Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Eleventh Hour (ECM 1924)

The Eleventh Hour

Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble
The Eleventh Hour

Evan Parker soprano saxophone, voice
Philipp Wachsmann violin, live electronics
Paul Lytton percussion, live electronics
Agustí Fernández piano, prepared piano
Adam Linson double-bass
Lawrence Casserley signal processing instrument, persussion, voice
Joel Ryan sample and signal processing
Walter Prati computer processing
Richard Barrett sampling keyboard, live electronics
Paul Obermayer sampling keyboard, live electronics
Marco Vecchi sound projection
Recorded November 2004, Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow
Mixed February 2005 at Gateway Studio, Kingston-upon-Thames
Engineer: Steve Lowe
Produced by Steve Lake

The birds have survived winter’s bane. Wind pulls their feathers northward. The cranes arch their necks. Let the awakening begin, they seem to say. Chickadees distort in and out of frame, radio stations at the whim of a quavering dial. The crows prune their ebony in the guise of indignation. The starlings weep electricity. Echoes of samples wound forward lift their minds while lowering their eyes. Hammers and strings convulse in riddles of expression. Ghosts become living. The analog becomes digital. There is always something of one in the other.

So begins The Eleventh Hour, the fourth album by saxophonist Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble for ECM. Adding to his already growing menagerie are the voices of Richard Barrett and Paul Obermayer, both remarkable composers and electronic alchemists. Their extensive databank brings a gravid feeling that such manipulations often lack. In the same vein are knob-turners Lawrence Casserley, Joel Ryan, and Walter Prati, all of whom bring so much to “Shadow Play,” the opening track described above in which their real-time modifications expand upon Parker’s multilayered soprano solo. The latter’s relative absence thereafter speaks to his appreciation for space and his ability to mark its passage without uttering a note. And while we do hear ghosts of Barry Guy in the mix, it is American bassist Adam Linson who takes the stage in his place.

This vibrant record documents the 11-piece ensemble in performances commissioned by Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts, under whose auspices it developed the five-part title piece nightly for a week in early November 2004. The Parker solo is from November 3rd, the centerpiece from three days later. Part 1 begins in a flurry of zippers, catches, and locks coming undone in one glorious catharsis (then again, catharsis may not be the right word, for the end of every tunnel begins another). Violinist Phillipp Wachsmann is a prominent voice in Part 2. Jagged, cilial, and primordial, he playfully alludes to Arvo Pärt’s violin/piano version of Fratres amid a small explosion of squeals and giggles. The filaments of Part 3 wrap us in droning bliss, pianist Agustí Fernández continuing where he left off on Memory/Vision with deeply felt cartilage. The human voice (courtesy of Parker and Casserley) makes a rare EAE appearance in Part 4, adding considerable movement to the palette. Reeds crackle like logs in a settling fire, holding fast to the smoke that draws their spirit out, tendril by tendril. This leaves us with a taste of afterlife in Part 5, which glows among the embers left behind to a tune of humming sky, gilded by a veneer of high-pitched sweetness to the savory heart within.

The divisions between parts seem only nominal at first, sharing as they do the same blood in their veins, but upon closer listening they reveal distinct planes to the overall shape. The mounting electronic presence this time reveals the henna-patterned hand of technology in utterly glowing ways and forges an unforgettable experience that is atmospheric to the core. Like any EAE session, this will challenge as many as it delights. Either way, it’s worth taking a chance to see which camp you’ll fall in with.

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