William Parker's Raining On The Moon
April 27, 2007
A beautiful Friday evening in Amsterdam drew to a close with William Parker's Raining On The Moon taking the stage in the fading light at the Bimhuis. Parker is the pre-eminent free jazz bassist on the New York downtown scene and should need no introduction to AAJ readers. The group comprises Parker's Quartet with longtime associates Hamid Drake on drums and frame drum, Rob Brown on alto saxophone, and Lewis Barnes on trumpet, but with the addition of vocalist and dancer Leena Conquest. In many ways this is Parker's mainstream working band, with tunes you can actually hum, his idiosyncratic lyrics, and foot- stomping grooves. But with Parker, there are still always enough rough edges to keep the interest of a diehard fire-music lover like me, and the blend of inside and the outside is one of the aspects that most appeals to me about this particular line-up's music-making.
The lengthy opener "The Sky Is Beautiful Everywhere" pitted Conquest's smoky vocals against pattering frame drum and an ominous arco drone, before Parker switched to the hypnotically resonant musette for the remainder of the piece. Initially Brown and Barnes were content to contribute horn outbursts from the rear of the stage, until being drawn forward to join in smoldering filaments of sound. The sultry horn and drum backdrop inspired the elegant Conquest to a sinuous dance, before the final refrain.
Next was a medley of two pieces premiered by Parker's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra at Vision X in 2005, starting with the funky "Gilmore's Hat before segueing into the earthy swagger of "Land Song," juxtaposed against a bustling groove from Drake. The horns provided syncopated support behind Conquest, and Brown essayed an altissimo wail as she sang the line "saxophone reeds all day." Drake maintained a simultaneous musical commentary on both Conquest and the horn interjections, as well as ensuring forward momentum. "Land Song recounts the experience of native Americans losing land to settlers who claimed to buy the land from God, and contains the wonderful lines "As far as I know, God don't take cheques, Visa or Mastercard. So how did Mr. Johnson pay for the land? Barnes took a terrific solo as Conquest danced, building in phrase sized blocks, repeating, extending and adding fanfares and slurred runs. Brown joined in loose counterpoint over the racing rhythm, firing the brassman's lines back at him, until they conjoined in an interwoven thread. The superb first set closed with a bouncy, joyous rendition of a Parker favorite "James Baldwin to the Rescue."
It was just the Quartet for the second set, with the first piece at over fifty minutes, giving everyone space to stretch out. A fast rhythm rumbled beneath a breakneck horn unison before a sudden halt. A pause, and then they hit again, continuing in this stop/start fashion. The front line of Brown and Barnes seemed to possess an almost telepathic understanding, complementing the dream-team credentials of the rhythm pairing. The saxophonist's first solo was replete with flowing distortions and embellished with controlled overblowing, culminating in yearning cries. Barnes shadowed him with perfectly timed interjections, and when Brown slipped effortlessly from improvisation to theme, the trumpeter was on the money, sliding right in beside him. The reedman's endlessly inventive stream-of-consciousness exposition contrasted satisfyingly with Barnes' more deliberate crafting of a solo from repeated phrases.
Parker's only extended solo of the evening followed a passage of sublime interplay with Drake, and was fashioned with a buzzing pizzicato. Using both hands on the neck of the bass, he skittered over the strings, drawing forth harp-like sonorities, then finished by alternating wavering shakuhachi flute with deep bass strums. Drake, too, got the chance for an extended percussion masterclass, starting gently, repeatedly beating on his toms, using his sticks to deaden the sound, before gradually increasing the speed and density. Brown joined for a blistering duet: the two at first followed separate trajectories, then converged with Drake echoing the altoist's rhythmic phrasing in a high voltage daredevil flight.
Next was the short "Malachi's Mauve," dedicated to the late AACM bassist, which belied its melancholy associations with an upbeat feel. The set concluded with Conquest returning for "Hymn For A Woman With Her Foot In Her Pocket, which Parker termed "part of our children's series," and indeed the piece had a lilting sing-song cadence and a playful feel, with Conquest's soulful vocals caressed by the hornsa happy, upbeat ending to a wonderfully full evening of some 140 minutes of music over the course of the two excellent sets.