Major instrumental innovators reset the musical clocks, raise the stakes, and forever change the accepted terms of what is possible on an instrument. Charlie Parker and John Coltrane fall into that category, and so does British reedman Evan Parker. Since the 1970s, Parker has been charting completely unknown territory in the land of lone soprano saxophone. A technical magician, he uses circular breathing--the method by which a player can blow continuously without a gasp of breath--as the basic hat out of which he might pull a battery of orthodox and unorthodox effects such as split tone, overtones, biting or tonguing the reed, and playing inhumanly fast cross-rhythms on the sax keys. The result is a cascade of snaky lines that double back on themselves, creating polyphonic voicings, chordal blocks, spikes, lines, and clusters--all on a single horn. But all this solo wizardry shouldn't distract the listener from another fact: Parker is one of the world's finest ensemble improvisers. Indeed, playing with partners is his professed first priority. On this all-too-rare visit to Chicago, Parker will be celebrating his 50th year (he's been the target of a worldwide birthday party for months now) with a few concerts of improvised music. On Friday he'll be joined by New Jersey-based percussionist Gregg Bendian (recently in town with Pe- ter Brotzmann), clarinetist and composer Gene Coleman, guitarist Jim O'Rourke, Australian clarinetist Anthony Burr, and Champaign-based trombonist and composer Erik Lund. Saturday night should be one of the most important concerts of the year, since Parker and Bendian will be joined by another major reed voice in contemporary improvised music, Roscoe Mitchell, the Art Ensemble of Chicagoan who is himself an accomplished circular breather. If we're lucky, we'll get to hear them twine their solo sopranos into a musical double knot. Friday and Saturday, 9:30 PM, HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 235-2334.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Caroline Forbes.