Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Evan Parker in Whitstable

This was part of the Whitstable Bienalle arts festival - Tuesday July 1st at St. Peters Church on Sydenham Street. The festival is a visual arts thing, but this musical event was included as it was being filmed as well as recorded. There were also little sketchbooks and pencils provided for the audience, then collected at the end, presumably to be integrated into some art piece.

EP played soprano sax, warmly explaining before he began that what he plays isn't everyone's cup of tea, that we were free to sneak off quietly if it wasn't ours. He started with one of his extended circular breathing improvisations. I was immediately blown away by this man's abilities. I'd seen him before with Spring Heeled Jack in Exeter a few years ago, but there was so much going on that night, his playing didn't really register fully with me. This time, with just him playing, I experienced the precision of his music - the only thing I can think to compare it to is birdsong (something highly complex, like a skylark). Because EP's the kind of person you read about a lot in The Wire, I was half-expecting that kind of noise-assault dissonant kind of improvisation, but in fact what he does is overwhelming in its beauty.

He played a number of short pieces in weird time signatures, more circular breathing, stuff which involved multiple voicings (if that's how you'd describe it - he's somehow able to make it seem like there's more than one instrument being played). The encore consisted of a warped-out medley of Thelonious Monk tunes (I wouldn't have known if he hadn't have said) and then another circular breathing workout. I'm guessing that he was exploiting/exploring the acoustic properties of that particular church - it would be hard to imagine otherwise.

Evan Parker in another church (in Ontario)
Evan Parker in another Anglican church (in Guelph, Ontario)

The church wasn't full, but there was a healthy turnout of Whitstable arty types. They were cheering for more after the encore, but he explained that even if his brain could generate more music, his lower lip had had it.

As a player of improvised music, witnessing Evan Parker in full flow was profoundly humbling. But inspiring too.

There's presumably going to be a live album or DVD or something coming out of this performance - well worth keeping an eye out for that.

Afterwards I needed to recover, so I went and sat on the beach by the Old Neptune, had a pint, wrote a letter and watched the opalescent waters of Whitstable Bay lapping the pebble beach. The bike ride home through Blean Woods was interspersed with glow-worm sightings (the first of the summer) and silent lightning flashes in the southern sky.


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