FINGERPRINTS, PART ONE
At the Finger Palace
The Beak Doctor : 1979
EP, soprano sax.
Sometimes half measures won’t do. When you’re striving for total transcendence, there’s no room for accommodation. The listener is forced to either buckle up for the journey or bail out completely. A casual ride on the running board is not an option.
Evan Parker’s accomplishments were well known in Euro circles by the late 1970s, but this album is the one that helped put him on the map in the U.S. Despite small distribution, it received a coveted five star review in Downbeat from Art Lange. The winding track “Fingerprints” – split into two parts – showcases Parker’s distinctive soprano sax attack. There’s his ability to shred notes and reharmonize riffs, his hypnotic and keening swirls of sound, his recontextualizing of breaths and wheezes and other supposedly non-musical sounds into the overall sonic palette.
To our ears, this performance finds Parker ascending a new creative plateau, a further refinement of his technique coupled with a fuller and more focused improvisational approach. In Howard Mandel’s Future Jazz, there’s a symposium section where one participant says this performance turned sold him on the possibilities of free improv. Such is the power of At The Finger Palace.
The Finger Palace is the name of the club in Oakland where the performance was recorded. But as context has fallen away over the years, the evocative name and unusual cover image now carry a mystique beyond the mundane facts. We can’t help but imagine the Finger Palace as some medieval castle, a remote structure where brutal and serpentine pilgrimages culminate. Or maybe that’s the sort of majestic vision the music helps to evoke.
So close your eyes and let yourself be enveloped by the sound. Give the music’s logic and scuffed lyricism a chance to assert themselves. There are no half-measures in listening to this music either. But once you’ve cracked the surface, you wouldn’t have it any other way.
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TELL US IN THE COMMENTS: Those of you who know the nooks of Parker’s impressively daunting discography can probably put the achievements of Finger Palace in a better musical context. And we’d be curious to hear the reactions from those hearing it for the first time. So don’t be shy.
MORE PICTURES: Here’s another great image by the same artist whose work was used on the album cover.
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UPDATE, 3 NOV: In light of the comments below, we’ve initiated the first-ever D:O poll; see in the sidebar, to your right. The Beak Doctor is genuinely curious about the demand for a CD reissue of this album. Let your vote be counted. If this is a successful feature, perhaps we can again help generate interest in similar sorts of decisions.