Mars Song

Evan Parker

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Mars Song Review

by Thom Jurek

This duet performance between improvisational soprano saxophone wizard Evan Parker and Tuvan jazz and new music vocalist Sainkho Namtchylak was recorded live in 1996 at the Toronto Music Gallery. It was not the first time they had played together, though it was the first as a duo. The recording is aptly titled, not because the music is spaced out, but because it appears beyond the scope and breadth of human language to encompass, let alone embrace. A familiar figure, Parker is practically a grandfather on the new music scene, though you wouldn't know it from his playing during the last ten years, which has been sharper than at any time in his career. When it comes to boundaries on expression in sound, his fluttering, ribbonlike approach to playing saxophones takes on all comers. He uses any means at his disposal to get there: force, seduction, passivity, mischief, and even playing it straight! But in this matchup with Sainkho Namtchylak -- a woman whose voice is so demanding, so powerful, so utterly foreign in language, sound, phrase, and timbre -- he almost gets lost. Namtchylak left Tuva in Siberia to come to Moscow, where she first encountered jazz and began singing it. Later, moving to Berlin and other Western lands, she developed a kind of improvisational, "free" singing that keeps her homeland firmly in the foreground while incorporating Western approaches. In Tuva, the entire body is used when singing. Tuvan "throat singers" are now fairly common in the U.S., but Namtchylak comes from a different tradition. Throat, belly, legs, fingers, vulva, mouth, eyes, ears, nose, throat, etc., are all used to create different types of sound. Those sounds, juxtaposed against Parker's saxophones, are other, foreign, seemingly beyond the reaches of language -- even to her Tuvan countrywomen! This is the sound of emotional and spiritual warfare, primal birth, death, and the bardo before reincarnation as some other (pre-language) being that needs to somehow speak. Parker doesn't dance around her; he plays as if he is speaking through her as her body emotes guttural moans, shrieks, and indescribably horrific and yet gorgeous sound. This is the sound of a duet, it's true, but it's more the sound of two musicians trying to overcome incredible obstacles to learn to "speak" with one another, and in the process of "becoming" themselves. This is truly a difficult, awesome, and, yes, terrifying recording.

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