Improviser Evan Parker on the ‘Weight of Tradition’ and Staying in Motion

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Evan Parker (left) and Matthew Wright collaborate on Crepuscule In Nickelsdorf, one of two new albums Parker’s contributed to.

(Photo: Peter Gannushskin)

ECM is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. You’ve worked with the label as far back as 1970’s The Music Improvisation Company. How would you characterize your connection with Manfred Eicher and ECM?

Well, of all the strands, perhaps the single most astonishing story has been the phenomenal evolution and growth of ECM. The Music Improvisation Company recording was made in response to an invitation from Manfred Eicher when the catalog had just four records. Now, that story is a worldwide phenomenon and Manfred has made a catalog of monumental proportions, covering such a wide spectrum of genres and genre-busting music.

I first met [ECM’s] Steve Lake when he was a young music journalist in London and we went on to make that series of Electro Acoustic ensemble ‎recordings, for which he was an essential member of the group.

Your ECM discography includes contributions to Sankt Gerold with Paul Bley and Roscoe Mitchell’s Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3—revisited on last year’s 21-disc Art Ensemble compendium. Do you view Bley and Roscoe as peers tilling a soil similar?

When Steve set up the trio recording Time Will Tell with Paul Bley and Barre Phillips, I think he had in mind some kind of sequel to the various [Jimmy] Giuffre trios in which they had each been involved and which he knew were such a strong influence on my musical development.

The collaboration with Roscoe began with the so-called Transatlantic Art Ensemble. There have been quite a number of smaller group projects since then, and I hope that story has not finished yet. I am a great admirer of Roscoe Mitchell, certainly one of the hippest individuals I know.

Have you found that there is a strong support system—if modest by mainstream standards—for free-improvisation and experimental music at this point?

I have watched the scene grow and the various strands come together, new players coming up every year, new promoters, new festivals. It has been a “wonderful life,” as James Stewart might put it.

Do you still feel creatively energized at this point in your life?

You catch me at a quiet time—summer holidays, in effect. But before the end of the month, I will be playing with Sylvie Courvoisier, Mark Feldman and Ikue Mori in Mulhouse[, France,] and after that, the next season starts with a vengeance. I feel very fortunate to still be in good health and to still have an appetite for playing. DB

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