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William Parker's Quartet: Continuing the Story in Vermont

Lyn Horton By

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William Parker Quartet
Vermont Jazz Center
Brattleboro, Vermont
January 12, 2008

Devotion to a steadfast belief manifests itself through persistence of doing, the doing coming down to the choices made by the believer. Bassist William Parker embodies the ultimate believer: he not only believes in the evolution of the culture of his personal heritage but, through his efforts, he endeavors to make the best of that culture a vital part of his listeners' experience. His culture has breadth and is inherently self- propelling, like the music that carries him through his life. It is Parker's purpose to tell the story of that culture and the characters who create it, in as many ways and from as many directions as possible—words, imagination, sound. Everything is music to him...and music is everything.

No audience member for the two-hour performance of the Parker Quartet on January 12 at the Vermont Jazz Center could ever question Parker's belief, for the experience of his music is more than tunes washing over one's being. It's an experience that requires paying attention to all aspects of what occurs. It means listening, watching, absorbing and ultimately feeling the impact down to the marrow. It means realizing that everything is intended even when it is not planned. It means recognizing how tightly the musicians interlock both their musical differences and commonalities in order to have the musical conversation that is a William Parker performance.

This Parker Quartet was the same quartet that recorded the acclaimed O'Neal's Porch (AUM Fidelity, 2002): Rob Brown on alto, Lewis Barnes on trumpet, Hamid Drake on drums and Parker on bass. The context of this performance was completely consistent with that recording. It was concerned with not only the people of the immediate New England region but also the environment in which Parker grew up in the Bronx. Parker introduced both sets with dedications and hilarious, yet poignant, stories, weaving the nature of the music into the texture of the lives of those who listened. The unassailable musical unity of the group often gave way to solos, duos, and trios. These varying combinations lent flexibility to the sound and spatiality to the format. Equally important, the group's capacity to break apart and come together testified to the individual strength and committed responsiveness of each player.





When the time was right, the music simply started. Parker plucked the strings of his instrument at the same time as Hamid Drake opened up the expansive sound of his drum set. The rhythm was uncomplicated as a simply structured tune evolved clearly out of the opening salutations provided by trumpet and alto. As the rhythm section continued to ground the group, both instruments swelled up, then decrescendoed. Soon, the instrumental voices separated, their interaction marked by denser textures. Alternately, the alto and trumpet complemented each other contrapuntally or let their lines coalesce into harmony, their song bright and tuneful. During the synchronous, joyous choruses, the similarity of the two horns' timbre kept them on top of the low lustrous tones of the bass and the polyrhythmic symphony of sounds supplied by the drums.

When Rob Brown soloed on alto, the melodic lines ensuing from his chord progressions were grinding, tart and hard-bitten. The stringency of his alto sound resembled the tension implied by his physically elongated presence. The chord progressions he played from never ran into each other, instead moving vertically from the bottom to top register. He appeared to examine each ascending step as he approached the goal—the pinnacle of a final pitch. In effect, he redefined the arpeggio, the angular and un-fluid character of his attack magnifying a chord's individual elements in relation to the roundness characterizing the approach of his fellow instrumentalists.

Relaxed in his delivery, Lewis Barnes nonetheless planted his fingers squarely and assuredly on his trumpet valves. The bright and direct quality of the trumpet voice, whether muted or not, transitioned smoothly from fanciful improvisation into melodies. Barnes' playing was solid and dependable, serving to level the music. He brought the music home for the listener, coming across as the big brother figure in what had become a musical family: Parker seemed like the Father; Brown, the little brother; Drake, an uninhibited sibling.


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