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Bobby Zankel: Celebrating William Parker at 65

John Sharpe By

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To mark bassist William Parker's 65th birthday, Philly-based reedman Bobby Zankel convened an all star sextet which included the honoree for a presentation of free jazz collectivism at the city's Painted Bride Arts Center in January 2017. Although not regular collaborators, they go back a long way. The pair first hooked up back in the loft jazz era when both gravitated towards Cecil Taylor's orbit, to perform in the pianist's legendary Carnegie Hall large ensemble concert. Taylor, and particularly his then ever present saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, have remained touchstones for Zankel over the years.

In his aching cry, which harks back to Charlie Parker by way of Ornette Coleman, the reedman recalls Lyons, and not only through his bittersweet tone but also in the way he builds his unfurling statements through repeated cellular motifs. Those motifs, drawn from the book for his Warriors Of The Wonderful Sound big band, act as launch pads for the accomplished improvisers assembled on this occasion. Violinist Diane Monroe, who briefly filled Billy Bang's shoes in the String Trio of New York, demonstrates her familiarity with the altoist's methods by first shadowing then extrapolating from Zankel's lead, serving to fill out the polyphonic interplay.

Such fare is meat and drink to trombonist Steve Swell, and he responds by weaving his inventive voicings through the ensembles, while calling on the thematic material to render supporting riffs. Pianist Dave Burrell brings an oblique perspective, providing probing yet idiosyncratic support which adds another layer of interest to the exchanges of the front line. In tandem with the pulsations of drummer Muhammad Ali, Parker largely avoids the spotlight as he creates the ceaselessly tugging momentum that underpins both the group interaction and the resultant solo spots.

Although most of the individual honors go to Zankel, he ensures that everyone gets an opportunity to shine during an uninterrupted 45-minute performance demarcated into four tracks. Burrell's contribution is especially noteworthy as he distils Monkish dissonance and prancing ragtime in a sparse mix, before culminating in sweeping glissandos which add back in all the notes he left out. Of course, Parker gets his turn too, in which he exhibits the adventurous arco sawing which helped make his name in the first place, before a rhythmic phrase ushers in the concluding theme, another of Zankel's yearning lines to complete a vital tribute.

Track Listing: Celebrating William Parker at 65 Suite: Parts 1-4.

Personnel: Bobby Zankel: leader, alto saxophone: Steve Swell: trombone; Diane Monroe: violin; Dave Burrell: piano; William Parker: bass and honoree; Muhammad Ali: drums.

Title: Celebrating William Parker at 65 | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Not Two Records

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