Richard Nunns


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Richard Nunns is a New Zealander of European descent who studies and plays traditional Maori musical instruments. His pairing with Evan Parker (in a performance recorded at the 1999 International Jazz Festival in Wellington), while not necessarily an obvious match, works largely because of the saxophonist's extraordinary flexibility. Many of the Maori instruments are percussive and produce little sustain. They're made of natural materials like gourds, wood, or shells; they don't reverberate in the way a modern designed and manufactured instrument like Parker's saxophone does. Consequently, the music here tends to be sparse and quiet. Parker plays in a near subtone much of the time, and occasionally sounds as if he's playing at some distance from the microphone. A person unacquainted with the subtleties of the Maori instruments is, of course, unable to evaluate Nunns' skills from a cultural standpoint. But the music he produces is indeed moving. The gestures are small but concentrated. The instruments' nature doesn't give Nunns the flexibility to follow and respond to Parker's every move, so he instigates, as Parker responds and embellishes. It's much to the latter's credit that he's able to adapt to Nunns' aesthetic so completely. It's equally admirable for Nunns to have successfully absorbed the Maori manner of making music. It says something about the timeless nature of improvised music that modern jazz's most advanced saxophonist can improvise convincingly with a musician who plays instruments so ancient in conception. Undoubtedly the most affecting element of this music is its innate humanness; on one particular track, for example, the breaths pulsing through Parker's sax and Nunns' Pukaea rakau kauri (a wooden trumpet) sound as if they might be coming from the same set of lungs, so well-attuned the men are to one another and the exigencies of improvised performance. A unconventionally beautiful meeting of souls.

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