Evan Parker takes his sax into altered brain states

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      “People talk about playing with the best, but I know that in rock ’n’ roll, I’ll never play with Keith Richards,” says local drummer Kenton Loewen, on the line from his Vancouver home. The percussionist has apparently resigned himself to the fact that Charlie Watts has a lock on the Rolling Stones’ drum stool in perpetuity, but that doesn’t bother him, because this weekend he’s got a different kind of dream gig.

      “When it comes to improvised music, though,” he says happily, “I get to play with Evan Parker!”

      Chances are you don’t know who Parker is, but that’s okay: the British saxophonist has never gone out of his way to make accessible music. Instead, he’s developed perhaps the most singular voice on his instrument to emerge since the death of his admitted inspiration, John Coltrane. He’s a fluid, snaky, and abstract player, with a truly amazing ability to coax multiple voices from a single horn—and at 68 he’s every bit as much a survivor as Keef.

      Within the local improv community, the news that he’s playing a Western Front show—and hosting an afternoon workshop for members of the Vancouver Electronic Ensemble—is big news, especially as the Front’s music curator, DB Boyko, has booked Loewen and guitarist Gordon Grdina to join him in concert. But the event also marks a milestone of sorts: the release, on limited-edition vinyl, of Vaincu.Va!, which documents Parker’s first Vancouver appearance, way back in 1978.

      “When I heard it, about five or six or seven years ago, it totally spoke to me,” says Boyko of the archival recording, which has since been remastered by improviser and audio guru Jesse Zubot. “I couldn’t believe what I was listening to from that performance. The hair stood up on my arms.”

      Parker himself has fond memories of his first solo tour of North America, which was an ear-opening experience for many listeners. Using circular breathing and multiphonics to give the impression that he was playing multiple instruments simultaneously, he delivered dazzling performances from coast to coast. And, more importantly, he showed many performers a way forward that didn’t rely on aping the American jazz radicals of the 1960s.

      “I think what I did was give permission for people to repeat themselves and get into cyclic patterns,” Parker explains, reached at a friend’s London home. “I hear that as almost like a given now, that this is one of the ways you can approach solo playing.”

      Indeed, Parker’s work, along with that of American minimalists such as Steve Reich, anticipated a lot of the software-and-sampler-based looping that followed. And like any number of later ambient and electronic performers, this acoustic musician is quite capable of giving audiences an out-of-body experience, although he consciously refrains from using the word trance.

      “What I speak about is left-brain/right-brain dominance, although research in hemispheric brain dominance has advanced a lot since I first started talking about those things,” he explains. “But the old basic idea of the left-brain/right-brain split between the rational and the analytic versus the intuitive and the holistic holds true. I think there is something that happens on a good night, when I sort of leave the analytic behind and start to deal with the whole story. That might have some kind of correspondence with an altered brain state, or an altered consciousness state.”

      What Parker is too modest to say is that every night is a good night if he’s on-stage—and Friday’s concert, which will feature a solo set as well as the trio with Loewen and Grdina, should be no different.

      Evan Parker plays the Western Front on Friday (March 22).