Evan Parker (born in Bristol, 1944) took up the saxophone at the age of 14. Early influences included Paul Desmond, Eric Dolphy, and above all John Coltrane. After witnessing the Cecil Taylor Trio with Jimmy Lyons and Sunny Murray in full flood in New York in 1962 he was, as he says, “marked for life”, converted to the intensities of free jazz. Back in England, he gradually found players to share his fervour, including John Stevens and the members of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble – Dave Holland, Kenny Wheeler, Paul Rutherford, Derek Bailey and others – and, importantly, Peter Kowald, who made the introductions to the German scene. Parker played on Peter Brötzmann’s still dangerous ‘Machine Gun’ in ’68 and, before the 60s had run their course, had also recorded with Manfred Schoof and Pierre Favre. In 1970 he joined the Alex von Schlippenbach Trio, of which he is still a member, and subsequently the Globe Unity Orchestra. By this point the hallmarks of his unique style were established, his combinations of circular breathing, tonguing, rhythm patterns, overtones and polytones making his sound instantly recognisable.
Free improvised music has accounted for most of Parker’s activities over the last forty years, whether playing solo or in groups, but both jazz and art music composers have also deployed the arresting physicality of his sound as a contrasting and energising element. His saxophones have been heard inside jazz big bands led by Kenny Wheeler, Chris McGregor, Barry Guy, Stan Tracey and Charlie Watts and in the chamber music of Michael Nyman, Gavin Bryars, Frederic Rzewski and others.
A major force in European improvising, Parker has collaborated, too, with American innovators, amongst them Cecil Taylor, Paul Bley, Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, George Lewis and Wadada Leo Smith. He has also been sought out by artists on the experimental fringe of pop music, and Scott Walker, Robert Wyatt, Annette Peacock, David Sylvian, Jah Wobble, Spring Heel Jack, and Squarepusher have all called upon the sonorities that only Evan Parker’s saxes can provide.
The reiterative, intricately-detailed patterns of Parker’s soprano saxophone improvisations can recall the ‘loops’ of systems music. Aspects of electronics have long interested him; already in 1969, in the Music Improvisation Company, his saxophone phrases responded to the tweaked coil microphones of Hugh Davies. In the subsequent duo with Paul Lytton, raw live electronics were again frequently foregrounded. Since 1990 Parker has led the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble whose radical cross-referencing of improvisation and real-time sound processing has brought fresh sound-colours into the music as well as new ways of working. Ensemble member Richard Barrett has spoken of the EAE providing a model for a new kind of improvising orchestra.
Evan Parker appears on more than 200 recordings on labels including ECM, FMP, Emanem, Incus, Ogun, Po Torch, Okka, Island, CBS, RCA etc. In 2001, he founded his own label, Psi.