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William Parker: Universal Tonality


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William Parker: Universal Tonality
Bassist William Parker has originated a personal philosophy which he calls Universal Tonality. He expresses his idea thus: "all sounds, like human beings, come from the same place. They have different bodies and faces, but the soul of each sound comes from the same perfect 'creation.'" The near two-hour double album which bears the same name (also aptly chosen for the title of Cisco Bradley's 2021 Parker biography) represents one of the first occasions on which Parker put his theory to the test.

It presents a 2002 live recording from NYC's Roulette featuring a 17-strong ensemble which includes a host of Parker stalwarts including reedmen Daniel Carter and Rob Brown, drummer Gerald Cleaver and pianist Dave Burrell, veterans like percussionists Jerome Cooper and Roger Blank, as well as less regular collaborators Miya Masaoka and Jin Hi Kim on types of zither, koto and komungo respectively.

Although he provided scores, largely graphic, extracts from which are reproduced in the liners, Parker gave his crew leeway to ignore them if and when they saw fit. He gave vocalist Leena Conquest the same freedom to select from his various writings and lyrics, and indeed she does so in such an inspired fashion, reciting or singing with such confidence and poise that her wonderfully soulful voice forms an integral part of the performance. She is largely responsible for carrying the melodies, though whether the orchestra modulates to the shape of Conquest's refrains or vice versa is impossible to determine.

Parker's charts for the most part are loosely sketched, sometimes manifesting in little more than vamps or feels. But they still offer sufficiently solid grounding to hold the ensemble together in a swirl of potentially clashing textures which somehow do not clash. In that he is helped by having a core of performers who are well versed in his methods, whether with his Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, or in other outfits. At certain points Parker masterminds distinctive colors from his group, like the sequences for zithers and other strings, including the violins of Jason Kao Hwang and Billy Bang, or the sections of massed horns.

Such ensemble passages are surely Parker's focus as, while there are solos, they do not play a major role, until the central portion of the final "Open System One" where the alto saxophones of Carter and Brown stretch out in thrilling style. Elsewhere instrumental leads fluctuate, the identities of the changing participants helpfully delineated in the sleeve notes. Trombonist Steve Swell declaims unhurriedly over much of the opening "Tails Of A Peacock" before being subsumed by the glorious noise of the horn chorus, while Cooper's raw chirimia (a South American double reed) blows a clarion wail to introduce "Silver Sunshine" and Joe Morris' guitar plays call and response with the collected strings at the outset of "All Entrances."

Over the course of the six lengthy multi-segmented pieces, Parker makes a persuasive argument for his philosophy, one in which unexpected combinations of sound meld into expansive but never less than engaging tableaux.

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

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