Van Dyke Parks: London, England, June 23, 2012

John Eyles By

Sign in to view read count
Van Dyke Parks with Britten Sinfonia + special guests
June 23, 2012

The most obvious reason for Van Dyke Parks to play this one-off London concert was that his first three solo albums— Song Cycle (Warner Bros, 1968), Discover America (Warner Bros, 1972) and Clang of the Yankee Reaper (Warner Bros 1975)—had just been rereleased on the London-based Bella Union label. Parks was obviously grateful for this attention from abroad, at one point commenting, with great comic timing, "America treats its musical titans as dispensable. [pause] I am not dispensable." If his impressive CV is not enough to support that statement, its truth was eloquently demonstrated by the size and enthusiasm of the Barbican audience and by the fact that the special guests included Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes and Daniel Rossen of Grizzly Bear, alongside the 32-piece Britten Sinfonia.

After a short supporting set from another guest, Guatemala-born singer Gaby Moreno, for whom Parks played piano and directed the Britten Sinfonia, Parks' own set began with the opening tracks from Song Cycle. Firstly, that involved a vocal duet from Pecknold and Rossen on the traditional "Black Jack Davy"—which, in typical fashion, Parks informed the audience "is the Rosetta Stone of the Celtic tradition in Appalachia"— before seamlessly moving into Randy Newman's "Vine Street" and Parks' own "Palm Desert." Such variety and eclecticism has typified Parks' music and it set the tone for this evening, with him paying occasional homage to musicians and composers he respects and has worked with during his long career, including guitarist Ry Cooder, singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson, and pianist/songwriter Allen Toussaint.

Despite the commercial imperative to focus on his first three albums—the Bella Union stand was doing brisk trade in the foyer—Parks did not. After that opening, the set roamed freely through his career, including three jaunty upbeat tracks from Jump, his 1984 Warner Bros. album inspired by Brer Rabbit, and "Orange Crate Art"—sung with Pecknold and Rossen—the title track of his 1995 Warner Bros. album with Brian Wilson, plus the melodic "Wings of a Dove" from the same album. Throughout the set, the Britten Sinfonia provided orchestral accompaniment that was versatile enough to complement the variety of styles on display; their harpist Sally Pryce, seated at the front, stage left, provided enough of the flourishes that have peppered Parks' music. However, on the calypso piece "FDR in Trinidad" and on Little Feat's "Sailin' Shoes"—both from Discover America—the steel band which made that album come alive was sorely missed.

Ultimately, amidst the orchestra and the guests, Parks himself was the centerpiece of everything. Throughout, he dazzlingly played the roles of MC, conductor, pianist, vocalist, showman and narrator. His comments to the audience between songs were liberally seasoned with reminiscences about the past, with political comments on a range of subjects from the cost of American healthcare to racism in Alabama in the '60s, and with charmingly self-deprecating asides (two examples: "I am a goat. I eat everything around me," and "We are here to celebrate anonymity."). A natural showman, he played the audience as skillfully as he played the piano or conducted the orchestra, giving us clear cues when we should applaud—which we duly obeyed—and towards the end of the show, getting down on one knee to milk our adoration. Had he appeared in a one-man show, just accompanying himself on the piano and talking at length between songs, he would have been a sensation.

Related Video


More Articles

Read Kneebody at Johnny Brenda's Live Reviews Kneebody at Johnny Brenda's
by Mike Jacobs
Published: April 25, 2017
Read Vossajazz 2017 Live Reviews Vossajazz 2017
by Ian Patterson
Published: April 23, 2017
Read Hermeto Pascoal at SFJAZZ Live Reviews Hermeto Pascoal at SFJAZZ
by Harry S. Pariser
Published: April 21, 2017
Read Lewis Nash and Steve Wilson at JazzNights Live Reviews Lewis Nash and Steve Wilson at JazzNights
by David A. Orthmann
Published: April 18, 2017
Read Tallinn Music Week 2017 Live Reviews Tallinn Music Week 2017
by Martin Longley
Published: April 16, 2017
Read Bergamo Jazz Festival 2017 Live Reviews Bergamo Jazz Festival 2017
by Francesco Martinelli
Published: April 14, 2017
Read "T Sisters at SFJAZZ" Live Reviews T Sisters at SFJAZZ
by Asher Wolf
Published: July 21, 2016
Read "John Handy Tribute At SFJAZZ" Live Reviews John Handy Tribute At SFJAZZ
by Walter Atkins
Published: January 30, 2017
Read "2016 Hope College Jazz Organ Summit" Live Reviews 2016 Hope College Jazz Organ Summit
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: September 28, 2016
Read "Thundercat at the Bluebird Theater" Live Reviews Thundercat at the Bluebird Theater
by Geoff Anderson
Published: March 3, 2017
Read "Hyde Park Jazz Festival 2016" Live Reviews Hyde Park Jazz Festival 2016
by Mark Corroto
Published: October 4, 2016
Read "Electric Hot Tuna at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center" Live Reviews Electric Hot Tuna at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center
by Doug Collette
Published: November 27, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus


Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!