Tom Jenkinson (electric six-string bass) & Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophones)
Reviewed by: Julian Maynard-Smith
Reviewed: 16 July, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
Tom Jenkinson is like a musical son of Evan Parker: happiest ‘out there’ at the furthest edges of the jazz universe, twisting the fabric of the music-noise continuum, restlessly inventive, gleefully warping sound with a barrage of electronics. So the surprise was not that these two musicians performed together, but that Jenkinson left his box of tricks at home and played the electric bass straight.
In fact, his solo performance on six-string bass, which occupied the whole of the first set, sounded more like an attempt to perform a guitar recital. At the flick of a wrist he’d snap straight from slap bass to almost flamenco-style finger-picked arpeggios: thunderclaps followed by rainbows. Unfortunately the undoubted technical prowess suffered from a lack of narrative shape, one dazzling fret-board run sounding much like another. There was a whiff of the ‘anything an electric guitarist can do, I can do too’ attitude, particularly with the guitar-hero hammer-on trills. The over-amplification didn’t help, boomy in the bottom end muddying the sound. Impressive? Yes, in a blokey sort of way. Musically satisfying? Not from a musician whose recordings show so much more imagination.
Evan Parker opened the second set on soprano saxophone. His performance was almost an exercise in pure texture, shards of brass sparkling in what sounded like a minimalist composition played in double time. Renowned for his circular breathing, Parker performed the entire piece as one seamless stream of notes, his glassblower cheeks swelling and subsiding like bellows. Rapid ostinatos, combined with lower-register punctuation marks and overtones high above the normal range of a soprano saxophone, created a hypnotic sound like a fluttering flute, tin whistle and saxophone playing together. It was the highlight of the evening.
Next, Tom Jenkinson and Evan Parker finally – finally – played together, Parker swapping to tenor saxophone. The most cohesive aspect of the performance was how each player matched the sonorities of the other, Parker generally leading with Jenkinson following: a key rattle on the tenor sax, a fret slap on the bass; overtone squeaks on tenor sax, behind-the-bridge string-picking on the bass. Yet overall the piece felt like a series of broken phrases, a conversation where neither speaker is quite sure when to butt in or offer a contrasting idea. It left the sense of an unresolved cadence, one that was left unresolved because there was no encore. Not that the crowd seemed to mind, giving plenty of raucous applause but leaving quietly when the lights went up.