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William Parker Organ Quartet: Uncle Joe's Spirit House

Troy Collins By

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Renowned in avant-garde jazz circles for his steadfast leadership, bassist, composer and bandleader William Parker's all-encompassing artistry has long been influenced by a variety of sources, both abstract and concrete. Though mysticism and spirituality play a hand in his expansive aesthetic, so do earthly concerns like social justice and family. Uncle Joe's Spirit House, the debut of Parker's Organ Quartet, is a persuasive example of the later.

The album is dedicated to his Aunt Carrie Lee Edwards and Uncle Joe, whose lifetime of hard work and determination provided inspiration to Parker during his formative years, demonstrating that a life well lived can be an art in and of itself. In their honor, Parker delves into the popular soul jazz of his aunt and uncle's youth. Embracing, but unconstrained by the nostalgic air of vintage Post-War organ dates, Parker and company keep the proceedings relevant with subtle shades of modernism.

Parker's first small combo recording with Darryl Foster (from the bassist's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra and Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield), finds the expressive tenor saxophonist's muscular tone and soulful phrasing perfectly suited to this material. With a keen combination of old school lyricism and edgy avant-garde embellishments, his quicksilver note flurries and altissimo siren wails simultaneously invoke and update crowd-pleasing pyrotechnics, transposing venerable bar-walking saxophone traditions into post-Albert Ayler expressionism.

A debut in more ways than one, this session also marks the first documented recording of multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore on organ. A singularly gifted pianist, Cooper-Moore is a revelation on the Hammond; his tortuous cadences and prismatic chords inspire a range of moods, from juke joint fervor to after-hours introspection. Ubiquitous drummer Gerald Cleaver rounds out the quartet, his adroit facility underscoring Parker's hypnotic in-the-pocket approach with compelling enthusiasm.

Opening the date with one of the most cheerfully optimistic melodies in his entire catalog ("Uncle Joe's Spirit House"), Parker builds on the basic foundations of blues and soul, with detours into bossa nova ("Ennio's Tag"), funk ("Jacques' Groove") and gospel ("Let's Go Down to the River"). The progressive mid-sixties Blue Note sides of Larry Young are an especially prevalent influence throughout the session—from the dolorous waltz "Buddha's Joy" to the confrontationally angular "The Struggle." Showing reverence for the organ-combo tradition, the straight ahead ballad "Oasis" ends the record on a note of opulent lyricism.

Uncle Joe's Spirit House is a deeply personal offering from a musician whose role as a scene leader and social activist is as significant as his instrumental prowess. Similar in tone to O'Neal's Porch (Centering, 2000)—also a familial dedication, to Parker's late Uncle O'Neal—this heartfelt release is sure to be admired as one of his most appealing efforts.

Track Listing: Uncle Joe's Spirit House; Jacques' Groove; Ennio's Tag; Document for LJ; Let's Go Down to the River; Buddha's Joy; The Struggle; Theme for the Tasters; Oasis.

Personnel: William Parker: bass; Darryl Foster: tenor saxophone; Cooper-Moore: organ; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

Title: Uncle Joe's Spirit House | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: AUM Fidelity

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