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Monkey Puzzle by Evan Parker & Ned Rothenberg

Ben Ratliff is right when he said in his May 28, 2000, Sunday NY Times article that the "jazz solo", once the hinge upon which jazz music existed, is disappearing. Ratliff also makes the observation that the concept CD is very much the trend. I have believed this for quite awhile. If one knows contemporary classical music at all, one can assess this immediately about jazz CDs, at least within the past five years, from every genre of jazz.

The idea of composition is reentering the improvisational world. Improvisation takes over as would long arduous hours at the piano keyboard mapping out notes, one-at-a-time, chordal structures and orchestration. Jazz music composition therefore becomes a one time deal. A piece is never heard the same way twice. The theme (concept) can be the same but the totality will not be. And the language that each musician has adopted and honed for him/herself enriches the compositional field, as if the exquisite techniques provide compositional elements to draw from and players do not play out of a void. I think the atmosphere now created by jazz is supplanting the products of the classical world. The latter might have nothing new to offer. The immediacy of improvisational music does.

Testaments to the above reign fully on a 1997 Leo Records CD, MONKEY PUZZLE, with Evan Parker on tenor & soprano sax and Ned Rothenberg on bass clarinet and alto sax. This is the first CD that they have recorded together, although they have known each other for 20 years.

The music here traces the topography of a musical landscape, the experience of which is unforgettable. The ringing and constancy is absolutely continuous. There never seems to be a breath taken. Yet, there are key switches, tempo switches, phrase developments that allow the rapid flow to take on various colors and directions. There is not enough time to create a mood. Parker & Rothenberg just go...

Parker is a supreme soprano & tenor sax player. Few players I have heard can make either instrument non-valve like to behave similarly to a string instrument. The depth of Rothenberg’s clarinet/sax is an indispensable part of the duo. The duo becomes one instrument on which the registers are explored from one cluster of notes to another, from one plateau to another, from one valley over the mountains to another valley.

In all of the pieces here, the rhythm seeps through as groups of notes are collected and captured in a statement. Statements overlap, undulate, twinkle, blend, coincide, play leapfrog, seesaw, drop back and forth in intensity and never stop coming out of the instruments except for when that breath (seemingly missing) is finally taken. The textures that are constructed here are more than mesmerizing. I have listened to this CD dozens of times and each time I am in a bath of excruciating wonder and pondering which does not cease until the CD is over, which fact is disappointing. But the reflexive memory stays.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Evan Parker & Ned Rothenberg
  • CD Title: Monkey Puzzle
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 1997
  • Record Label: Leo Records
  • Musicians: Evan Parker, (soprano & tenor sax), Ned Rothenberg (bass clarinet & alto sax)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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