Evan Parker - House Full of Floors [Tzadik - 2009]I know nobody likes reading what the jerkbag reviewer thinks of an album BEFORE he listens to it. "I thought this was going to sound like _______ but boy was I wrong!" Well, I think I have an excuse this time to write about my "judging a book by it's cover" moment because I was exactly right. For some reason, I had a feeling this was going to be a beautifully recorded, avant-garde, free-jazz, freak-folk jam that would end up really impressing me. It was only 20 seconds into the first track that I was giving myself a pat on the back.
This album is a completely acoustic album with no electronic sound. I am not sure if the realistic room reverb is authentic or something the engineer tacked on, but it sounds completely natural and makes you feel like you are right there with the band while they perform. There does seem to be an interesting effect on the saxophone at the beginning of the last track, Wind Up, as if it was pre-recorded on a dying cassette deck and played live in the room with them as they performed. It is a perfect conclusion to the album since the rest of the tracks don't showcase anything like this.
Basically, what we have here is a small group of improvising acoustic musicians feeding off of each other flawlessly and tastefully, all of whom get the most out of their instruments. An up-right bass, saxophone and acoustic guitar to be exact. I am not sure if these guys (or girls) are classically trained but they understand dynamics and mood like many seasoned orchestra musicians do. Too many times I have seen (or heard) an improv act with a saxophone player who insisted on blowing so hard his reed explodes the entire time. You won't find that here.
This group is great with creating dark, quiet, creeping textures and then somehow working their way into a chaotic frenzy very cohesively. Another thing that really stands out about this group is that at times it's hard to believe it's completely improvised. This group does an amazingly job drifting in and out of moods perfectly aligned with each other. The title track especially showcases this strength. Near the end of the track the group seems to back off their instruments and sort of convulse with short and quiet bursts of tone with percussive tendencies. Slowly they build up until the track gradually falls apart with only an atonal chord quietly strummed by the guitarist (a minor 2nd for all you musicians). It is hard to believe that was never rehearsed. I would not be surprised if there was some sort of conducting going on by Evan himself.
Evan Parker and friends use silence and space to their advantage so much more than most free improv groups do. They use the subtle frequencies their instruments can produce to tell an audible story and don't just wail all the time. There are periods throughout this recording where one of the 3 musicians aren't playing at all. It is impressive to notice this occurrence because it shows a lot of performance maturity. Each artist obviously has the outcome of the overall sound in mind rather than the potential boredom they may encounter while recording.
Justin Marc Lloyd
I wish I had more opportunities to give bad reviews these days. Otherwise I might gain a reputation for being too open-minded and not critical enough. However, I couldn't have found one complaint about this recording if I tried. Even after nearly an hour of listening to an acoustic 3-piece improvise, I felt as if nothing about it became redundant, even for one second. I don't normally listen to this genre, either. I'm more of an electronic fan when it comes to avant sound. This album definitely peaked my curiosity about this side of "noise" and hopefully it will do the same for you.