This is a double CD recorded immediately after the jazz
festival in Appleby in July 1999 where the musicians performed both as a quartet
and in separate combinations: the first disc recorded at the Gateway Studio; and the
second, live at the Vortex - both in London.
After Appleby is social engagement by
four minds of equal stature sharing an equal commitment in an unequal world.
Years of engagement by these musicians have inspired a massive vocabulary
with an astonishing library of sound resources. If you are suspicious of
music that defies description, then venture no further. These musicians
reinvent their instruments, from primal bursts to a thrilling harnessing of
sound converted into a viable music so exciting and different that it
virtually defies categorisation....
(extracted from the extensive liner notes of Steve Kulak)
The Parker/Guy/Lytton combination has been called
arguably the greatest active improvising ensemble (Down Beat); and
the incomparable Marilyn Crispell adds yet another distinctive voice to the trio.
The total times are: Disc 1 - 64'08 and Disc 2 - 68'02
Packing Heat with Parker/Guy/Lytton/Crispell: AFTER APPLEBY
What do Albert Einstein and Evan Parker have in common? Both know how to
ignite space. Both at some time wished they could have been invisible (at
least one of them has tried darkness but found it irritated the audience)
and both are musicians for whom improvisation is important. Although
Einstein improvised on the piano and was good at physics, Evan Parker is a
saxophone colossus content to leave physics in peace.
Was there a greater occasion than Evan Parker's 50th birthday? Yes, but
was there a greater album delivered as a result of one? This Parker flies as
high and fast as the great Bird on alto ever did. This image of the late
Charlie ŚBird' Parker bookended by the great Englishman on tenor and soprano
is entirely appropriate. Bird was an innovator and Evan Parker is certainly
one of the few players who can transport you inside their mind completely.
Like Bird, his dazzling technique rides hard on the back of an elaborate
sense of invention. It has been written elsewhere that if genius is the
sustained application of intelligence, then Evan Parker merits the term. He
has changed the face of saxophone technique and saxophone music. When
appraising his body of work, virtuoso comes readily to mind. But it's a
bloodless description. He is, like Coltrane and Bird before him, simply a
colossus. So where do you start?
Try Evan Parker: 50th Birthday Concert recorded in 1994 at Dingwalls
nightclub in London. It features Parker in two distinct trio settings with
four musicians playing five songs. The results are devastating. Music like
this takes decades to reach this point of perfection. Alex von
Schlippenbach, Paul Lovens, Barry Guy and Paul Lytton support a soundstage
that delivers one of the most exciting developments in modern music
imaginable. It is unfair to brand what is created here with the restrictive
marketing brush of commercial death known as free or improvised music. This
is beyond labels. It is impossible not to be overwhelmed by the sheer force
of what is going on here. You would need to have ears of steel and a heart
of stone not to appreciate this extended flight into outer space. The most
gratifying aspect of it all is that these musicians keep getting better.
After Appleby, a big blazing ball, is further proof of that. Leave your feet
on the ground and let your mind soar. Come fly with meŠ
"I think of music's strength as its power to point at a dimension beyond
the mundane, beyond the known, to allude to the unknowable, the
In 1968 Parker featured on two influential releases, Karyobin and
Machine Gun. Both may have been accurate representations of what was
happening in improvisation at the time, but these were two very different
records. Over the years Parker's name floated to the top of the often
chaotic pile that was free jazz and improvised new music. 1994 was the
watershed year. Not only the 50th Birthday Concert (Leo CD LR 212/213) but
also Time Will Tell (ECM 1537) with Paul Bley and Barre Phillips finally
generating the wider audience exposure that was Parker's due. 1996 saw the
release of Towards the Margins, a striking new direction featuring the
Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. And now comes After Appleby, another defining
moment veering treacherously close to greatness.
After Appleby is social engagement by four minds of equal stature
sharing an equal commitment in an unequal world. Years of engagement by
these musicians have inspired a massive vocabulary with an astonishing
library of sound resources. If you are suspicious of music that defies
description, then venture no further. These musicians reinvent their
instruments, from primal bursts to a thrilling harnessing of sound converted
into a viable music so exciting and different that it virtually defies
The popular conception of improvisation as performance without
preparation is wrong. There is a lifetime of preparation and knowledge
behind every improvised idea. After Appleby again features one of Parker's
most important long-term associations, the trio with Barry Guy and Paul
Lytton. This time they are joined by the incomparable Marilyn Crispell.
Recorded in the studio (with Where Hearts Revive featuring Parker on tenor a
highlight) and live at the Vortex, After Appleby, like the 50th Birthday
Concert, represents a family of great musicians engaging in a brilliantly
argued conception. It is music of such impressive focus and fearsome weight,
that there is never any doubt as to the significance of the musical content.
The sources may be different from your average composition based approach,
but the destination is the same.
Parker is in great company. Barry Guy and Paul Lytton match him in every
respect. The bonus is Marilyn Crispell, an enterprising and critical
addition to the volatile chemistry on display. She is a major talent whose
contributions on After Appleby extend beyond the sharing of writing credits
(on every track except for the Parker/Guy exploration Falcon's Wing and
Tchefit). If anyone wanted an introduction to the most engaging, exploratory
piano mind at work today, then the Crispell discography on Leo Records will
satisfy that ten times over. Hers is a disciplined mastery reflected through
a prism of songs impregnated with all manner of subliminal nuances.
Parker may regard the soprano saxophone as his first instrument, but
he is just as remarkable on tenor, although his approach to that horn
remains different. On soprano he creates huge sprawling lines (using a
circular breathing technique) that veer off into outer space on extended
explorations that always somehow manage to resolve themselves. Think of
Einstein and the science that spiralled ever upwards as a result of his
explorations and you get close to the Parker effect. It is an intensely
physical yet intellectually detailed approach to music, constantly
challenging at every level.
No obvious language comes to mind when discussing this music. The widely
circulated definition of improvisation, where meditation and execution
combine in the highest form of composition, still insists on a link back to
composition. Improvisation and composition certainly elevate each other,
just as improvisation ultimately sustains composition. But it is the vital
role of the players and their moment to moment orgy of reflexive creativity
that remains paramount.
Consider this. Harmony is just another form of control. The excitement
of improvised music is not its rhythmic propulsion but liberation from
harmony. The truth is such that we can theorise all we like about music and
dream of harmony, but the world is not harmonious. Just ask Einstein. Close
technical analysis of improvised music leads into unrecognisable areas. Like
science, it is distracted and always elsewhere. Any abstract description of
it achieves little. It is like hearing Hendrix on the guitar for the first
time and trying to put it into words. Why bother?
Has this music gone as far as it can go? Is it possible to still be an
innovator? Let's put the question another way. Apart from hedonism and
faith, as a useful civilisation is there much further for us to go?
Technology and our adventures into outer space prove nothing, merely
functioning as a distraction. The Merry Pranksters excursion bus had Further
written up on its destination board. It was the case back in 1968 and it
still is now. Except outer space to them was an adventure spiralling ever
further inwards. There are no limits to our Further quest and we can never
expect to reach it. But in seeking it, do we move away from the centre, or
move in towards it? Is the centre shifting or is it static and immobile?
Where is it? Is it towards the margins or right there in front of our eyes?
OK so there has to be solid ground somewhere for our vague groping,
otherwise the constant flux becomes like a swirling current shifting in and
out of focus. Sometimes we need to drag ourselves onto dry high ground just
to take a breath. At least some of us do. Others just keep going. Further.
Welcome to Evan Parker's controlled fury. Welcome to life heard as
music, an intimate source of sound, discipline and devotion swept along by a
restless quest for the new to liquidate the old. Welcome to After Appleby.
The ancients sought the sublime, and rooted for harmony and beauty. Theirs
was not a fascination with disorder and discord. The moderns like Parker
seek the same stillness only they know it exists within the eye of the
With convenience and commodity upon us, we seek pleasure and fun not
confrontation and challenge. We relish the private experience of music and
don't debate its public value. In an age of hedonism, it's the pay-TV sports
screen that vies for attention with the music and the two-for-one drinks at
the bar, just as conversation seeks no further weight than that left by a
floating impression. Mass society is upon us. Who is in control? Humanity is
community, yet our alienating technologies do nothing but deprive us of
both. The Parker group assert their humanity, emphasising that control is
still ours. Does the music give us new social directions, create new social
relations? No, this is not music searching out the future in the present.
Their world is not for seeing. It is not legible but audible. Because
nothing essential, you see, happens in the absence of music.
Parker/Guy/Lytton/Crispell have imagined radically new forms because
they hear new realities. Media today controls knowledge but it cannot
control musical imagination. It cannot direct their dreams or yours. It can
try to encourage them in a particular direction. But then suddenly you hear
music like this and boom! you hit the ground running. Not for cover, but as
the assault force of an invigorated and inspired imagination.
The academy used to treat musicians such as these as fringe figures. The
1990's have been witness to a dramatic reversal of fortune that sees them
assuming new relevance and importance. Why? Because they persist? It is no
accident that Evan Parker's favourite writer is Samuel Beckett, the man who
completed his influential trilogy with the words "where I am, I don't know,
I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go
on, I'll go on." Clearly the reputation of these musicians is distinguished
and distinguishable. Meanwhile the grave robbers continue to sound the same
horn and merge into a bland confection akin to sponge cake. Perhaps they
haven't noticed that the great period in music history, when a concentration
of virtuosos forged techniques and styles that have remained conventions of
the music ever since, has been overtaken.
New music today twists and turns, flying off into tangents that don't
appear to have a common source. It soars, shifting, attacking, bending and
splitting tones further and further. This music is not easily taught nor are
the mechanics of the style evident in ubiquitous how-to books. You need a
lifetime to play like this. Being genuinely inside the music helps. It is
music both known and unknown. There is little mystery to conventional music
any more. Only gold medal gymnasts rewarded by pensioned professors of the
craft, choking on well-rehearsed patterns with nowhere to go and nothing to
say. Analyse this, put it into a system, create a school and apply for
membership. When Bud Powell created them they weren't patterns, man.
Evan Parker's course will always run parallel to the main body of music,
which has often contrived to ignore musicians like him. Jazz though doesn't
belong in the academy. Witness how Peter Kowald (Was Da Ist?), Eberhard
Weber (Pendulum) and Barry Guy have extended the tradition and role of the
Double Bass. No sign of the academy here. It is pure invention brought on by
the desire to extend their range and enter a new zone.
Climb over the wall. Project yourself into the music, into a situation
you are obliged to be present in.This is music of conversation, making
audible a world that already exists. It is not commodity music made to a
market demographic. This is music which no system of power can channel.
Music no longer possible to hear in silence. Everyone has a right to be
different, a right to compose their own life. There is within every one of
us an intense refusal to be standardised. And too much music has found a way
of integrating itself into a type of background noise for a semi-conscious
way of life. Listening to Parker, Guy, Lytton and Crispell you regain
consciousness and can feel your bones again. Who needs to go further than
that? We need to attach ourselves to something, call it faith, hope or
charity. Instead we consume. Do we consume in order to resemble our
surroundings or is it simply because we no longer wish to distinguish
ourselves? What we need can be found in music. We don't need more myths. We
need more music. The music doesn't need to take us higher, only Further.
These musicians represent the last resistance. Go Further, they shout. You
really can live with your own values in your own head. Your mind is a movie,
not a still life.
"I'm looking at the saxophone as a resource which has its own unique set of
Evan Parker has had an incalculable influence on the direction of
improvised music as a whole and on how it is played. It is Art created for
specific audiences for whom it is expected to have significance. It is music
tied to his time and inseparable from it. He continues to be driven by a
particular need to express himself according to some inner imperative. We
can understand him because we share both his time and a need for
self-expression. Like us, the history of music is many histories, and
promises more surprises yet.
Hart Crane, American poet, wrote to a friend in 1922: "Let us invent an
idiom for the proper transposition of jazz into words! Something clean,
sparkling, elusive." Why bother. "Art thou troubled? Music will not only
calm, it will ennoble thee." After Appleby, I think I'll Handel it instead.
Because if the mind happens in space at all, it happens somewhere north of
the neck. So does music. What an attractive coincidence.