William Parker Quartets, Meditation / Resurrection

William Parker, Bronx-born bassist-composer extraordinaire, is one of the few jazz musicians who came up through the avant-garde (making his first big marks as a sideman to Cecil Taylor and David S. Ware) yet manages to fuse its techniques and innovations with standard rhythms, a sense of blues that might have wafted up from the Delta, a dash of wit, and a seemingly effortless swing.

His new two-CD album, Meditation / Resurrection (on the AUM Fidelity label), was recorded in the course of a single day last October, at Brooklyn's System Two Studio by Michael Marciano, who also mixed it live, to give it the feel of a spontaneous set at a club.

Or, rather, two sets, as the two discs feature slightly different quartets: Parker's regular bandmates, alto saxophonist Rob Brown and drummer Hamid Drake, joined, on Disc 1, by trumpeter Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson and, on Disc 1, by pianist Cooper-Moore—both of them wide-ranging musicians, steeped in the avant-garde but also composers for theater, who have collaborated with Parker in the past.

The first disc has more robust rhythms—most of its seven tracks are danceable—while the second disc jets more adventurously. None of the music is chaotic or atonal; this is riveting, complex, but melodic jazz, deeply rooted in the fundamentals even while skywriting.

I first heard Parker in 1984 on the violinist Billy Bang's The Fire from Within, one of the startling great albums from that period, and it was no surprise when I learned that he'd studied under Jimmy Garrison (Coltrane's great bassist) and Richard Davis (who played with Eric Dolphy and Andrew Hill). I stumbled across his great percussionist, Hamid Drake, around the same time, on some of saxophonist Fred Anderson's recordings. Like Anderson, Drake was born in Louisiana, moved as a child to the Chicago area, and gravitated to the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the collective that produced Lester Bowie, Henry Threadgill, and many other pioneers. You hear all those traditions in Drake's percussion styles (on trap set and various hand drums), including many others—mainly from Africa and the Caribbean—that he's intensely studied on his own.

These are all musicians who should be better known but seem not to care very much that they're not. (I might be wrong about this; I don't know any of them personally.) They carve their own paths, thrive in their own communities. Parker, who is also a poet and plays various African instruments, has been organizing the annual Vision Festival on Manhattan's Lower East Side for the last 20 years.

If you want to go all-out, I'd recommend his eight-CD set, Wood Flute Songs (if you can find it, and it's worth the hunt), a collection of live performances, with various ensembles, from 2006–2012. (If you want to sample a bit, start with "Groove #7" on Disc 1.) Brief clips from various albums can be heard on AUM Fidelity's website (click on Artists, then William Parker). But Meditation / Resurrection is an excellent pool for a waist-high jump in. And the live-mix sound is very good: crisp, warm, and present.

fetuso's picture

Just ordered from amazon after sampling some tunes. Thanks for the review of Parker, I've never heard of him. My love for jazz is relatively new so I'm always looking to venture from my classic blue note comfort zone.

Allen Fant's picture

Right On! FK

your Jazz coverage just keeps getting better and better. I recently discovered William Parker. Feel free to suggest more of his essential recordings on CD.

SpinMark3313's picture

Agreed: terrific recommendation. Beautiful and soul nourishing discs. Fred - you've given me another artist to explore in depth and I love it!