Hearing Evan Parker's music is like looking at the moon: the first time you experience it (see it, in the case of the latter), you feel an overwhelming sense of awe about this mysterious, beautiful, singular object that has no parallel to anything else in your world. Despite getting older and having grown accustomed to it always being there, you one day have the opportunity to see this wonder through a new lens or photo series taken from a different angle, and it's new and marvelous all over again.
Many of us came to know Parker through his duets with Derek Bailey wherein his playing was generally focused on bursting, almost-redline, aggressive nano-gestures. Well what a surprise it was to hear him solo where spectacular, multiphonic, twenty-minute runs are par for the course. And there was that dubby collaboration with Jah Wobble (Passage to Hades), and mind-bending explosion with brilliant noise maker John Wiese (C-Section). Likewise with Parker's partner here, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier who can pull the Morton Feldman catalog out of her hat, riff with John Zorn and Zeena Parkins and bang out a cacophony alongside Tony Oxley. And on and on.
Parker and Courvoisier bring their musical myriad to Either Or And and leave the listener guessing from track to track how the duo will attack (or effervesce, or slink, or explode). "If/Or" comes out swinging with Parker's liquid virtuosity paired against Courvoisier's (literally) heavy-handed clusters, low-end rolls and wide-spaced runs. On the contrast, "Oare" features gently resonated inside-the-piano caresses and a barely audible Parker, both eventually winding up into a mania of trills. Courvoisier does double work on "Stillwell" with prepared piano thunks and clangs on one hand, a complete keyboard exploration with the other while Parker flaunts his circular breathing stamina. Spacious pointillism rules the delicate "Heights" with Courvoisier's zither-like strums, wooden creaks and rhythmic plucks; Parker flits between these with buttery tones and soothing warbles. "Stonewall" ventures near Messiaen with pausing, moving chords, moves to Tin Pan Alley and exits like Boulez — whose piano sonatas and Structures sound tame when compared to the closer / title track of Either Or And.
Either Or And is an extraordinary documentary of clashes, rapid-fire disparate ideas, tension (even when Parker and Courvoisier lay back, the air is still prickly and electric) and fusion from two veterans who have a lot to say about themselves, each other and the pursuit of new musics.
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