Steeped in the bedrock of the blues, hearkening back to sounds of Charles Mingus' Blues and Roots
jazz, and featuring one of the more compelling and soulful voices in music today, Corn Meal Dance
by bassist William Parker, is a complete package even if it takes a few listens to hear.
With a few exceptions, lyrics in jazz are often straight forward and leave little to interpretation. And upon first listen here one might feel that the lyrics are a bit heavy handed or far reaching. Yet vocalist Leena Conquest delivers them in such a compelling, musical way, that one never becomes bogged down when they are not tuned into the politics.
However, these lyrics here are poetry based, and listening to them one hears the viewpoint that makes this album work as a whole. All but "Old Tears" (lyrics penned by Conquest, from Raining On The Moon
, Thirsty Ear, 2002) are penned by Parker and are downright beautiful even when dealing with grim reality as is the case with "Tutsi Orphans" and "Land Song."
Music wise, the band is the same unit Parker's been recording (for Aum Fidelity Records) with for the better part of a decade now. But with the addition of Conquest and pianist Erin Yamamoto, distinct inside blues elements are brought to the fore, making this one of the most accessible releases in Parker's catalog. The playing is no less compelling though, even if alto saxophonist Rob Brown and trumpeter Lewis Barnes temper themselves a bit.
"Old Tears" is a reflection of this. While neither version is "outside by popular standards, both are drenched in emotive beauty especially given Barnes' burnished tone, but here Yamamoto lends her talents, tethering the song a bit closer to popular form. Yamamoto is impressive throughout with a melodic touch added to every song, which creates a complete ensemble sound and not just a band with special guest. One of the main highlights is her contributions to "Land Song."
Displayed throughout Corn Meal Dance
, of course, is the usual tight performance of Parker and drummer Hamid Drake, neither really stepping out but easily identifiable as the directors of pace and rhythm.
The adage "It takes a couple listens applies to this album more so then most. But once heard, you'll find a gripping sound, even if you don't care for jazz vocalists.