In 1966, the superb drummer Ed Thigpen ("Mr. Taste") stepped out of his role as percussionist of the cohesive and long-lived Oscar Peterson trio to record an album under his own name for Verve, Out of the Storm
, a nearly forgotten classic now. Thigpen brought in the youthful Herbie Hancock and the more seasoned Ron Carter and Kenny Burrell to play on the date, a series of linked pieces in the form of a suite.
In 1996, the brilliant young drummer Leon Parker did something quite similar. Many jazz fans know Parker as the percussionist of the Jacky Terrasson trio, a group that has been together for a few years now and recorded two excellent albums. Like the finest drummers who establish themselves as leaders, Parker has surrounded himself with a stellar cast of colleagues and created a stirring, sustained statement in the new CD, Belief.
Also like the finest jazz drummers, Leon Parker is first a percussionist. His effects on all of the nine pieces on Belief show a musician of extraordinary sensitivity and subtlety. His kit is stripped down to a snare drum, cymbal, and various other percussion instruments, such as a conga drum, ashiko drum, frame drum, woodblock, bell, and shakers. Parker is also a composer of the first order, having written seven wonderfully diverse yet harmonically linked pieces on the album.
Belief is in a certain sense a back-to-basics project. Although only acoustic instruments are played, this is a fusion album in that rich cultural elements come together from different sources. "Village Song: Africa," a Parker conga and shaker duet with Adam Cruz on marimba, shows the two musicians creating their own community of sound. "Horizon Azul," with Lisa Parker on flute, recalls a Middle Eastern village. Even Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," with Natalie Cushman on berimbau, reflects her study of a Brazilian dance-martial art form.
Parker is joined on several jazz cuts by the impeccable veteran Tom Harrell on trumpet and fluegelhorn and one of our finest saxophonists, Steve Wilson, playing mainly alto and a bit of soprano. Check them out on "Close Your Eyes." You can't miss another major voice on Belief, the astonishing bassist Ugonna Okegwo, Parker's rhythm mate in the Terrasson trio, whose deep, woody sound rings like a forest song throughout the album.
The joy evident in the music making here is abundantly clear in the vocal effects provided by Leon Parker and Natalie Cushman. "Wide Open," which features both, is a very hip multicultural scat meditation.
In Catherine Mapp's liner notes, we are not so subtly reminded to "feel it, hear it." You cannot do otherwise. If you aren't a "Believer", you should see for yourself.