Bassist William Parker is one of those artists you can count on to deliver. Whether it's in the more powerful context of his Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra or the smaller but no more restricted confines of the Eric Dolphy-informed O'Neal's Porch quartet, Parker has, since emerging from the aegis of pianist Cecil Taylor in the '80s, developed his own body of work that is as significant for its breadth as it is for its boldness and lack of self-consciousness. Even at his most plainly accessible, like on Luc's Lantern, there's a weight, a dense centre of gravity around which the group, this time a piano trio, revolves and is unequivocally drawn.
With pianist Eri Yamamoto and drummer Michael Thompson, Parker's ten compositions are strangely rooted in all manners of jazz tradition, while at the same time imbued with the kind of experimentation and free interplay that is characteristic of all his work. "Song for Tyler may be a tender ballad with an elegant theme played gracefully by Yamamoto, but there's still a hint of looseness in the way that Parker and Thompson support her. "Mourning Sunset revolves around an infectious 5/4 bass figure, but Yamamoto uses it as a jumping-off point for a solo that gradually builds into deeper layers of abstraction, with a strong penchant for outré chords and occasional out-of-time figures that magically reacquaint themselves with Parker and Thompson's intuitive interplay.
For Luc's Lantern Parker has written tunes intended simply as starting points. "Evening Star Song has a rural vibe and catchy piano-bass unison theme, but before long, while a semblance of the groove remains, the trio is exploring free territory with Thompson anticipating some of Yamamoto's more rhythmic thrusts. And, as is characteristic of the whole set, as free as this trio can become, it always find its way back to Parker's attractive themes.
On the other hand, there are periods of more liberated vision. The title track revolves around the barest sketch of a theme, and it's the freest piece of the set. Yamamoto clearly comes from the Taylor school of thought filtered through Matthew Shipp but, with a generally lighter touch, makes even her most outgoing solos somehow approachable. While Parker's usual partner in crime, drummer Hamid Drake, may be missed on this project, Thompson is no slouch, with a deft stroke and equally adventurous approach to bending time.
Parker's sense of historical perspective is no clearer than on "Jaki, clearly fashioned after the style of the late Jaki Byard, and "Bud in Alphaville, which posits how Bud Powell might sound today, using a boppish theme as the basis for a compact free improvisation.
While there are brief moments of aggression and density, Luc's Lantern is an album with a larger audience potential than some of Parker's more outward-reaching projects. It is, in fact, the perfect entry point for listeners who wish to find their way into free jazz but fear its more abstract foundation.
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