another recording somewhere else in Switzerland, Zurich I think ...

IJ: Basel.

EP: Basel, Basel, right. And that became the material for the record. But I don't know why there was two attempts of this thing. For me the first one was OK, maybe hum..., I don't know about better, but OK already. It was a group that was fairly short lived. Basically, it was like the trio with Irene, Kowald, and Pierre ... plus me. So it was like a special guest for ... in effect, it was more a trio plus me a as a guest, in some ways. But it was ... we all thought a little bit the same philosophy, you know. We all liked the same kind of music, coming out of American free jazz post-Ornette Coleman sort of music. There was a good set of understandings about what the group was about.

IJ: The one you play with Scott Walker (Climate of hunter).

EP: Scott Walker! Yeah, that was interesting! Actually, when I listen to pop music back then or more commercial things, I very much liked Dionne Warwick, especially the collaboration between Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach, which probably sounds ridiculous to people to think that I like that kind of stuff but I really do like that kind of collaboration. I think it was very important, and some of the things that Walker Brothers did were also relatively sophisticated material for commercial music. His voice was very unusual, real kind of rich baryton kind of voice, not this usual falseto kind - voice that most of the singers in commercial music use. Yeah, I always liked his voice. And I was really surprised when ... because he disappeared.

In fact, we have a friend in common which is the guy who died some time ago called Bob Cornford. He was a very interesting man, also with very broad musical interest and involvements. This guy was very central figure in the new music scene in London, before the London Sinfonietta was ... He was part of the core of people that established the London Sinfonietta. Also he was close friend with John McLaughlin. He was one of these ... kind of guru figures that show other musicians how things work. So, for example, there is a version of "Hearts and Flowers" with John McLaughlin plays on. Do you know this sort of sentimental ballad which is called "Hearts and Flowers"? [Parker sings it]. So Bob had a set changes which suddenly because of harmony is so much sophisticated, it changes your all view of something, you know. Just don't dismiss this because if you harmonize this way, suddenly it becomes an interesting thing. This is the kind of things that Bob could do. He was one of those real all round musicians. Also, he was involved in commercial music, MD, jazz, arranging things ... just a fantastic all rounder. Bob was also a friend of ... probably because he was MD, in some context or other, Musical Director for Scott Walker, at some point. But I don't know for sure. So we had Bob as a friend in common and ...

I don't know where Scott Walker got the idea to call me, but he called me and I thought, oh! it's some kind of commercial. I'm not sure if I want to do it. So, he didn't speak to me, his secretary was speaking to me: "Do you want to do this?" I say, well I don't know what, I can't imagine what it's about, or why, you know. So then she called again and said "Well, you know Scott would really like to know do you want to do it or not." Well, I don't know any more than last time, you know. What is this thing about? Could you ask him to call me and explain what this thing is about? And then when he called me, he started to talk about Ligeti, and all kinds of things that he was imagining that he wanted, and he said "Basically, you know this is not commercial project, this is whatever I want to do ... So don't worry, I don't want you to play funk or things like that, so just come in and we will see what happens."

So that was the way it was, I mean, the stage at which he involved me there was just a synthesizer track, a pilot track and I think bass, maybe some drums. There was almost nothing there, it was just a skeleton. He worked completely the opposite way. I mean, he is unusual. Usually, what singers do when they work with multi-track, they start with what they call a pilot vocal. So they put a rough version of the song with rough rhythm tracks and then gradually they substitute the chap's tracks, and finally when everything is ready around the voice then they go back and redo the voice. But Scott Walker did not work like that at all. He didn't sing anything until the thing was ready, then he put the vocal tracks on at the end. So, different way of working. I was only involved in part of the process. But, well we met one afternoon, we did that and we drunk some Chablis. I would like to know him more, know him better, know him as ... like to tell you more. I don't know much more than that, that he was a nice man, I met for one afternoon.

More recently there was a phone call that he's gonna do another record. I don't know where they carried on with the project, or what happened. But they called me and said something about electric saxophone, and I don't know that could either be wind controlled synthesizer, wind driven synthesizer, like Steinberg or E-Wind [spelling?], this kind of things, or harmonizers, sequences or whatever, you know. I didn't say I didn't want to do it, I just said if you want a wind driven synthesizer, I don't play this instrument but I would be interested in the other stuff. I don't know what happened. Maybe they postponed it or maybe they got somebody who plays wind driven synthesizer, I am not sure.

IJ: I'd like to have your impressions about Around six by Kenny Wheeler.

EP: Around six. It was a complicated session. Complicated for several reasons because, well ... Eje Thelin didn't really read music, so nobody knew that until we got ... until Kenny got there. Kenny's harmony voicings are not very easy to learn by ear because there are very close voicings. So there was some problems with that, and there were couple of other problems ... The expectations were not exactly ... The way it came out was not the way it was imagined, I think. And also I have to say that for me that was some very interesting material that was recorded that didn't get used. Very important factor in this recording was J.F. Jenny Clark, because there were moments of great crisis during this recording where people suddenly, you know, oh! this is not easy, this is very difficult now because of this or this problem, and J.F. was very strong in these situations, very helpful for Kenny, and just kept very concentrated on the project and bmm, bmm, bmm, helped Kenny through that. There were some duo things and even solo things with Kenny, that were recorded but didn't end up on the record. From myself I felt that the last thing I could do was make extra problems, so I just stayed in the background and didn't make problems. That was my main thinking on that session was not to ask for another take, or not to say ... oh! my sound is not like that or there were one or two thoughts that I had which I kept to myself. But I think the writing is interesting. There are people that say "Oh! this was a very nice record, and a very good band", although this is not exactly, people compare it with the band that toured a little bit later with Paul Motian, John Taylor and J.F. again, me and Kenny. So it was like the forerunner of that band which did a tour later on. When was Around six recorded? Seventy ...

IJ: 1979.

EP: So I think, the year later we toured with the quintet with Motian. In some ways that was easier. Quicker understandings about how to do it.

IJ: Six of one.

EP: Six of one was ... This is to do with an engineer that I like very much, Adam Skeaping. This man is part of a very musical family in London, the Skeapings. His father was professor at the Royal Academy, I think, specialist in baroque music. One of the early people to promote the ideas of authenticity in performance of baroque music. Or one of the early theoreticians of that. And also he developped ensembles and that ideas about how the techniques should be different, the instruments should be different. Now, so called authentic performances of baroque are very usual, but then weren't so usual. So Adam plays viola da gamba, among other things, but he is also a very great engineer. We always had to deal ... If I am already installed somewhere, and I call you, maybe we can do a record at really short notice and it does not cost you so much. So he was installed in the church, Saint Jude on the Hill, is one of the churches that I use for recording classical music in London and he was recording some harpsichord, something like that, in the day time. But in the evening, nobody is using the equipment, so he said come one evening and we can make a record and it won't cost you very much. That's how it was done. I just went for the evening and we looked for the right place for the microphones. And he had a very nice monitor speakers in another room, so we could check the sound. It was maybe the first time I recorded in that kind of big acoustic. I was pleased with the overall structure that came out of the record. Because I had a ... just a very simple technique to ... Before each track, before each episode in the whole piece, I would try and think of a job, of an idea to start. So, that's why it's six, sort of six different ideas but they fit together, and they overlap. That was a kind of clarity, clarity for me in the way it came out, and I was quite pleased.

IJ: For me it is your best.

EP: I can understand that.

IJ: And the box you made before, with Incus LPs. Do you have a technical reason? Maybe no more covers.

EP: Yes, exactly [laughing]. It was a tidying up operation, part of the process of leaving Incus. So, I just tried to make something out of that. I had records with no covers, covers with no records. It was actually John Jack (from Cadillac) that encouraged me to think of that idea. He was thinking more like a limited edition kind of thing.

IJ: 200 copies.

EP: Yes.

IJ: With a tape ...

EP: All the stuff that was left from the stuff ... that Jost did, which I used for the solo record. But it worked. I was pleased with the way it looked and, you know, Paul wrote a very nice thing to go inside, which must be the most obscure sleeve notes ever written. It's like a short story, that has nothing to do with the music [laughing]. I was always a big admirer of Paul Haines' sleeve notes, you know, back in the time when he wrote for Paul Bley, Albert Ayler, the original Spiritual unity, there is a little book there also. But most people don't know that because it was only in the very original edition of SPIRITUAL UNITY for ESP. Did you see that? Have you ever seen that?

IJ: No.

EP: "You and the night and the music", that's nice. He compares Albert's sound to a deceased pearl. Very nice.

IJ: About Paul Haines. The last two CDs on Kip Hanrahan's label. He just gives one title, on which you are playing. But in fact you are playing on three tracks.

EP: Hanrahan is a bit of mystery. Paul got very frustrated with the whole project because it took so long to come out...

IJ: Ten years.

EP: Yeah. So, it given up, years ago. He gave up. And suddenly it's there, you know, but nobody knows why. It's there in Germany? And it's in Italy? But it's not in America. And it is very expensive. Paul finally got a few copies and he sent me one.

IJ: Robert Wyatt asked me ...

EP: Has Robert got one?

IJ: I don't know. He asked me on what label, because he didn't know.

EP: But I think Robert's track is very nicely organized, very beautiful. He is a real master of multitrack recording, making sense of the studio. This is his instrument, he can really play the studio very well.

IJ: Robert was interviewed in the first issue of ImproJazz and he said that Curtsy is one of his best last experiences. He said: "Mr Evan Parker accepts to play with me..."

EP: No! He is too kind, he's too kind. Because you know we are old friends as well, in between. Because he used to live in Twickenham and I know his wife (Alfie). His wife actually introduced me to John Stevens. There are all kinds of connections. But she was at the Royal College of Art, she was a friend of ... I did some music for her films, student films, when she was studying film. There was another guy also studying film that asked me to make music for, was a kind of extract from a Ray Bradbury story, he wanted to turn it into a film. So I had to make sort of science fiction music. And actually that was like my introduction to free improvising, which I did when I was also a student. Alfie heard that music; she knew John Stevens already and she said "You two should get together. You should check this guy out (to John)." And that was very very important actually to me, very important because John helped me. John was the first guy to really take me seriously on the, you know, in a professional way.

IJ: The first one, Karyobin.

EP: This is quite complicated also, the story of this. At the time when we did that record, S.M.E. was a duo, technically. The performing version of it was just me and John Stevens. I wasn't in the original. I've to be careful about that [laughing] if not I might upset Rutherford or somebody. The original version of S.M.E. was with Trevor Watts, Paul Rutherford, various bass players, sometimes Kenny Wheeler and John Stevens. And they played material which was "Ornettish" or George "Russellish", usually, and they might get angry if I put it like that, but that was the way it was, to me. And very good, because they were the only people in England that I knew that were doing that kind of thing anyway, so, not many people knew that much about Ornette Coleman, or George Russell, in those days. Maybe they might say well it was more complicated than that. They were ... All of those guys, Rutherford, Trevor, John, were few years older than me, and few years ahead in the terms of what we could do, and the context, and the association in music. Yeah, more experienced. But somehow, though, in terms of the idea of playing completely free, with nothing written, and so on, this came about in a kind of second phase in the life of S.M.E. as a group. That's the phase I was involved in from ..., when I came in we started to do that more and more.

I think Trevor spoke a little bit about this same thing because I read his interview. There was some tension and disagreements about the direction, which way to go. I did not appreciate all of that. Also, I was probably a bit young and not following everything very carefully. By the time this record opportunity came out, it was a duo, just me and John. So, then we spoke on the phone. There were two sides to it. One was Steve Winwood, from Traffic. He was from Birmingham, and I was in Birmingham too. Although we never played out there. Because he used to jam in a place Saturday lunch time, I think, in Birmingham. Most of the mainstream modern jazz players played there. But I played already then a little differently from that, so we would try to play Coltrane-like music, Coltrane modal music, post Favorite Things style Coltrane music. We had a place in the afternoon, it was a kind of afternoon drinking place. In those days you couldn't drink in the afternoon in England unless it was a club. So this place was that. Half of the people were there for drinking in the afternoon and the other half was maybe there for the music, or to meet a girl, or something, I don't know. And that's where Steve Winwood somehow knew me from Birmingham, a little bit. I went to University with Spencer Davis, so. I remember Steve, Stevie as he was called, when he was sixteen, he was phenomenal! He played guitar, organ, that fantastic voice. I still love Steve Winwood. He must have put a word in with Island, to say yeah give Evan Parker [break, end of side 1 of the tape] ... engineer at the studio, Olympic Studio, which is where Jimi Hendrix made the first three records, and the Stones made Beggar's Banquet and a few other things. It was THE studio for a period, in London. We used to get chances to go there because of John's connection with Eddie Kramer.

So when this thing with Island came up, then it was ... I spoke to John, you know. It was sort of half my record, to begin with, or more than half mine. And then we spoke, well ... I didn't want to do anything without John because, you know, I was totally grateful to him, that John and I would play. So, we talked and between us we decided it would be nice to use Kenny and Derek [Bailey] and Dave Holland, and that was it. We played different things with Derek, he'd been in a bigger version of S.M.E., Kenny had been there before and Dave had done some playing with me and John, I think it was S.M.E., another version. There were so many different variations, I can't remember exactly the sequence of events, but there were many variations. The one thing is clear that I was not in the original S.M.E., I am not saying that I was in that. I was a big fan of the original S.M.E. But maybe I was part of the reason it changed as well, maybe it was my responsibility that that group didn't go longer. [???] carry on with that policy, it probably still be alife today because it was too radical too soon, to go totally away from, in some ways, to go totally away from written music. But that was the spirit of the time, you know, that was what I felt anyway. Maybe in some ways it would be better if there was a record of that duo, which there isn't, as far as I know. There must be a couple of tapes, but there is no real record of the duo with me and John. I'd like to hear that because it was kind of the core of the understanding that we used with the quintet was based on that.

IJ: You did Corner to corner with John.

EP: Yeah, more recently, than The longest night. So we document every decade, or something like that. We can't do it too often, it's a struggle, very concentrated, compact music. Something about the chemistry between us. But we are in contact. John has other more jazzy projects. Sometimes which he ... He's always got some idea about, you know, this would work. He's one of these great combiners, I'll get you and I'll get ...

IJ: With Charlie Watts

EP: Well, he was behind that. That was probably his biggest experiment. You know, him and Charlie sat down together and worked out who should be there. That's John Stevens. It's hard to pin him down. In a way he wants to be just a classic modern jazz drummer, like Max Roach or Billy Higgins. But the other part of him is there, never goes away. The free thing is always in the background. But the duo as a [???] consolidated life... It's like we start where we stop. The understanding is very clear when we play again, we just go. Corner to corner was like that. We did it in one evening. We didn't throw anything away. Maybe people say "Well, it sounds like that" [laughing]. But you know, it's very honest. It's just what it is. It's him reacting to me and me reacting to him, and whatever levels of music can come out with that.

IJ: What's your favorite record?

EP: Well, I like the Topography of the lungs right now, because this was my first real record, that was my record, so I have a special affection for that one. I like the one called Pakistani pomade, with Schlippenbach and Lovens. From the more recent things, I like Conic sections very much and ... Such a huge number of things. Well, I should mention the thing with Robert (Wyatt). I heard it when we did it, and I haven't heard it since for ten years, and now I just heard it again. In fact, I wish we could do it now, because I know I could play it better. What I was trying to do I was not quite in control of that. Now I have got more facility in that way of playing. I could do a better job at it now. But I think Robert's... the whole conception is brilliant and it's more of a privilege for me to be involved with him because he is a true master of recording studio.

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