William Parker: Corn Meal Dance

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William Parker
Corn Meal Dance
AUM Fidelity Records

William Parker's Corn Meal Dance showcases the enigmatic figure's best attributes—not as bassist but, instead, as band leader and poet. The release finds Parker again working with his Raining On The Moon Quintet, first featured on Raining On The Moon (Thirsty Ear, 2002). An overall more pop and blues-oriented record than some of Parker's more eclectic excursions, Corn Meal Dance is refreshing and Parker's words thought provoking.

Joining Parker is Rob Brown (alto sax), Hamid Drake (drums), Lewis Barnes (trumpet) and the immeasurable talent of Leena Conquest (vocals). Picking up where she left off on Luc's Lantern (Thirsty Ear, 2005) and Cobalt Blue (Thirsty Ear, 2006), pianist Eri Yamamoto joins the ensemble for the first time on Corn Meal Dance, bringing added depth to this melancholy collection of poems. All of the musicians involved in the album are amazing artists at the top of their game, and their pedigree alone should be enough to pique ones interest in this music.

I'm not gonna lie—jazz vocals just don't do it for me sometimes. I've got your obligatory Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan "hits compilations in my CD collection but that's about it. But Leena Conquest—I can handle. Her delivery is hip, soulful and, while she never overpowers her band-mates, she undeniably steals the show here. It is the bluesy delivery of Parker's politically charged words that gives the music life and ultimately separates this album from the rest of his expansive library. Maybe sacrilegious, but "Tutsi Orphans pulls at the heart strings and might be compared to Lewis Allen's "Strange Fruit, made famous by Holiday, in its poetic brilliance. Parker's lyrics are thought-provoking and moving, emphasizing the oneness of life, a theme prevalent in all of his work.

Yamamoto is a perfect fit for this ensemble. This fact is no clearer than on "Poem For June Jordan, a duet between the pianist and Conquest. There's something picturesque, almost theatrical, about this tune; we can see Parker sitting at his desk on an empty, dimly lit stage, writing these words with an unseen pianist off in the distance. As he pauses between lines, to contemplate the next word or take a breath and take in the depth of what he is trying to say, the piano continues, motivating him further. Maybe this is all a little over-the-top in its description, but this song is deeply touching and one of the more heartfelt songs Parker has written.

The urgency felt on "Soledad (a very real and true socio-political sense of urgency—not just some metaphorical impressionism) is spurred by Barnes and Brown's staccato flurries and Yamamoto's lightly swung melody. Yamamoto's playing has never felt more settled, more at home, than when nestled in the belly of Drake's relaxed rhythms. The rhythm section seems to be the only thing holding Conquest back from shouting her vocals with all the moral indignation she can muster.

"Corn Meal Dance and "Prayer are two of the more pop-orientated songs in Parker's repertoire. Not bad tunes, but not baaaaaad, like some of his work with Matthew Ship, Beans, and others, either. We first get a true taste of what the horn players have to offer on "Land Song, with Barnes soloing extensively. "Old Tears may be one of Parker's best, anchored by Yamamoto and Barnes' bluesy vamping.

Corn Meal Dance is another great recording from an artist whose talent seems to have no limits.

Tracks: Doctor Yesterday; Tutsi Orphans; Poem For June Jordan; Soledad; Corn Meal Dance; Land Song; Prayer; Old Tears; Gilmore's Hat.

Personnel: William Parker: bass; Rob Brown: alto saxophone; Lewis Barnes: trumpet; Eri Yamamoto: piano; Leena Conquest: voice; Hamid Drake: drums.

Record Label: AUM Fidelity

Style: Modern Jazz

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