William Parker: Blue Shadows & The Last Dances

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Charles Gayle
Blue Shadows

Hamid Drake/Anders Gahnold/William Parker
The Last Dances

Over the last decade (this year marks the 10th anniversary of his brilliant Peach Orchard), William Parker has come to be one of the most exciting bandleaders around. The great gains have come with a small loss: Parker as a sideman is heard less and less. He still plays support — the loss isn't complete — but there was a time when he seemed to be not only in every band in New York, but managed to both propel and anchor all of them. Two recent releases serve to remind one of those days, both pulling together unreleased material from older sessions for new titles.

Charles Gayle's sessions with Parker were his strongest and Blue Shadows culls recordings for two other Silkheart releases. Five hours of tape recorded by Gayle, Parker, Vattel Cherry (on bass and percussion) and Michael Wimberly on drums in 1993 resulted in two records, Translations and Raining Fire. Gayle is heard here exclusively on tenor sax, with Parker playing bass, cello and half-size violin. While the two basses more than fill up the space between sax and drums, it's still great to hear Parker in support mode — always solid, sliding into harmonics and pulled strings but never leaving his post unattended.

By 2002, Parker was well-recognized as a composer and bandleader and another important turn in his career had taken place: with drummer Hamid Drake, he had become a part of one of the most exciting and in-demand rhythm sections of the day. With Drake he recalled the tradition of the rhythm section and where free jazz had long followed an every-man-for-himself dictum, Parker and Drake returned to the back line, working as a unit to set the stage for the horns. Much of the time it was with players with whom they already had a history (most notably Fred Anderson and Kidd Jordan), but the record ...and William Danced showed the duo's strength by putting them behind a relative unknown. Alto saxophonist Anders Gahnold is a bluesier player than most of their usual cohorts, casting a new light on the rhythm team (while it was released under the name "William Parker Trio," it's Gahnold's record). It was released by Ayler Records, which has been pushing hard into the download world. The disc is out of print and available as a paid download on the label's site, as is a new disc of recordings from the same session, this time under the more egalitarian "Drake/Gahnold/Parker". The four pieces are, as with Blue Shadows, every bit as strong as the original release. Parker's ideas as a bandleader continue to flourish and as long as there are old tapes stowed in cupboards we won't have to worry about missing his sideman days.

Tracks and Personnel

Blue Shadows

Tracks: Inside the Sun; Blue Shadows; Eternity Promised 1; Eternity Promised 2; Hearts to Jesus; Soul's Time; In Sorrow; Snap.

Personnel: Charles Gayle: tenor saxophone, viola; William Parker: bass, cello, half-size violin; Vattel Cherry: kalimba, bells; Michael Wimberly: drums.

The Last Dances

Tracks: Oh Shit; Slow Dance; Bow Dance; Dusk.

Personnel: William Parker: bass; Hamid Drake: drums; Anders Gahnold: alto sax.

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