William Parker & The Ohnedaruth String Quartet: A Flower for Feldman (2004)
In the spring of 2001, bassist William Parker made a brief trip to England under the auspices of a holiday with his wife Patricia. A clandestine purpose behind the excursion was to meet at a studio location with a select cadre of London musicians. Turns out Parker has long been a fan of Morton Feldman's works and has harbored the closet desire to perform them for quite some time. As he explains in his self-scripted liners to this disc, the divide between Great Black Music and 20th century minimalist composition need not be that deep.
What with his busy schedule and the public propensity to collaborate with the same inner circle of colleagues, Parker's dream of testing his mettle against Feldman's challenging scores appeared to be out of reach. There's also the reality that most the composer's pieces for strings do not allow for the inclusion of double bass. Parker spent the months preceding his UK sortie meticulously adapting Feldman's composition for violin and string quartet (1985). After much effort he succeeded in re-scoring the violin lead to the timbre and phrasing of his principal instrument.
Once in London, and through the aid of old ally Derek Bailey, Parker swiftly set about assembling an ensemble. London area mainstays Durrant, Hallett, Hug and Wastell were all fortunately in available having just finished participating in the Freedom of the City Festival (see the associative discs on Emanem). Parker dubbed them the Ohnedaruth String Quartet after a Sanskrit word meaning "compassion." For never having played with Parker previously, the four orient themselves remarkably well—testament to their sublime skills as improvisors, and also to the bassist's winsome facility at leading an ensemble.
Parker shopped the tape to several European labels and Hat Art eventually picked it up. Word has it that label chief Werner Uehlinger initially balked at the idea given that he had only just recently released much of the same material as performed by Peter Rundel and the Pelligrini Quartet (see Hat [Now] 137 ) three years previous.
Parker uses the tonal ambiguity at the center of Feldman's composition to great advantage. His own arco style relies on an uncanny command of timbre. He wields harmonics like Zeus handles lightning bolts; bending and shaping them to his will and design. The results here stray far from his usual jazz-oriented patterns and placement. A gradual almost tortoise-paced development undermines his usually busy method of articulation. Durrant, Hallett and Hug are invaluable in this regard, spooling out droning, overlapping sustains that resist any sort of rhythmic constancy, while simultaneously adding to the almost preternatural evolution of the piece. Wastell serves as fulcrum, negotiating Parker's transmissions to the higher pitched strings and creating a two-way circuit between them.
The set concludes enigmatically with an apocryphal reading of Cage's "4'33"," performed earlier in the day for a small crowd in loft space above Piccadilly Square. Adapted by Parker to solo double bass, it's sure to stand as a milestone in his ever-bulging discography. For much of the duration the only sound audible is the dull hum of his bass amp layered with the gentle whir of a loose ventilation duct screen in the ceiling. At 3:47 someone in the audience lets loose with a string of staccato sneezes and the complete mood of the piece changes to that of whimsy. It's entirely likely that this courageous new chapter will cause Parker's various critics to completely reconsider their book of assumptions.
Personnel: William Parker- double bass; Phil Durrant- violin; Sylvia Hallett- violin; Charlotte Hug- viola; Mark Wastell- cello. Recorded: May 9, 2001, London.
Style: Beyond Jazz