Evan Parker Quartet ‘All Knavery and Collusion’ LP/CD (Cadillac) 4/5

Subjectivity and music. Why does Albert Ayler give my wife a migraine? Why did Soulfly make our old cat, Tommy, chase imaginary mice around our living room? And why does Florence make me want to smash up machinery? Subjective innit.

Lots of research has been carried out into subjectivity and the arts, especially regarding why we might like abstract stuff like free/improv jazz. A common hypothesis is that sensation-seeking, non-conformist, open-hearted, undogmatic types don’t need the simple order and repeated hooks of, say, pop music, to arrive at meaningful form. They can derive meaning, shape and enjoyment from complexity, ambiguity, conceptual representation and small segments (not the whole). Stuff doesn’t need an overt structure or a happy resolution. It doesn’t need to be ‘complete’. It can just…be. And us bright, chaos-synthesisers will just fill in our own gaps. Subjectively.

What about objectivity and music? Well, Evan Parker is objectively an exceptional saxophonist having pioneered and expanded various extended techniques. He’s also objectively a legend. Now nearing his 77th birthday he’s released a new album titled “All Knavery and Collusion”, a term Daniel Defoe used, in his 1772 book “A Journal of the Plague Year”, to refer to those who sought to hoodwink the public regarding the seriousness of the bubonic plague. Very UK Covid apposite, eh? The session was recorded in June ‘19 at Rimshot studios in Sittingbourne and the quartet is completed by the absurdly good Alexander Hawkins (piano), John Edwards (bass) and Paul Lytton (drums).

The titular, angle-free opener warmly welcomes us to what is roughly 50 minutes of a quartet sounding so relaxed in each other’s company that you can imagine them playing from comfy sofas, in their socked feet, drinking tea and eating digestives. Parker and Hawkins release conversational curves and pepperings that advance and retreat while Edwards’ and Lytton’s constant motion creates a shifting, travelling transparent thing, maybe like a propelled bubble, or perhaps more nebular, cloudlike…a murmuration.

“The Alchemy of John Edwards”, after Ornette’s Scott Lafaro, is aptly named. Edwards’ extraordinary, rumbling, scraping and scrapping double bass sorcery is occasionally, in spurts, applauded, commented upon, prodded by t’other three. Edwards shines throughout.

“A Well Staring at the Sky” has Parker’s circular breathing like rippling water enlivened by varying crosswinds. It popples and shimmers and fades.

“The Influence of the Dog Star” is foreboding. A wide but sparse canvas of textures and brief sonic spills have you anxious and vigilant. Like you’re in the dark, aware of things lurking, snapping around to see where they might be and what pain they bring.

“A Blazing Star or Comet Appeared” achieves that absurd state where negative space (quiet) is as fulfilling as positive space (flurries of piano, percussion, bass, sax). The drama it creates is invigorating.

Epic, 24-minute “The Weather Set in Hot” breathes it’s warm, imposing breath. Again Parker and Hawkins circle and probe and retreat, oppressive and nonchalantly intense. Niggling at you. Edwards and Lytton egging them on. Then, a third of the way in, the mugginess relents as first Hawkins, and then Parker, blow through the density with streaming, circular patterns of vigorous relief. Then quiet and Edwards creaks and taps like a moaning sailboat until the quartet gradually meets to swell, wane, swell.

“Art is a Science” is Hawkins; initially pensive, watchful, reserved, diffident, unsure of the next move. Then, artistically, scientifically, he attempts to explore, find meaning, create form. It finishes heart-breakingly and beautifully unresolved.

“All Knavery and Collusion” is constantly stimulating, often beautiful. It presents a narrative where form, texture, concepts and emotion are clear but there is no overt storyline, no overt rhythm. There’s much drama, much motion and warm sympathetic delivery. I feel energised, refreshed and calm. Calm, like I’ve been with nature, like I’ve been hugging trees. Cleansed. I don’t know if Evan would agree with my characterisation of his quartet’s work but I was just filling in my own gaps to his music. Subjectively.

Ian Ward