Bassist William Parker has formed productive liaisons with some wonderfully expressive alto saxophone players in the pastRob Brown and Jemeel Moondoc both spring to mind. But To Roy represents his first time on record with Oliver Lake, best known as a third of Trio 3 and a quarter of the World Saxophone Quartet. They recorded their duo album during the month of dedicatee trumpeter Roy Campbell's unexpected passing at age 61 in January 2014. Each brings a sheaf of compositions to the session. They form the basis for an intimate exchange which celebrates as much as it mourns.
The pair exploit the attractive blend of alto saxophone and arco bass to its full potential. Lake's bittersweet alto inhabits the post-Ayler domain, mixing a snarling vocalized edge, throaty squeals, and tonal manipulation into a vivid discourse. Parker's resonant bass provides the often skeletal underpinning, although he embellishes the basics with reflective asides and percussive flurries. But it's how closely their individual lines interrelate that creates both the interest and tension. Tight alignment holds sway on the bassist's opening "Variation on a Theme of Marvin Gaye." Parker sets out a foot tapping groove which insists on movement. Lake obliges with a sweet and raggedy paean.
But resolution doesn't necessarily arrive in the written material elsewhere. Sometimes the pieces are obliquely sketched and remain ultimately mysterious. After an explosive initial burst, the saxophonist's episodic "Check" proceeds via a lean abstract theme which presages a pattering bass solo replete with harp like plucks, then open dialogue and a unison dirge. Parker proposes another elegy on "Bisceglia" in which tender but melancholic alto floats above sparse bass as a sensitive memorial to the titular French photographer.
At other times unfettered interaction rubs alongside the tune notably on Lake's energetic "Net Down" in which abrasive sawing gives rise to a squalling alto surge, before a honeyed unison tag at the end. And similarly on Parker's "Light Over Still Water Paints a Portrait of God" where the spiraling bowed harmonics and darting altissimo saxophone crossfire bears little relationship to the graceful concluding ditty. Perhaps surprisingly the closing jointly extemporized title track eschews lament in favor of a vital off kilter staccato interplay, which says more about their future than the past.