A week or so, I exchanged a copy of my new book for one of Evan Parker’s new(ish) CD products - I was given a choice, by the man himself, of a few options, including a very tempting Schlippenbach Trio double-CD. However, I eventually plumped for one that is encrypted PEN, standing for P(arker) E(dwards) N(oble), three English improvisers who need no introduction to those who follow this music. The occasion of this exchange was at a Vortex gig of Parker’s trio, which, on this particular occasion, featured Mark Sanders on the traps.
The CD is presented in an attractive, origami-like fold-out case, on the Dropa-Disk (?) label, coming in at a very economical, two track, 39 minutes, and was recorded in Antwerp in January 2015. It is called PEN, for obvious acrostic reasons. It is also a compound word, representing a group whose whole transcends its parts. The reason that I want to discuss this release, apart from its intrinsic worth, is because there is so little recorded by Parker’s ‘English Trio’ (not the one with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton, which is usually called Parker/Lytton/Guy, to reflect its development from the Parker/Lytton duo from the early 80s).
This ‘other’ trio has consisted of Parker with, over time, percussionists Tony Marsh (sadly now deceased) and Mark Sanders, bassist John Edwards, and (at one time) guitarist John Russell. These configurations have played over the past 20 years at least, but they have very few recordings that represent their tremendous live presence over these years - London Air Lift (actually a quartet with Russell, Edwards and Sanders) on FMP, The Two Seasons (with Edwards and Sanders) on Emanem, and an album on Tzadik (that I have yet to hear). This is a very poor output (for the usually prolific Parker) as regards these wonderful trios.
PEN sounds at times like a 2015 Sonny Rollins Live At The Village Vanguard. This should come as no surprise to seasoned Evan Parker listeners, who will have heard, especially at his longstanding Vortex residency, his trio’s post-free improv language, refreshingly empty of hard bop cliches (themes, choruses, heads, bar-line solos and such), but still suffused with much of the free improv language - extreme registers from all, asymmetric post-Murray drumming, Edwards’s post-Guy master classes, Parker’s passionate squalling - all pulse not strict time. This group does not play abstract music, but one that that is straight-ahead free -bop (if you like), a ‘masters’-channeling supergroup. I must have now seen Evan Parker 200+ times, John Edwards 100+, Steve Noble maybe 20+. The fact that I can spot this new CD and still feel impelled to grab it, and, even more, really, really enjoy it, says a lot about the sheer continuing creativity of this group of improvisers.