“The Eleventh Hour” is the fourth ECM album by Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, the group formed by the English saxophonist in 1992 to explore the nexus of free improvisation and real time sound processing. The hour-long title piece was developed in response to a commission from Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts and premiered as the culmination of CCA’s “Free RadICCAls” concert-and-workshop series in November 2004. Over the course of a week Parker rehearsed his expanded 11-piece ensemble, refining and adjusting the new piece, and each evening the ensemble members played in different semi-ad hoc combinations. On the first night, November 3rd, Parker played one of his extraordinary soprano saxophone improvisations which was subjected to the spontaneous electronic and electro-acoustic modifications of Lawrence Casserley, Joel Ryan and Walter Prati. Working with the depth of the sound as well as with transformations of Parker’s musical material, these three scientist-composers helped create a piece of vast dimension, sculpting the space in which this improvisation was heard. Now titled “Shadow Play”, this sub-group improvisation opens the present disc.
The version of “The Eleventh Hour” heard here is the live first performance from November 6th 2004. A new physicality in the ensemble sound, immediately evident, is in part attributable to the input of guests Richard Barrett and Paul Obermeyer. Both well known as composers in their own right – particularly Barrett whose recent work has included commissions from the Cikada Ensemble and the BBC Symphony Orchestra – they also comprise the tough-minded live electronic improvising duo FURT, a group with a 20-year history. Barrett/Obermayer contribute a tangled, ever-permutating riot of sound, fast moving and densely-packed with event, that is at the centre of several ‘movements’ in the new work.
The FURT duo first worked with the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble at the Donaueschingen Festival in 2003 in a performance of Parker’s “SET (for Lynn Margulis)”, in preparation for which they loaded their laptop computers with sound samples from each of the acoustic players in the band. These sounds form only a small part of their huge sonic vocabulary on “The Eleventh Hour”, but if there are fleeting moments when it feels like Barry Guy is present, then FURT is the reason why. There is a sense in which Barrett/Obermayer seem to ‘complete’ the group: their hard, very concrete sounds are in stark contrast to the spacious reverberations of the electro-acoustic processing team.
Young American bassist Adam Linson, substituting for Guy on the Glasgow gigs, brought energies of his own to the concerts and recording. A former student of George Lewis’s in San Diego, Linson now lives in Berlin where he works regularly with Alexander von Schlippenbach.
Spanish pianist Agustí Fernandez made a strong contribution already to “Memory/Vision”, the Ensemble’s 2003 release and has a yet more central role to play in “The Eleventh Hour” where his lyrical side as well as his more motoric playing is well-deployed. Inspired initially by Cecil Taylor and Iannis Xenakis (with whom he also studied at Darmstadt), Fernandez has worked with a wide range of artists from Butch Morris to Spanish Butoh dancer Andrés Corchero, from Mat Maneri to Marilyn Crispell.
Joel Ryan was born in Danbury, Connecticut. He came to music gradually via physics and philosophy (he was a student of Herbert Marcuse). Ryan’s musical teachers included Ravi Shankar and Mexican film composer Jose Barroso and, while living in California, he was inspired by live performances of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Harry Partch and Jimi Hendrix, and has played with Evan Parker in many contexts over the last decade, including the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble and the scaled-down Electro-Acoustic Quartet (with Parker, Lytton and Casserley), and works regularly with Frances-Marie Uitti and with Joelle Leandre’s group.
Lawrence Casserley was one of the pioneers of electronic and electro-acoustic music in Britain. Founder of the Colourscape Festival, professor of electronic music studies at the Royal College of Music for more than 25 years, composer, computer musician, instrument inventor, he has been ubiquitous in this area of creativity. In the last decade he has emphasised collaboration with improvisers.
Milan-based Walter Prati is also recognised as a composer bringing fresh ideas to electronic music, and his reputation is growing both in new music and in improvisation. He has also collaborated with musicians from rock’s progressive wing, including Robert Wyatt and Thurston Moore, and recently has played – as a cellist – in trio with Barry Guy and Maya Homburger. Prati’s associate Marco “Bill” Vecchi is currently responsible, in the increasingly complex sound world of the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, for “sound projection”, faithfully conveying the balance of acoustic and electronic forces, especially in concert.
Philipp Wachsmann and Paul Lytton were both founder members of the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, and have frequently played together, in diverse musical combinations, over the last thirty years. They have a duo album on ECM “Some Other Season”, and work alongside each other in the King Übü orchestra, in trio with electronic musician Michael Bunce, and in a new quartet with AMM pianist John Tilbury and American saxophonist Ken Vandermark.
Parker himself is, meanwhile, the most prolific and, arguably, the most influential player to have emerged from European free improvised music. He has appeared on around 250 albums, including many as a leader or co-leader, but has always considered the ECM discs special. He first recorded for ECM in 1979 with the Music Improvisation Company, the far-sighted group which combined electronics and free improvisation and established a blueprint for the work the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble is continuing today. Other ECM recordings include discs with the trio with Paul Bley and Barre Phillips, with Kenny Wheeler, and with Gavin Bryars.
Further ECM releases with Evan Parker are in preparation, including Munich recordings with the Transatlantic Art Ensemble, the project co-led with fellow saxophone innovator Roscoe Mitchell.