With Sounds of the City, Antonio Parker has put himself on the map as both a performer and composer. The songs on The Exchange show his vast array of influences, from straight-ahead bop to world music. More than anything else, Parker's writing for the ensemble shines. With a penchant for both catchy melodies and pastiche, his compositional approach is interesting to analyze. Having toured Africa with the State Department's Jazz Ambassadors program, Parker says he was inspired to create a "world jazz" album that accurately portrayed all of his influences.
Parker certainly achieves variety on this self-produced debut album. "Sounds of the City" is a direct tribute to Chick Corea's perennial favorite, "Spain." However, "Soweto," "The Journey of Songhai," and "The Last Dance" all prove Parker's ability to write solid original compositions. The downside to the album, though, is that the compositions begin to repeat themselves. The chordal differences between "Soweto" and "Nigerian Folk Song" are unintelligible. And to me, "Prayer for Africa" seems better suited for a sacred choral program, not amidst a set of rhythmically charged grooves. Maybe Parker was striving for diversity, but it just doesn't seem to fit. In trying to achieve the idea of "world jazz," there is a bit too much world - and not enough jazz (which he is very much capable of, as I have witnessed on numerous occasions).
Nevertheless, each performer brings an excellent knowledge of his or her instrument to the table. Fluid improvisation is second nature to all the musicians. Vince Evans is an remarkable pianist and a master of chord voicings and he is well-backed by bassist Yusef Chisholm, whose stylistic nuances make the tunes believable. Evans' percussional contribution to "A Luta Continua" is indispensable to the groove (not surprising considering he wrote the tune).
Along the lines of percussion, you couldn't ask for better auxiliary percussion than Sam Turner provides. And Jamal Brown's flute on the Latin-inspired tunes is a smart addition to the group (notably as he nods to the late Joe Farrell, Chick Corea's flutist and saxophonist, on "Sounds of the City"). In addition, the voice-overs by Parker, vocalist Imani, and drummer Lenny Robinson are a nice touch.
Overall, Parker deserves the most credit for bringing all these exceptional musicians together under one banner. The ensemble does its job quite well, making the case for a repertoire that easy to listen to, yet rhythmically and melodically pleasing.
Three stars (out of four).
Track Listing: A Luta Continua; Sounds of the City; Prayer for Africa; Soweto; The Journey of Songhai; Yesterday; The Last Dance; Fela's Shrine; Adam in the Lion's Den; Adeola; Nigerian Folk Song; The Exchange
Personnel: Antonio Parker - alto and soprano saxophones, vocals (tracks 9, 10); Jamal Brown - flute; Vince Evans - piano, keyboards; Vinny Valentino - guitar; Yusef Chisholm - bass; Sam Turner - percussion; Keith Killgo - drums; Imani - vocal (tracks 3,10); Patrick De Santos - vocals (tracks 1, 2, 6, 9, 10); Lenny Robinson - drums (tracks 1, 3, 11), vocal (track 9); Michael Thomas - trumpet; Laron Land - tenor saxophone; Reginald Cyntje - trombone
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