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Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble - The Eleventh Hour

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Artist: Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble

Album: The Eleventh Hour

Label: ECM

Review date: Oct. 6, 2005

Evan Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble is a bit like an empire: huge, imposing, and at this point capable of picking up and shedding major pieces of itself without losing its fundamental identity. Founding member and bassist Barry Guy sat this one out and sampler operators Richard Barrett and Paul Obermayer (collectively known as FURT) joined the ranks of the electronicists, but it's still very identifiably the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble.

Still, some of the lines are getting blurry. "Real" musicians Paul Lytton (percussion) and Phil Wachsmann (violin) have always augmented their acoustic sounds with electronics, and now longtime signal processor Lawrence Casserley is credited with percussion and voice. The group process is less transparent; originally the musicians offered up some sounds, then the black box guys worked on them, but now the signals might get passed from one laptop boy to the next like a game of Chinese whispers.

Swollen to 11 members, you'd expect things to get crowded, but quite the opposite occurs. The Eleventh Hour is all about space, so much so that Marcco Vecchi devotes his attention entirely to "sound projection." His efforts manifest in the album's deep and panoramic acoustic; at some points, discrete sounds repeat and degrade in a patient march across the stereo spectrum. Elsewhere, collective expressions fly at you en masse and distorted, like some Star Wars dogfight sequence seen through a sequence of bent mirrors. But the music never feels crowded or chaotic.

Parker gets his licks in early. On the first track, "Shadow Play," three electronic musicians refract one of the saxophonist's trademarked serpentine soprano solos so that a host of digital Evan Parkers offer oblique commentary upon the one doing the circular breathing.

The rest of the album is given over to the title piece. After a dense initial salvo, it settles into a series of settings featuring the different acoustic players. In a way, they're sonatas, only the orchestra is electronic, and the soloist is as much a generative sound source as a focal point. The resulting sound is detailed and tactile, but it has a sheen that distinguishes the Ensemble from other electro-acoustic outfits, and brings to mind Miles Davis's mid-60s quintet. Like them, this group manages to be at once uncompromisingly adventurous and approachably slick.

By Bill Meyer

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