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Stan Tracey & Evan Parker - Suspensions and Anticipations

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Artist: Stan Tracey & Evan Parker

Album: Suspensions and Anticipations

Label: Psi

Review date: Mar. 21, 2004

Every time I hear of a new Evan Parker release – which is roughly every thirty minutes these days – I wonder if I need any more. I love the guy and, while I’m not entirely convinced that he’s still on the “must hear” list or that his approach these days is radically different than what it was 10 years ago, I still pay attention to his activities. But seriously, do I really need that 50th record? Well in this case, yes I did.

If you’ve been following Parker’s Psi imprint (affiliated with the praiseworthy Emanem label), you’ll note that not only is the man re-releasing a vast number of gems but he’s been cultivating (improbably according to some) a good number of basically mainstream group sessions. Old pal Kenny Wheeler – once a SME stalwart and seen occasionally gracing the bandstand with Parker in recent years (I remember being lucky enough to catch them one night while visiting London’s Vortex) – has had not only a great reissue (Song for Someone) but the fine Dream Sequence, and there is also a cracking date from Gerd Dudek. Why mention this? Because a lot of folks will have to pick their jaws up from the floor when seeing that Parker’s partner on this date is none other than Stan Tracey, pianist dean of the British modernist mainstream. Though Tracey has some avant-chops on record (having recorded for Ogun with, among others, Keith Tippett and Mike Osborne) he’s best known for his post-bop inventions on small group recordings like Portraits Plus. A great synthesist of styles, Tracey also has a remarkable touch, a vast range of techniques, and is among the more responsive and sympathetic players you could wish to hear.

So don’t be too terribly surprised by the pairing; just relish the possibilities. It’s a delight to listen to an hour’s worth of free improvising by two of England’s finest musicians and come away convinced that the potential for a stellar meeting was realized. There are eight duos, two piano solos, and a single sax solo (Evan sticks to tenor throughout), and each is a riveting convergence of idioms. The result is a marvelous blend of Parker’s recent interest in linear playing (incorporating his long-standing tonal experiments into more structuralist contexts) with Tracey’s most oblique harmonizations. All those subliminal references to Newk, Trane, and Shorter we’ve been picking up in Parker’s work for years are foregrounded here, framed by the kind of delicious pianism that you rarely hear with Parker (certainly not from Alex von Schlippenbach and only occasionally from sometime collaborator Marilyn Crispell, both of whom are marvelous but leagues away from Tracey stylistically). A good deal of this music is introspective (with Tracey’s enigmatic chord play framing Parker’s burnished, elongated phrases) with a sense of suspended time, while an equal amount is jittery, bouncing around the harmonic spectrum like a pack of panicked squirrels. Taken altogether, it’s like listening to standards from the asteroid belt or the mangled and spliced audio tape from some hidden civilization’s court music. All in all, I must say I’m glad that I gave this recording my attention; it’s certainly held it each time I play it.

By Jason Bivins

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