William Parker's Healing Song in Tampere


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Old Customs Hall
Tampere, Finland
November 1, 2003

Bassist and musical visionary William Parker says that by 2010 all musicians will be playing what he calls “cosmic music.” If images of everyone’s favorite Saturnian Sun Ra jump to mind, you wouldn’t be mistaken. Parker’s “Healing Song”, a collaboration with his wife the dancer Patricia Nicholson, carries on the Ra tradition of creating sensory experiences that draw on music, dance, film and poetry. Nicholson states openly that they want to break down what she sees as false divisions between the arts. By combining different art forms Parker hopes to achieve his goal of “healing through music.”

As their set opens the sidelined position of the musicians makes it clear that music will not be the only focus tonight. Parker sits on a chair, North African double reed horn at ready while Hamid Drake readies a frame drum. Nicholson takes the stage alone, readying herself to move with the music. After a loose jam where Rob Brown’s tenor, Lewis Sanders trumpet and Parker’s rhaita swirl over Drake’s pulsing, echoing pounding, the other dancers enter and then entice the musicians into a parading circle. Sanders moves to djembe and the dancers take up various shakers until dancers and music-makers are immersed in a moving celebration of the rhythm, each taking their turn in the middle of the circle for a solo. At first the dance circle reminds one of b-boys battling, but the more ancient percussion and horns push one further back in time, to dance rituals of past cultures.

Healing Song blends the arts to such a degree that one focuses not on the music or the dance, but on the whole experience. When Parker moves to sintir, a three-stringed North African lute with a buzzing, bass-like tone, it doesn’t even matter that he hasn’t picked up his bass yet Parker, the musicians and the dancers are less interested in making some high-minded aesthetic statement than in releasing positive, creative energy.

How else should the audience interpret the films later projected behind the performers? Tree-tops backlit by the Sun, home movies of children playing in a lake, text exhorting us, “We must find a way out;” these images are meant to evoke not an intellectual, but an emotional and spiritual response in the audience. Parker has said that he wants people to respond to his music, even if that response is dislike, or even hate. To him, if an audience reacts it means he has touched them in some way.

When Parker does finally move to his bass, he has so engaged the audience that his thick, muscular swing-inflected with the blues and propelled by Drake’s brisk cymbal work and powerhouse snare strikes-hooks them completely and immerses them in his vision of what art can do. Soon the dancers are writhing across the stage declaiming poetry, the horns riff insistently off the groove and Parker himself becomes a poet proclaiming, “The Earth is a sound box,” and calling on the audience to see “The Intuitive Tomorrow” of the present.

Such abstract, cosmic sentiments feel out of place in the 21st century, recalling the days of power Black and flowery, but that’s the point. Parker and his band of performers are singing a song that will heal by taking the audience out of the time they live in and connecting them to a larger concept-to read cosmic time one needs cosmic music.

Complete coverage of the 2003 Tampere Jazz Festival...
Tampere Jazz Happening: Speaking a Universal Language
Wibutee in Tampere: Club Music and Jazz Collide
Erik Truffaz in Tampere: Fusion for the 21st Century
The Bad Plus in Tampere: Cinematic Trio Images
The Electrics in Tampere: All-Acoustic Electricity
Kornstad Trio in Tampere: Improvisation as Negotiation
Scorch Trio in Tampere: If Hendrix and Coltrane had a Love Child...
Uri Caine's Bedrock 3 in Tampere: Too Many DJs
Gnomus & Jukka Gustavsson in Tampere: The Wit of the Improviser
William Parker's Healing Song in Tampere
Samuli Mikkonen in Tampere: Composed Moods and Spontaneous Energy
Louis Sclavis in Tampre: Memories of a Naples that Never Was

Photo Credit
© Pentti Ronkanen

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