William Parker: The Other Side, Palm of Soul & Astrogeny Quartet

Tom Greenland By

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Frode Gjerstad Trio
The Other Side

Kidd Jordan/Hamid Drake/William Parker
Palm of Soul
Aum Fidelity

John Blum Astrogeny Quartet
John Blum Astrogeny Quartet

If you're looking for action "downtown" in creative music, it's a sure bet bassist William Parker will be somewhere in the vicinity. Three new releases that include the venerated veteran show him to be busier than ever, in close collaboration with just a few of his wide circle of musical friends.

The Other Side is a trio offering with Chicagoan Hamid Drake on drums and Norway's Frode Gjerstad on alto saxophone. Gjerstad is not as well known stateside, but he's one of—if not the—top cats in his country's free music scene. He has hooked up with his musical heroes, Drake and Parker, as far back as 1997, recording two notable sides in 1998, Ultima and Remember to Forget. The latest recording comes from a date in Chicago during the trio's 2000 tour. Compared with some of Gjerstad's other outings, this one is more grounded in groove: "First Cut features the altoist in extended extemporization over Parker's walking bass in a medium-"swing" tempo. The title track has a bit of jam-band R&B feel, with Drake on frame drum and Parker on a breathy flute. "The Ballads is more pensive and exploratory, with many episodes, lumbering along like a groggy bear stretching his legs after a long hibernation. The closer, "The Duo , is simultaneously energetic and wispy, the sax spinning out chain-link melodies in (Ornette) Coleman-esque fashion.

Palm of Soul also features Parker and Drake in the "rhythm" section, with Kidd Jordan on tenor—sans their usual fourth hand, tenorist Fred Anderson. The session is a bit toned down for these powerhouse players, in part, perhaps, because it was recorded three weeks after Hurricane Katrina flattened Jordan's home in New Orleans, and in part due to tamped down instrumentation: Parker favors singing bowls, gongs and the guimbri over his more usual pizzicato pulsations, while Drake spends (and plays) most of his time on frame drum, adding tablas on "Resolution and intoning a soulful chant on "Unity Call . Jordan plays beautifully throughout, with slow smoldering intensity, subtle tonal shadings and pervading warmth, even in the altissimo range, riffing off of pentatonic minor key areas, never straying far from the blues. These are brushstrokes on a zen canvas, the silences and spaces pantomiming musical meaning through inference and implication.

Astrogeny Quartet shows Parker at full fire, spurred on by the propulsive intensity of pianist John Blum and the ebullient jubilance of drummer Denis Charles, a journeyman jazzer who, finally coming into his own, tragically passed away shortly after this 1998 recording. Italian-born altoist Antonio Grippi is also on hand, another under-recognized talent active for many years in New York, contributing post-big bang Doppler effects on "Simultanium , "Astrogeny and "Dieci . It's a shame that this is the last we'll see of this particular constellation of less visible yet vibrantly luminous stars.

Tracks & Personnel

The Other Side

Tracks: First Cut; The Ballade; The Other Side; The Duo.

Personnel: Frode Gjerstad: alto sax; William Parker: bass, flute; Hamid Drake: drums.

Palm of Soul

Tracks: Peppermint Falls; Forever; Living Peace; Unity Call; So Often; Resolution; Last of the Chicken Wings.

Personnel: Kidd Jordan: tenor saxophone; Hamid Drake: drums, tablas, frame drum, voice; William Parker: bass, guimbri, gongs, bowls, talking drum.

John Blum Astrogeny Quartet

Tracks: Simultanium; Astrogeny; Encomia; Dieci; Astrogeny Reprise.

Personnel: John Blum: piano; Denis Charles: drums; Antonio Grippi: alto saxophone, alto clarinet; William Parker: bass.


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