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William Parker on Freedom

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A lot of musicians nowadays are trying to do something. You already are something - the music already is something. Its 2005, we dont have to worry about trying to be jazz musicians. —William Parker
This month, bassist William Parker celebrates the release of Luc's Lantern, his most recent recording for acclaimed Thirsty Ear Records. With pianist Matthew Shipp, as a part of David S. Ware's prolific quartet, with Cecil Taylor, Fred Anderson and others, the enigmatic performer has recorded over thirty albums, and almost that many as a leader himself. Yet it somehow seems as though William Parker's name remains stuck in the avant-garde scene, save some respect from hip-hop heads turned on by outstanding efforts in support of DJ Spooky and poet Mike Ladd. It doesn't seem as if William Parker's name is mentioned in glossy jazz magazines or well-funded jazz documentaries, in the same breath as Charles Mingus, or Ron Carter, or Dave Holland.

The lack of mainstream, "glossy success seems even stranger in the face of Parker's latest effort—an album that, by the bassist's own admission, is a "straight-ahead record, much in the same way Matthew Shipp's Pastoral Composures was. And, in a way, for the free-leaning Parker, this is a radical move in and of itself. To make an album that swings, that is laden with grooves and grit and soul and beautiful, poetic playing, when everyone associates you with that noisy, boisterous thing called free jazz, is radical. That is really what freedom, "free jazz even, is about. William Parker seems to enjoy that freedom.

All About Jazz: Tell us a little about your latest Thirsty Ear release, Luc's Lantern.

William Parker: This record came about through a suggestion of Matthew Shipp. He asked would I be interested in doing a piano trio album. I'm not sure whether he used the term straight ahead or not - perhaps he did. But I always wanted to do a more or less traditional instrumentation of piano, bass and drums, so I was quite interested in doing it. ...

I guess I wrote about twice as many songs than actually appear on the album - 15 compositions - before we discussed who the players would be. ...

Matt mentioned Eri Yamamoto—I had not heard her play. I didn't ask for a tape - he described her playing and I said ok, I'll call her and see if she's interested. So, I invited her to rehearsal - as a duo - just going over the actual written material, not knowing exactly how it was going to be executed.

AAJ: How was the experience of working with a new lineup—Yamamoto and Michael Thompson on drums?

WP: I've played with Michael a few times. ... When we rehearsed, and later recorded, it was never predetermined who would solo until it was actually done, which helped to guide us to the center point of each composition. The thing with music is you're not trying to play on the periphery of the sound but right in the middle part, where it can vibrate the most—that's where it can be most beneficial to the player and the listener. That's what I'm always shooting for when I play. The idea is not to squeeze the music so that it can't breathe—just touch it and flow with it—rather than push it in a particular direction.

Part of the idea of freedom is about being free to go where you want to go or follow the music where it wants to go. "It has to be up-tempo, or, "It has to be avant-garde—it has to be free —the only thing it has to be is itself. Once you get into that relationship with the music, then you're free to let it go where it wants to go. It's about having the confidence that the music is as strong, if not stronger, than the musician. [The music's] instincts are just as import as the interpreter. You have to trust the sound, and when that happens, the music will guide you and respect your intent as a musician.

AAJ: Does this album feel more straight ahead to you—it's not Little Huey or Bob's Pink Cadillac (Eremite, 2002). On a similar note, do you think that a straight ahead album meant that you necessarily had to work with some fresh musicians—as opposed to, say, Matthew Shipp and Guillermo Brown, who you have recorded with a number of times?

WP: I suppose it could have been done that way. This particular project was calling for a different approach. The final product was calling for different people to handle and make the whole task of the album come to life. And once again that was the idea of writing to the players, but also being instinctive to who should the players be and why. ...

It's very important to be in the calling of spontaneity - in every second in life. Playing music or anything else, it has its own set of rules, set of needs to that particular time. [That outlook] is what makes a good improviser.


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