One of William Parker's best talents is bringing otherworldly jazz down to earth. On this recording, aptly titled after his uncle O'Neal from South Carolina, Parker offers a collection of original tunes that stretch from the abstraction of pure energy to the dirtiness of down-home funk.
The anchoror the root, to use a more vital analogyof this group lies in the hands of Parker and drummer Hamid Drake. These two players have a unique cohesion and shared intuition that sets them apart as the most versatile and effective rhythm section in modern jazz. Perhaps it's the way William Parker often uses the bass as a rhythm instrument, interlocked with the groove or offering abstract counterpoint. (On "Purple," the opening track, he plays the talking drumanother tunable rhythm instrument. During the course of his brief conversation with Drake, Parker offers valuable insight into his vision of pitch transformed into pulse. Drake, in his usual inhuman eight-armed fashion, carries on the other half of the conversation equally vividly.)
Alto saxophonist Rob Brown plays with a surprising amount of energy on this disc, sparking an electric current which drives the group forward. His solo work on O'Neal's Porch represents some of his highest wattage work to date. To counterbalance this restless force, trumpeter Lewis Barnes often lays back, providing counterpoint or offering graceful, understated lines. Especially within the context of Parker's in-and-out compositions, these two players serve as ideal foils for each other. When appropriate, they can also integrate surprisingly intuitively.
The tunes on O'Neal's Porch (all by Parker) often use a composed theme and/or groove as a starting point for exploration. In this sense, they follow the usual jazz convention of head-solos-head. But moments of collective improvisation (as on "Leaf") explode the stereotype. And one has the sense that there are no hard-and-fast rules here. Much of the intrigue about O'Neal's Porch derives from the ambiguous structure of the music. You never really know where it's headed: whether in or out, whether back to the theme or out into space. Even when the tunes have a familiar swinging, funky, or melancholic feel, Parker's quartet offers plenty of surprises.