Petit Oiseau is the third release by the William Parker Quartet, with an unchanged lineup featuring the empathetic pairing of Rob Brown on alto saxophone (clarinet on one track) and Lewis Barnes on trumpet, alongside the in demand rhythm team of drummer Hamid Drake and the leader’s bass. It follows O’Neals Porch
(Aum Fidelity, 2002) and the live Sound Unity
(Aum Fidelity, 2005), showcasing the same winning formula of inventive solos, evolving grooves and short catchy themes.
Slightly more polished production values than it’s predecessors mean it can be harder to dig below the surface with it’s foot tapping, melodic sheen, but once you delve more deeply there is no shortage of substance. Drake is more often that not the key, prompting all manner of subtle interactions through his trenchant commentary on proceedings, simultaneous with a well maintained pulse. This time out, the rhythm section forms the front line as much as the horns, with even more space for those wonderful bass and drum grooves for which Parker and Drake are justly renowned. In fact, it is not until the final “Shorter For Alan” that they get to solo separately.
Brown eloquently stakes his claim as one of the most fluent alto players on the scene, whether emoting with slow burning intensity as on “The Golden Bell” or keening to an altissimo climax on “Four for Tommy.” Barnes, whose star should be rising following a knock out set at the 2008 Vision Festival, pontificates to powerful effect, but is at his best trading lines with Brown in practiced interplay.
Over almost 18 minutes the opening “Groove Sweet” merges three songs, to give a taste of how, in concert, the band morph tunes together in unbroken fifty minute plus sequences, shifting imperceptibly from one riff to the next with no apparent signals. Other highlights include the lilting “Malachi’s Mode” which sports a South African kwela feel and an extended foregrounding for Parker’s bass, appropriate to the dedicatee, the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s late bassist Malachi Favors.
Parker calls the title track an attempt to write a post bop tune with nothing preset except the melody, and indeed this piece sums up the group’s approach where the listener, absorbed in the rhythmic flow, suddenly notices that the familiar touchstones of meter and melody have fallen away and he/she is floating in a completely different space without quite knowing how.
No surprises, just quality jazz with an inside/outside tension chafing at the bounds of what the modern mainstream can encompass. If you know the band’s previous work then you will want this. If you don’t, this is a good place to start.
Groove Sweet: Groove #7/Hamid's Groove/Daughters Joy; Talaps Theme; Petit Oiseau; The Golden Bell; Four For Tommy; Malachi's Mode; Dust From A Mountain; Shorter For Alan.
William Parker: bass and cedar flute; Lewis Barnes: trumpet; Rob Brown: alto saxophone and B-flat clarinet; Hamid Drake: drums, balafon and frame drum.