Parker Burwell Toop credit Jak Kilby


Fifty Years and Counting...

Reading about the release of Topographie Parisienne, a 4 x CD recording of the Derek Bailey/Evan Parker/Han Bennink trio, live in Paris in 1981, made me think that their 1970 Incus Records (the very first that the label produced) landmark LP, Topography of the Lungs, is now nearly fifty years old. How did that happen?

There seems to be an increasing spate of 50th Anniversary events nowadays, an indication of how far we’ve all come in the world of experimental ‘popular’ music, and an indication of how many groups have persevered over time to continually produce exciting and innovative music.  The opposite to this longitudinal creativity is, of course, The  Rolling Stones, a configuration that has remained in vivo for over fifty years, mainly it seems, to make money and provide its members with something to do.

I’ve been thinking about three forthcoming gigs that I will be attending across November 2019, and the ages of their leaders - Barry Guy (born 1947), Evan Parker, (1944) and Joelle Leandre (1951). Two are in their seventies and one is soon to join them, but these are musicians who are still at the peak of their game, and are always still great to behold and to experience.

It’s interesting to compare them to the American presidential candidates in terms of seniority (Bernie Sanders is nearly eighty), and arguments that suggest that those over seventy years old (like Donald Trump, for example) are surely too old for such an august and challenging position. Probably this is an inappropriate comparison, “a false equivalence”, but it’s one that bears some thought, given the age of both rock music and free improvisation?

I’ve seen several concerts that celebrate the fiftieth (or ‘golden’) anniversaries of the following artists over the past few years: AMM and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and, this year, the London Jazz Composers Orchestra and Anthony Braxton (his first recordings). This currently short list will surely grow bigger and bigger as the sixties and early seventies begin to recede in memory, and we should give thanks that there are still so many of that generation who still produce vital and incisive playing for us all to enjoy (”Trevor Watts at 80″, for example). There are very few of the fifties modernists left (Sonny Rollins and Lee Konitz are the only ones that spring to mind), so it remains to us to continue to attend and support the occasions when these elders continue to grace us with their continually unfurling work. This is contrasted to putting up with yet one more rendition of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ or ‘Satisfaction’, at a time in which both are surely rather creepy positions for any normal septuagenarian to adopt?

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Banner and book cover photo credit: Jak Kilby