William Parker: Live at the Sunset, In Transition, Live at Dunois, Double Sunrise over Neptune

Clifford Allen By

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Other Dimensions in Music
Live at the Sunset
Marge Records

Collective 4tet
In Transition
Leo Records

Joelle Leandre & William Parker
Live at Dunois
Leo Records

William Parker
Double Sunrise over Neptune
Aum Fidelity

Bassist and composer William Parker has been a driving force in New York's modern jazz community since the early '70s. Nearly 40 years onward, Parker is an organizer as well as a vital link to the under-documented history of loft jazz and post-Coltrane New York improvisational music, not to mention a collaborator with a wide range of American and European free players. Four recent discs capture Parker both as a bandleader and duet partner, as well as in a tremendous cooperative and supporting role.

Other Dimensions in Music (ODIM) is one of Parker's longest-running affiliations, dating back to the dissolution of altoist Jemeel Moondoc's Muntu in the early '80s. Parker, trumpeter Roy Campbell, Jr. and drummer Rashid Bakr had been working in Muntu since the mid '70s and, after Moondoc left to pursue other ventures, multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter was brought in to fill the gap. Recently, Hamid Drake has been brought in to substitute for Bakr. The double-disc Live at the Sunset, recorded at the Parisian venue, is only the fourth release to document this ensemble. Previous sets like Now! (AUM Fidelity, 1998) presented lengthy and colorful collective improvisations where clear signposts developed from within, a secret language known only to the group members. Live at the Sunset brings more obvious thematic elements to the table, tunes that flow into the next in a rousing, seamless kaleidoscope rather than continual, subtle ebb and drift. Stratospheric, smeared clarions from pocket trumpet and alto saxophone might on the surface have little in common with titular references to Slam Stewart, Louis Armstrong, Cootie Williams and Miles Davis, but the sort of freedom engendered by ODIM is one that can call upon funeral marches and jubilee shouts as easily as Africanized tone-rows and triple-time barnstorming.

The second longest-running association represented here is between Parker and pianist Mark Hennen, who worked together in an early edition of Muntu. The Collective 4tet joins the pair with trumpeter Art Brooks (like Hennen, also a Bill Dixon student) and Swiss-born drummer Heinz Geisser on In Transition, their first disc since the death of trombonist Jeff Hoyer in 2006; they've been active as a unit since 1994. Despite the affinities and pedigrees of the individual musicians, they mostly shy away from the tropes that define much of creative improvisation. This is especially true of Hennen, the pianist's architectural blocks, flourishes and clunks having little to do with the Cecil Taylor axis, dealing much more in sparse explosions easily tempered than volcanic runs and interlocking cells. Brooks' language certainly has a direct line to Dixon as soloist—screaming between tones, a sort of piercing duskiness on "Clear Skies" that sounds like little else in the brass pantheon. However, his phrasing is a bit more diffuse, his low blats and harrier squalls, while unabashedly physical, are as much textural grayscale to the whole. Parker is, of course, the rock to all three group improvisations here, lending motion and framing to the lapping of tonal spikes and caresses.

Parker and French bassist Joelle Leandre, in some respects, could not be more different—the latter was initially noted for her interpretations of the music of Giacinto Scelsi and John Cage and could be the contemporary analog to wood-and-string sound artists like Fernando Grillo. Sometimes collaborations based on the antithetical are among the most intriguing, however, and that's clearly the case on Live at Dunoís, the pair's second recorded meeting (Contrebasses was their first, released in 1998 and also on Leo). Parker sets a throaty walk on the first piece (all six are untitled), reconfiguring and giving a sense of swing to the mass and emotional immediacy meted out by Leandre's guttural bow and impulsive thwacks. Boppish lines dancing around high-pitched arco squall are, after all, part of what made Henry Grimes and Alan Silva work so well in Cecil Taylor's ensemble and though Parker and Léandre are certainly different animals, there's a strong current provided by oil and water, as wordless chants and meaty triple stops pool and intertwine with plucked bounce.

Partly recorded at the 2007 Vision Festival, Double Sunrise Over Neptune is an extraordinary, epic departure from the sprawling landscapes documented within Parker's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, focusing instead on Indian and North African textures, a 21st century collision of Don Cherry, Ahmed Abdul-Malik and the Celestrial Communications Orchestra. In addition to traditional brass, strings and woodwinds, the 16-piece group features oud player Brahim Fribgane, vocalist Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay and Bill Coleman on musette. Parker himself plays both musette and the Malian six-stringed lute or doson ngoni. "Lights of Lake George" struts with oud, bass and both frame and trap drums at the outset, musettes storming in like a swarm, floating atop the ensemble and buoyed by the tonal carpet of strings. Wordless vocals rise out from the canvas only to subside and be replaced by Jason Kao Hwang's dervish violin, flecked by oud, Joe Morris' banjo and subtly fragmenting rhythmic blocks. Meditative passages abound, but even the delicately sonorous sections are only temporary housings for sound before both searing storms and stately expositions arise. Too honest to be an 'experiment,' it will be interesting to see where Parker's frameworks and collaborations take the music next.

Tracks and Personnel

Live at the Sunset

Tracks: CD1: Announcement; Other Dimensional Space Travelers; Hip Box; Blues Configuration; Slam Me Down (for Slam Stewart); Afro Caribbean High Life; Blues for Baghdad; Desert Dance. CD2: Blues for Iraq; New Millennium Chaos (the Bush Reign of Terror); Funk the Government/The Betrayal of New Orleans/Hurricane Katrina; Suite for Miles Davis; For Louis, Cootie and Lester; Song of Hope and Peace for the Future of Humanity; Call for the Gathering of All the Righteous and Spiritual People; James Brown Ascension.

Personnel: William Parker: bass, musette; Daniel Carter: alto saxophone, trumpet and flute; Roy Campbell, Jr.: trumpet, flugelhorn, pocket trumpet, shepherd's pipes, recorder and flute; Hamid Drake: drums and frame drum.

In Transition

Tracks: In Transition; Clear Skies; For a Change.

Personnel: William Parker: bass; Heinz Geisser: drums; Arthur Brooks: trumpet and flugelhorn; Mark Hennen: piano.

Live at Dunois

Tracks: Duo 1; Duo 2; Duo 3; Duo 4; Duo 5; Duo 6.

Personnel: Joelle Leandre: bass and voice; William Parker: bass and voice.

Double Sunrise over Neptune

Tracks: Morning Mantra; Lights of Lake George; O'Neal's Bridge; Neptune's Mirror.

Personnel: William Parker: musette, donso n'goni, conductor; Lewis Barnes: trumpet; Bill Cole: musette; Rob Brown: alto saxophone; Sabir Mateen: tenor saxophone and clarinet; Dave Sewelson: baritone saxophone; Jason Kao Hwang and Mazz Swift: violin; Jessica Pavone: viola; Shiau-Shu Yu: cello; Shayna Dulberger: bass; Joe Morris: guitar and banjo; Brahim Frigbane: oud; Gerald Cleaver: drums; Hamid Drake: frame drum; Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay: voice.


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