Review: Sharpen Your Needles - David Toop and Evan Parker in Conversation at Cafe Oto

Evan Parker and David Toop
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved
Sharpen Your Needles - David Toop and Evan Parker in Conversation
(Cafe Oto, 13 May 2014; review by Geoff Winston)

Sharpen Your Needles - not an exhortation to practice acupuncture, but the title of an evening of turntable revelations from the nooks and crannies of the vinyl collections of David Toop and Evan Parker - and an insight in to their shared fascination with pre-'World Music' music of the world.

David Toop's irrepressible preoccupation with music from the remotest corners of the planet complements his own exploratory musical practice, and he has travelled exhaustively to retrieve examples of music that might otherwise have been lost forever.

Back in 1974, he and saxophonist Evan Parker began 'a conversation', as Cafe Oto's introduction describes it, 'founded in their love of global musics and esoteric auditory techniques and technologies', prompted by Parker's inclusion in the 28 page pamphlet, New/Rediscovered Musical Instruments, edited by Toop (which became the basis of Toop's and Max Eastley's recording of the same name for the Obscure label).

The surprise of the session, in a way, was that Parker's interests overlapped so closely with Toop's, the expectation being that Parker might have brought with him some key jazz records, as he had done at the 2012 Off The Page conference, but the records they had brought with them could have been out of the same collection. In fact, both had brought different pressings of one or two of these extraordinary recordings, much to their amusement, many bought in the 70s at Colletts, Ray's and other essential outlets of the time.

An absorbing and mesmeric sequence of full LP tracks, up to about 20 minutes in length, started with a track from Evan's Lyrichord album of ajaeng, the Korean bowed zither, music. Evan invoked the name of John Levy, champion of the music, who eschewed '2-minute soundbites' and insisted on retaining all relevant, extraneous sound such as finger noise on Chinese stringed instruments.

There was a hypnotic, trance-like thread running through these wonderful recordings from all corners of the world, that took in Togo (Evan had the later of their two copies of Musique Kabiyé - 'it's better, but it's not original!' - the eternal collector's dilemma), Burundi, the Ainu of Japan, Guatamala, Chad, the Inuit, Tibet, Tigré, and even, to confuse everybody, Toop's LP of Antarctic seals, which fitted the mood perfectly; mysterious, organic sounds, the source of which was only revealed after some audience pressure! Explaining that the Scandinavian birchbark horn was played only by breathing in through it, Evan commented that 'Steve Lacy used to do that sort of thing!'

This fascinating, impromptu playlist, with every track selected on the hoof, was an antidote to the fast lane of London life. It is to be hoped that this engrossing theme can be revisited on future occasions.

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