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KAFFE MATTHEWS violin & electronics
JOHN EDWARDS double bass
PETER CUSACK bouzouki, guitar & electronics
HUGH DAVIES strings, springs & electronics
EVAN PARKER soprano saxophone (on A6, B10-B13 & C1 only)

A1 - The Sitting on the Roof Series 1 - 6:07
A2 - The Sitting on the Roof Series 2 - 5:54
A3 - The Sitting on the Roof Series 3 - 3:37
A4 - Laughing in the House - 11:35
A5 - Another Fire Drill - 16:31
A6 - Double Headed Serpent - 28:04
B1 - The Ghost Series 1: (Pizzicato) - 5:15
B2 - The Ghost Series 2: (Pizzicato) - 4:12
B3 - The Ghost Series 3: (Arco) - 6:44
B4 - Sub-Group MM 1 - 2:52
B5 - Sub-Group MM 2 - 3:03
B6 - Sub-Group RD - 3:47
B7 - Sub-Group MW - 5:02
B8 - Sub-Group PC - 6:28
B9 - Sub-Group PD - 2:50
B10 - Sub-Group HD - 2:47
B11 - Sub-Group JR - 5:54
B12 - Sub-Group JE - 3:05
B13 - Sub-Group KM - 3:47
C1 - The Spiderís Web - 29:51
C2 - Single Headed Serpent - 28:04
C3 - Flying Spark - 5:38

Original sessions produced by Evan Parker
Digital recording by Steve Lowe
London (Gateway Studios) - 1998 January 4
(C3 - 1997 January 10)
(Evan Parker was overdubbed on A6 - 2000 July 5 - C2 is the same piece without overdubbing)
Total time 193:52

All previously unissued


Excerpts from sleeve notes:

At the start of 1997, Evan Parker invited 23 musicians into the studio to record some large and medium scale improvisations. The most focused result was a performance by the strings with some electronics, heard here as Flying Spark.

A year later, this inspired Parker to just invite string players, some of whom use electronics, to a recording session. (Not all of those asked could attend due to prior commitments). The session resulted in about two and a half hours of magnificent music, all of which is heard here in the order of performance. (Less than one minute of music has been edited out.)

Having invited these performers into the studio, Parker basically just let them get on and make music. The results were so good that he did not join in until towards the end of the session. After the first five improvisations, he asked the ensemble for a piece to be used as an accompaniment for an overdubbed saxophone solo. Two and a half years later he did overdub the ensuing piece, and the end result is Double Headed Serpent. Since the original piece is also very fine (and quite different) in its own right, it is also included without the overdubbing as Single Headed Serpent.

Following this extended dense drone-like piece, there was a complete contrast with two short, plucked group improvisations and a bowed one. After this, each member of the ensemble chose a subset of four to six players, resulting in the Sub-Groups. Some of these included Parker playing for the first time that day. The final and longest piece of the day - The Spider's Web - was the only time all ten musicians performed together.

The performances show the influences of both of the great English traditions of group improvisation - those of AMM and SME. Evan Parker had been a member of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble in 1967 when the SME method was first put into practice; but he has also been an admirer of AMM since his first exposure to them around the same time, and has been invited to guest with them occasionally in the intervening years. Starting with his work with the Music Improvisation Company in 1968, he has been involved in exploring ways of combining the AMM and SME methods. By now, these two methods, and the ways to combine them, are 'in the air' - lingua franca to most improvisers on the scene, as can be heard here.

Martin Davidson (2001)


Excerpts from reviews:

Voted Improv record of 2001 in THE WIRE

Among the top 10 jazz (!) records chosen in PULSE! - the magazine of Tower Records USA - by Art Lange 2001.

Voted best record of 2001 by MASSIMO RICCI in DEEP LISTENINGS (Italy)

"I can't help but being enthusiastic about this 3-CD set, for sure one of the most intense new music experiences you can go across. All of this is memorable string improvisation, with a slice of electronics and Parker ferociously adding his reed in some of the tracks. This is a group of vibrating souls catching your heart and your stomach in several combinations; the second disc of the set is a series of vignettes so radical yet so beautiful in their basic nature you can't avoid listening with maximum attention. Among all the cookies here, there are a couple of wonderful pieces: Double Headed Serpent consists of non-stop circular breathing, pulverizing lines, a growing drone that makes ground under your feet tremble and roar. Its version 'sans Parker' is also present under the name Single headed serpent and it's maybe even better in its rumbling power. A lot of these tracks are reminiscent of AMM but in a new, fertile way of approaching each instrument; these guys are fantastic and this is music of the highest rank. By far the best record of 2001 and one of the top of the decade."


"This is not a New Music version of CHARLIE PARKER WITH STRINGS. With the crisp precision that is a hallmark of Martin Davidson's work with the superb Emanem label, this disc is purposely entitled STRINGS WITH EVAN PARKER: Parker actually plays on less than half of each of these discs, with the remainder given over to a series of hypnotic improvisations by the string players in various combinations. With all these instruments of similar timbres, this recording could have become a mess of vaguely-defined sting tones, but Steve Lowe's digital recording is extraordinarily clear and inviting, giving definition to each of the instruments and allowing the listener to appreciate the luxuriousness, audacity, and multiplicity of their interplay.

Especially worth noting on a bountiful three discs' full of wondrous music are the three string tracks that open disc two: the three Ghost Series explorations. The pizzicato and arco notations do indeed mark out general ideas for the improvisers, and the music they make is reminiscent of Xenakis' string quartets: alive with unexpected drama and fine shading, and full of startling shifts that never throw these instrumentalists for a loop.

The master saxophonist doesn't make an appearance until the last track of disc one, where he overdubs his trademark circular soprano lines over a string track recorded two-and-a-half years previously. Purists who blanch at such an approach will perhaps be mollified to learn that the same track, Double Headed Serpent, appears on disc three without Parker's overdubbing as Single Headed Serpent. The comparison is remarkable in many ways: first, it's hard to believe that Parker wasn't in the same room with the string players at the time of their recording, as his response to them is intricate and instantaneous - and sometimes so thoroughly well-chosen that I was tempted to think that they were responding to him. Yet although the strings are somewhat of necessity relegated to a slightly secondary role when Parker is on the scene, without him the string track reveals itself as anything but a backup track

Although he doesn't pick up his tenor on any of these tracks, Parker seems generally disinclined to enter into the sustained and intricately nuanced circular whirling that distinguishes much of his solo work. He has remarked upon the sacrificial aspect of playing with others, and here the sacrifices pay off to good effect: on all tracks where he appears, he tends to favour short lines that mesh intriguingly with the higher string tones of the violins. And the electronic sounds on Sub-Group PC and elsewhere are as artfully deployed as Parker's best electronic forays.

So all in all, this is a highly successful project for all the musicians concerned, and yet another addition to the ever-more impressive resume of one of the greatest musicians of our time, Evan Parker."


"Though modest and unorthodox in construction by concert hall standards, the high-calibre players involved create a complex, shifting and fluidly dancing weave of sound that contemporary conductors could only dream of drawing from establishment orchestras. The results are never less than fascinating, with a fullness of sound and forceful momentum far removed from the polite, obsessively detailed miniatures I had expected. Crucial here are the electronic additions and accretions by Kaffe Matthews, Peter Cusack and Hugh Davies. And when Parker does join in, rather than the strings lying passive beneath his horn, they engage with it, directing and cajoling. His trademark flurries, complex fingerings and circular patterns blend into the dark stew of plucked, scraped, bowed and sampled steel and gut. If I have one caveat, it's the length of the record. With the quality of music on offer, I can understand why Emanem felt duly bound to release it all, but three hours is a little much to digest at one sitting, especially for music this thrillingly dense."


"Clocking in at over three hours, it takes some time to absorb all the music captured here. The notion of CD as landscape never seemed more real. The recordings originate almost entirely from a single day in January 1998, instigated by Parker after promising results a year earlier with a larger group. Parker plays soprano, but for the first half of the session is silent, leaving it up to the crack team of nine of London's finest. They waste no time in getting into some determined and fast-paced manoeuvres.

By the end of The Sitting on the Roof Series there's no doubt that this is an abundantly resourceful group - slamming, thwacking, rubbed and picked conglomerations, insect-ish skitterings. The exuberance feeds into an alertness for, and recognition of, each others string tactics. Particular sounds find echoes all over the place. Textures quickly escalate in intensity and grow multiple writhing limbs. Yes, a bit sprawling and there's a pummelling momentum throughout the early part of the session. But the group know when to rein things in and highlights come in moments when the intensity subsides and a more eloquent alien junkyard mood sets in. I'd hazard a guess that this sharp soundscaping is more telepathically than visibly conducted.

After the tumultuous opening, more lengthy and expansive pieces take shape and although the sounds are completely open-palette, there's a fairly consistent character in part attributable to the cavernous sound of Gateway studio. It's an uneasy mood, more shadows than light and more other-worldly than intimate. Melodic material is thin on the ground.

The liner notes make reference to 'AMM and SME methods... [and] ... ways to combine them'. The group make a fair and extensive crack at the idea, although to my ears the sound leans more towards a large scale-AMM. Sculptural, layered, humming and vaguely-looped elements mix with those more counterpuntal and eruptive, with no clear design agenda except what sounds like a collective intent to keep things constantly unstable. There's no shortage of strong individual parts, but don't ask me who is doing what. The processed and electronic contributions from Matthews, Cusack and the ubiquitous Hugh Davies all stand out.

By Another Fire Drill the longer time frames start to sink in and there's some priceless orchestrations. Rippling percussive finger-play of muted gong tones accelerate like a collapsing hall of mirrors as plucked lines pile up into a churning, murky bridge. Abrasive bowing melts into a vaporish drone which is dispatched by a return bout of pizzicato chamber freak out. An ever present stream of background chatter is kept up outside of the main flow. There's seldom just one thing going on.

The static-but-busy effect continues into Double Headed Serpent onto which Parker has over-dubbed a soprano solo after the session. The sax is a beacon through some deep textures, giving aerial aspects to a fairly impenetrable collective brew. Individuals poke up for air, but this is mostly astringent, cloudy stuff which Parker takes on with his usual calm resolve, a swimmer crossing a lake of unknown origins and unchartable contents. His playing is whirling chunks of close note groupings and some elongated near drones before settling into a more continuous looped outpouring and a broader melodic scope. At some points he seems determined to push into an overload of sounds and the sheer mass is hard-going. But as the half hour or so progresses, sparser lines and jazzier tones lighten things slightly. Not entirely a 'together' piece. Parker plays right through and not always compatibly, but that may be the intention.

On disc C is the string track minus Parker's overdub. A shade calmer, but no less forbidding, finding its way with the unyielding force of a planetary trajectory. The effect is neither meditative or restful. The ways these improvisers handle 'drone music' is far removed from the more predictable results of the genre.

The three discs follow the sequence of the recording and include everything that went to tape. Depending on your stamina disc B has integral listening or sideline action. The Ghost Series is the group back in kinetic, high impact mode with pizzicato and then arco playing as the focus. Each string player then gets the chance to select and record a small group, some including Parker's first playing on the day. Nice music ensues but the context seems peculiar and peripheral, haphazard and undifferentiated except where groups such as Peter Cusack's hit a more distinctive sonic focus. Marathon listeners might find the smaller groups a welcome breather. I could take or leave it.

Another near 30-minute track, The Spider's Web, wraps up the day's recording, with the entire group in action for the first time, a culmination of sorts. The group swarms around Parker's circular runs and forms a persuasive counterweight. Parker has by no means any audible guiding role, and the balance is still forever being tilted by the hyper-responsive ensemble. Some lovely transitions again and the final ten-minutes is the longest section of relative quietness. A sedimentary trawling ambience gently expires underneath almost poignant clumps of notes and sparse percussive splatters."


"Yet another Evan Parker recording? Trust me, this one's a little different. In 1997 Parker took a couple of dozen musicians into Gateway studio, and various large and medium scale improvisations were recorded. Only Flying Spark, played by the strings, survived the editorial process. But Parker was obviously intrigued by the idea of working with strings; one year later he reconvened them, and a huge amount of material was recorded. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the session was that Parker chose to play on only five of the 20 tracks, four of which were sub-groups of the full ensemble. The sub-group pieces, each of which has a different configuration of players, are diverse in character and mostly brief. The Spider's Web, nearly half an hour long, was the only one on which Parker engaged with the full ensemble. He also asked the players to create a substantial piece of music - Single Headed Serpent - over which he could lay a soprano saxophone solo. This they did, and two and a half years later he overdubbed his part. The track was then given the title Double Headed Serpent.

I suspect that the original plan was to release only a single album, or a double at most. But because the music-making was so consistently good it must have been difficult to decide what to prune or drop. Even Single Headed Serpent is utterly self-sufficient. In the end, Martin Davidson decided to release the entire session plus Flying Spark - almost three and a quarter hours of music. It was a brave decision given that Parker plays on only 74 minutes of the material. That's why he's given second billing in the title.

As the set's liner note indicates, there are two distinct stylistic approaches to free improvisation that characterise the music's early development in the UK, each of which is associated with a specific group. The SME approach is atomistic, a sequence of charged and dazzling moments; the AMM approach is laminar, arguably more elegant, certainly more developmental. Another Fire Drill is a masterclass presentation of these different approaches, and an extraordinarily well-crafted piece of improvisation. It opens in a pecking SME manner, has a long drone-based mid-section informed by AMM, and returns finally to its original orientation. It is, incidentally, yet another track on which Parker does not play. But it would be a mistake to underestimate his role in the music. He blends seamlessly into the ensembles when that's required of him, and his sinuous and muscular soprano lines on Double Headed Serpent coil tightly around the music made by the strings but never become as one with it. This is perhaps the finest example I've heard of his more coolly lyrical style. Parkerphiles will - or should - find this recording irresistible, but its true value is in the way the strings, subtly enhanced by electronics, compellingly occupy centre-stage. There's a quiet revolution going on within free improvisation, and string players are writing the manifesto."


"Bristling with energy, the music moves en masse, changing shape via various configurations of Parker (on soprano) and nine of Europe's most daring string players, a few of whom augment their roles with electronics. Conjuring images of upended chamber recitals, gothic churches in misty graveyards, and orchestras of insects, this animated three-hour work hums with an electro-acoustic ambience that seems omnipresent, even during the dramatic silences. Like a thicket of scurrying organisms, the timbral mix of machines, strings and sax emanates froma single locus. It's often impossible to identify the individual parts from the whole. And, of course, that's precisely the point."


"Doesn't every great saxophonist have to do an album with strings? Well, this ain't Charlie Parker, you can be sure of that.

Parker is certainly the 'star' improviser here (though he only appears on approximately 1/3 of the music), but each musician on this triple-disc gem has been central to the development of British improvisation in recent decades. At the centre of these performances is the reconsideration of the physical properties of stringed instruments. Attack, decay, resonance, vibrato, tension, action.

The Sitting on the Roof Series are marvellous essays in contemporary string technique, going well beyond the formulaic divisions into pizzicato and arco. There is much clatter and caterwaul, and the manifold textural possibilities of such instrumentation are taken full advantage of (one hears the unique sound of Russell's nylon-string guitar set off against Edwards' groaning bass, or the thrumming of Davies' harp suspended amidst electronics and cellos). One of the most compelling is Another Fire Drill where the lone spectral voice of a violin rises from the bubbling cauldron of electronic and low strings - marvellous. On Double Headed Serpent an intoxicating drone builds in intensity, with each member of the string ensemble generating overtones and multiphonics. Parker insinuates himself into the sonic tapestry, circular breathing, spitting fire, and bending pitches (the Evan-less version, Single Headed Serpent, is lovely and quite multi-textural).

These internal possibilities within the larger string ensemble are exploited in the sub-groupings that make up much of disc two. First are a series of near-etudes, where the string ensemble explores the possibilities in basic arco and pizzicato approaches. The sub-groups are absolutely marvellous - they remind me more of Ligeti, Elliot Carter, and Berio than of anything else, all the more impressive given that these are spontaneous creations. When Parker joins the small groups, he flits and darts about like a bird, contributing tastefully to the overall group dynamic rather than charging to the fore. Amazing how he tailors his trademark soprano sound to fit the buzzing pizz and groans of the string players. And the use of electronics on the later selections is superb.

The Spider's Web is the other epic piece included here, and the ensemble uses an entirely different approach than on Serpent. This one is more jagged and dissociative. Flying Spark is a shimmering jewel, capping off a wonderful 3-hour experience.

In the last few years, Parker has thrown himself into a number of intriguing situations that fall outside of his regular groupings like the Schlippenbach Trio or Parker/Guy/Lytton. Alongside his duos with members of AMM, STRINGS stands as a challenging and important document of master improvisers in common creation."


"STRINGS WITH EVAN PARKER is a newly released 3-CD set, presented to us by some of the prime movers and shakers of the British improvised music circuit. And while Parker, performing solely on soprano sax, is not featured on every piece, his commanding presence is felt on the Double Headed Serpent, The Spider's Web and a few other works.

Parker's muscular and patented circular breathing style of attack is noticeably evident on Double Headed Serpent, where he advances towards a series of mystifying trance-like sequences, consisting of blazing lines in conjunction with his often-Herculean stamina. Here, the string section along with various implementations of electronics, bespeak kaleidoscopic textures earmarked with angularity and fervour amid intermittent allusions of gears grinding in some sort of industrial manufacturing plant.

Throughout these often captivating exhibitions, the listener will perhaps rarely encounter any one or two sequences that are repeated for an observable length of time. Basically, the musicians provide us with a glimmering snapshot of improvisational excellence as they perpetuate a hodgepodge of mood-evoking themes via entangled and altogether magnificent fabrics of sound."


"The music is equally arresting whether it's full ensemble or sub-group, pizzicato or arco - the strings consistently demonstrating that they're able to do things with time as well as pitch, usually at the same time. They're fascinating with or without Parker, and one remarkable piece offers the alternative: the half-hour, sustained and hypnotic Single Headed Serpent, also heard as Double Headed Serpent with Parker's overdubbed soprano."



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