This CD is a result of Evan Parker's tour of New Zealand in October, 1999.
Richard Nunns is a master musician playing beautiful handcarved ancient
Taonga Puoro - instruments of Maori tribe (see full-colour pictures inside
the booklet). A live recording of a fascinating meeting between two
musicians from the opposite ends of the world who are opening a new door for
music lovers from all over the world.
The first time I met Richard Nunns was in a sense the first time I met
Evan Parker. I was touring with a free jazz ensemble and one of the five
people present at the gig in Nelson was Richard Nunns. Nelson is a small,
sunny town at the top of New Zealand's South Island that, for the past 20
years or so, has been the home of one of this country's most remarkable
musicians - unbeknownst to the retired couples, holiday makers and hippies
who find the slow pace and mild weather ideally suited to their
lifestyles.The bass player in the band was staying with Richard and the day
after the gig we were summoned to the house for a Taonga Puoro wananga
(demonstration of traditional Maori instruments). All I knew of Richard
Nunns was that he was a mysterious figure who played some Maori instruments.
I had no idea what to expect.
Upon meeting Richard we took seats in a small room. He brought in
strange shaped boxes and tubes, out of which appeared more shapes wrapped in
cloth. As the cloth was removed a range of instruments made from all manner
of native wood, stone, bone materials (such as whalebone, whales teeth,
albatross wing bones, Kuri - native dog), and even seaweed were revealed.
The instruments are incredibly beautiful, they are handcarved and hold
stories and motifs which tell of the origins of the sounds in Maori
Richard proceeded to play a variety of the instruments and tell of the
history and relevance of each sound ‹ its function in ancient Maori ritual,
ceremony or daily life. I was spellbound not only by the instruments that
sounded so haunting, but also by Richard whose presence when performing was
immense. Each instrument requires a different stance or physical nuance
which is intimately tied to the production and meaning of the sound.
Sometimes when Richard crouches forward, with Pukaea or Putatara in hand, he
truly looks as though he would withstand the strongest wind sent to push him
down, such is his connection with his instrument and the earth on which he
stands. I was struck by the absolute reverence and passion this man had for
the instruments he was playing, and the seriousness with which he performed
on them. Richard Nunns is Pakeha (European New Zealander), so his journey
with Taonga Puoro has required a great deal of respect, perseverance and
sensitivity ‹ characteristics that inevitably emerge in the depth of his
The day after this session I returned to the Nunns' home on my own. I was
summoned to the same small lounge and once again sat down ‹ again not
knowing what I was in store for. Richard put a disc into the CD player, and
explained that it was the latest album by his favourite saxophone player.
The music that came out of those speakers had me in tears. I was floored. It
was as if a door to a whole new universe had been opened and I was invited
in to look around and explore the contents. I felt weightless, and was
filled with excitement and the urge to find more of this music. The CD was
"Conic Sections" on the AhUm label. My first hearing of Evan Parker solo was
akin to that of hearing Albert Ayler ‹ the world as I knew it was exploded
into a vast sea of possibilities, suddenly everything was possible! My
favourite Braxton quote goes something like this: "the challenge of
creativity is to think of your highest possible thought, and then go
higher." It seems to me that Evan Parker must have a similar doctrine. In
two days I had my mind blown by two musicians from opposite ends of the
world, and from seemingly opposite worlds of sound. Three years later I
would hear those two worlds come together in a collaboration full of the
freshness, vitality and inspiration that makes great improvised music.
Richard Nunns and Evan Parker first met in the Œ80's, when the Schlippenbach
Trio visited New Zealand on a Goethe Institute sponsored Australasian Tour.
Richard organised a highly successful concert in Nelson for the trio. The
pair established an immediate rapport during lunch at Richard's home when
Evan leapt across the room to examine the shelves of books stocked with a
comprehensive collection of Samuel Beckett.There was no talk of ever playing
together, and it would be fifteen years before they would meet again ‹ this
time to play.
When Evan Parker arrived in New Zealand in October 1999 he had little idea
what to expect from the strange collaboration he'd agreed to. He traveled
to Nelson to rehearse and relax for a few days, developing the all-important
personal rapport that lies at the foundation of great musical relationships.
The resulting music is featured on this CD. Evan Parker is a familiar figure
to listeners of improvised music, his growing discography is huge and
diverse. Whether it be with longstanding groups like Parker/Guy/Lytton and
the Schlippenbach Trio or with Thurston Moore or Sainkho Namtchylak, Evan
Parker is consistently brilliant. His contribution to modern music is
inestimable. Richard Nunns will be a new name to many listeners. He too is
diverse and prolific, and he has a growing international profile from
touring with Maori artists (Moana Maniapoto, Deborah Wai Kapohe), his work
with free improvisors and his performances of contemporary classical works
by New Zealand composers (Gillian Whitehead, Helen Fisher). Most recently
he collaborated with another Parker accomplice, Marilyn Crispell (Richard's
research for this was the sublime "After Appleby" - Parker/Guy/Lytton and
Marilyn Crispell LEO CD LR 283/284).
Richard Nunns is a virtuoso on his instruments. Taonga Puoro defy
flashiness and speed ‹ the instruments are incredibly difficult to get a
sound out of, and most have a range of around four notes. It is impossible
to play anything close to a conventional Western scale on these instruments,
and even more improbable that anyone would ever want to. Richard's
virtuosity comes in the form of his own brilliant consistency and creativity
with his tools. The textures, nuances and subtleties of Taonga Puoro are
endless, and Richard manages to mould the sounds to perfectly fit any
situation he finds himself in, whilst never compromising the integrity of
these sacred instruments.
The history of Taonga Puoro is a difficult one, European settlers and
missionaries saw to it that a rich instrumental musical heritage was
virtually wiped out. It has taken Richard Nunns, his principal research and
performance partner Hirini Melbourne and master instrument maker and carver
Brian Flintoff, 25 years to uncover and breathe new life into these
instruments (for essential further listening see "Te Ku Te Whe" ‹ Hirini
Melbourne and Richard Nunns, Rattle Records RAT D004). Much of the
information and knowledge of Taonga Puoro has been scattered or hidden with
the elders of various tribes and, until Nunns, Melbourne and Flintoff began
their fascinating research, risked being lost to future generations.
Some of the instruments you hear on this CD are unique to Aotearoa, the
Putorino for example is large flute-like instrument shaped like a case moth.
It has two voices ‹ male and female ‹ and can be blown from two different
wind holes. Others, such as the Purerehua (bull roarer) have equivalents in
many cultures of the world. All of the instruments had a greater musical
function. The Porotiti (featured on track 11) was used to clear the nasal
passages of children, and to relieve the elderly of arthritic pain. Various
sounds were used for hunting (to lure birds and lizards), healing, aiding
conception, easing labour during childbirth, promoting the growth of plants
and the instruments were essential voices at all ritual and ceremonial
activities or occasions.
Evan Parker's music would appear to come from vastly different sources,
however at the heart of all ancient music is one binding element ‹
improvisation. There is no conceivable way to notate Evan Parker's music,
and the same goes for Richard Nunns'. Their music is created spontaneously,
it involves working with the miniscule nuances at the outer regions of the
fundamental sound. Evan Parker taps into ancient traditions. Most
importantly the ancient tradition of improvising! Circular breathing, trance
states, drones, harmonics can all be found in the music of ancient cultures
throughout the world (the Australian Aboriginal didgeridoo for example).
While Evan Parker makes strikingly modern music, he has deep roots. Here we
have two musicians from opposite ends of the world, who are both responsible
for opening doors to universes of sound, coming together to open a new
door.... Kia ora korua Evan and Richard, let's hope you knock on each others
doors some more.
Jeff Henderson is a saxophonist, improviser and concert producer who lives
in Wellington, New Zealand. He founded and operates "The Space", New
Zealand's only full time venue dedicated to improvised music and
experimental arts, and programmes the Wellington International Jazz
Festival. In 2000 he toured New Zealand with Richard Nunns, Marilyn Crispell
and his 16 piece "Urban Taniwha" Ensemble.