Sebastian Lexer, Evan Parker, Eddie Prévost – Tri-Borough TriptychNovember 16, 2013
When I was seventeen, I undertook an A-Level course in Ceramics. My tutor, a relatively young man who seemed to have a second life as a wood sculptor at the back of the room while his students worked, was a good man who set about the thankless task of trying to teach my young graphic design obsessed self that form mattered more than style- no matter how you dressed something up, what really counted was what was underneath. It took me years before I really appreciated his words, but they sank in, and now twenty-five years later one particular conversation I had with him sprang back into my head while pondering over tonight’s CD. Part of the syllabus of the course involved learning about different slip and glaze techniques, an area that clearly my tutor wasn’t overly interested in teaching, preferring to teach us about the basics of shape and form before we worried ourselves over what shiny surface to add to it. In an attempt, I think, to put us off of intricate glazing techniques he kept on a shelf two works that had once been fired together in the school’s kiln. One was a simple earthenware pot, the other an intricate abstract form coated in a slick shiny glaze that had been applied far too thickly. The glaze had contained air bubbles that, once fired, caused the piece to literally explode, shattering into several pieces and in doing so, a chunk of it had embedded itself in the earthenware pot, so warping it out of shape and adding an additional jagged element. My tutor had shown me these two pieces so as a warning of what could happen if you tried to walk before you could crawl, but for me the idea of one piece of art actively undermining another- modern technique attacking the old school perhaps, was an exciting image, akin to Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q, which I had recently discovered. I tried to get permission to borrow the two pieces to use them as the subject of a painting but for reasons I don’t remember this never happened. Today the idea of the new destroying the old is an abhorrent one to me, but such direct interaction between the two, the idea of pure form meeting technological advancement and colliding in a shower of aesthetic sparks is interesting. I really wanted similar things to happen on this CD, and to some degree they do.
Tri-Borough Triptych contains three duo recordings made in different places around London between May 2012 and January 2013. The first of the three tracks is a duo formed of Eddie Prévost’s bowed percussion and Evan Parker’s saxophone(s). These two old hands have played together countless times, and the music sounds like the product of a long ongoing friendship- mutually formed sculptures of twisting, spiralling, fluid sound. For me, these two symbolise the notion of form over style, the simple moulding of sound from basic acoustic elements so as to generate shapes that fold around one another, wrestling, caressing, wrapping around each other to form something new. Still, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Parker’s sax. I have always struggled to be able to articulate why, but there is something about his sound, and the way it insistently just flows through rapid warbling patterns that doesn’t connect with me. I have said before that I realise I am in the minority here, but try as I might Parker’s contributions to much of this disc just feel too busy. Clearly he is engaging with the other two musicians, and clearly everyone combines their sounds perfectly, but while many people admire Parker’s ability and predilection for circular breathing techniques I’ve personally always hoped for the opposite from him- stop and take a breath, leave a little more room in the music. Nevertheless, these two work really well together with those flowing eddies and little crests of billowing sound.
If the first track then is a nice little cameo of tight, talkative improv then the disc’s finest moment is the second piece here, the duo of Prévost and Sebastian Lexer, who utilises his piano+ set-up of software-extended live piano. Here that collision of the old and the new comes to the fore, quite beautifully. As Prévost bows grating tones from the rim of small cymbals so they dissolve into long clear tones from Lexer, and as the heat rises and activity begins to build so seismic crashes on the inside of the piano, amplified and warped by the computer algorithms smash jagged gaps through the shimmering percussion. This track, for me, showcases the sudden, cold indifference of technology’s impact on the tradition of the piano by adding in further the elemental simplicity of the bowed metals. The music all folds together perfectly, as in the first track, but for me its the way that the friction between the old and the new, the acoustic and the electronic both combine and react to create one piece of exceptional music that seethes with energy.
The final track here though, the first duo meeting of Parker and Lexer just frustrates me a little. Parker chatters his way through the piece, which was recorded at Café Oto last January, just as Lexer mixes everything from gamelanesque chimes to rapidly tinkling ivories to billowing clouds of gaseous colour. Whilst there is a connection between the pair that remains solid throughout, I find myself wanting more from Parker than the fluttering twists of tone. I want him to engage with the depth and variety of Lexer’s sound so much more, as Prévost had managed in the previous track. I want him to be warped out of shape by the flying shards of explosive clay, reshaped by the youth of technology, pushed into new ground, but it doesn’t really happen. What we get is Evan Parker flying through some incredibly intricate, equally rapid patterns of soprano sax with Sebastian Lexer finding an array of textures, abrasions and mini explosions to place alongside them. It all flows organically again, there is no sense of a struggle, but that’s probably what frustrates me. I guess I want Parker to feel pushed and prodded by the digitally processed piano, I want his approach to be altered by the onslaught of technology. I want his sax to be sucked in by Lexer’s microphones and spat back out into the mix reshaped and remodelled, so leaving him to adapt, find a balance, but it just doesn’t feel like that. Parker holds his ground, maintains his approach. While the Prévost/Lexer duo saw the two meet each other halfway and let the music spiral upwards here it feels like Lexer finding interesting ways to combine with Parker while his elder collaborator just continues along his way. All together then, this is a really interesting album that at its best really hits some high notes, and at its worse disappoints a little just as it is perfectly satisfying.