Home » Jazz Articles » Album Review » William Parker: Universal Tonality


William Parker: Universal Tonality


View read count
William Parker: Universal Tonality
Let's Imagine the difficulty William Parker must face filling out his responses to the U.S. census every 10 years. What is his origin? His race? And how many people occupy his residence—or maybe a better question: how many races are contained within this one person? Joking aside, the musician William Parker has become an everyman. His music, art and poetry embody the concept heard here as Universal Tonality. His music is beyond genre, beyond nationality and beyond cultures. He is quoted as describing this "universal tonality" as all the musicians "breathing together."

The nearly two hours of this release was recorded December 2002 at New York's Roulette. While Parker provided a score that evening, the 16 musicians were free to follow it or find their own paths. For example, the vocalist Leena Conquest was given various poems and texts written by Parker for the evening's performance with the permission to use as she saw fit. Some are spoken, some sung and without that knowledge, it would be easy to believe the vocals were all scored. Same with all the music heard. How is it that a 16-piece ensemble with two zithers (a Korean komungo and a Japanese koto) can be integrated with traditional jazz instruments such as trombones, saxophones, guitar and drums? Add to that, the Mexican double-reed chirimia, two balafons and two violins. The answer is William Parker's guidance. Correction: lack of guidance. The sound is akin to allowing children to meet in a playground and instantly create their own games. Everything simply falls into place. It doesn't hurt that the lineup includes jazz and improvisatory luminaries such as saxophonist Rob Brown, guitarist Joe Morris, pianist Dave Burrell, percussionist Jerome Cooper, drummer Gerald Cleaver, violinists Billy Bang and Jason Kao Hwang, reeds and brass by Daniel Carter, and trombonists Grachan Moncur III and Steve Swell. There is a deep blues feel to the music, a ubiquitous posture whether your musical roots are American jazz, African, Asian or Middle Eastern musics. Moreover—and this may sound trite—but William Parker's music is William Parker personified.

Track Listing

Tails Of A Peacock; Cloud Texture (death has died today); Leaves Gathering (headed back to tree); Silver Sunshine; All Entrances (it is for you the sun rises); Open System One.


Additional Instrumentation

Matt Lavelle: trumpet; Grachan Moncur III: trombone; Steve Swell: trombone; Rob Brown: alto sax; Cale Brandley: tenor sax; Daniel Carter: reeds, brass; Jin Hi Kim: komungo; Miya Masaoka: koto; Billy Bang: violin; Jason Kao Hwang: violin; Joe Morris: guitar; Dave Burrell: piano; Jerome Cooper: balafon, chirimia; Roger Blank: balafon; Gerald Cleaver: drums; Leena Conquest: voice.

Album information

Title: Universal Tonality | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Centering Records / AUM Fidelity



Support All About Jazz

Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

How You Can Help

To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.


From Me To You
Petra Van Nuis and Dennis Luxion
Līva Dumpe
Breath Awareness
Derek Bailey, Sabu Toyozumi
Painter Of Dreams
Misha Tsiganov


Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.