The Month In Jazz – January 2021
William Parker deserves a Pulitzer Prize, or at least a MacArthur Fellowship. His work is nearly 50 years deep at this point and encompasses vocal and instrumental music (his own original compositions and brilliant reinterpretations of the work of others), poetry, criticism and journalism. His longtime bands, the William Parker Quartet and his extended incarnation Raining On The Moon; In order to survive; and the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra are balanced by ephemeral or one-off ensembles that can only appear for a single album or concert. In addition to working under his own name, he has been a key member of groups led by Cecil Taylor, Peter Brötzmann, Bill Dixon, David S. Ware, Matthew Shipp and others. Although his work relies on a deeply individual voice, he is a community builder at heart. He and his wife, Patricia Nicholson, have run the annual Vision Festival in New York City for over 20 years, and this unique annual event has grown to encompass multiple performance series throughout the year, many of them outdoors. and free, an invitation to the public to experience high-level jazz as yet another art form, both physically and aesthetically accessible.
Parker, born in the Bronx in 1952, grew up in poverty, spending all the money he could muster on jazz records. He was athletic, played soccer as a teenager, but eventually decided he would dedicate his life to music and writing (he already kept a diary and wrote poetry before picking up a bass), well that he also has a deep interest in cinema. .
He studied with Richard Davis through the New York Jazzmobile program and received early advice from Charlie Haden, but mostly pursued his own path based on deep and intense listening and playing in as many contexts as possible. As he says in Cisco Bradley’s Universal Key: The Life and Music of William Parker, published by Duke University Press, “If you spend your life trying to be Charlie Parker, who will you be?” We fail musically when we try to be something other than ourselves. By the early 1970s he was forming groups and performing in shows all over town, even when his poverty required him to walk his bass from the South Bronx to Greenwich Village or the Lower East Side for a concert. In no time, he made important connections. He first performed with Cecil Taylor in 1974 and was the pianist’s regular bassist from 1980 to 1991, during which time he also worked with Brötzmann, Dixon and many others. Over time, his own music and reputation as a leader grew.
Today Parker is one of the mainstays of New York’s free music community, and although he is primarily known as a “free jazz bassist,” he has in recent years proven to be an artist. without limits. This month, he released a 10 CD box set, Migration of silence in and out of the tonal world, on the AUM Fidelity label. Each record features a different set, and it doesn’t even play on more than half of them. Many of them feature female singers, performing Parker’s lyrics that encompass everything from memories of his childhood to tributes to important musical figures to analyzes of American history, including the Japanese-American internment camps at Manzanar. and the treatment of Native Americans by the US government. Another record is a showcase for Eri Yamamoto, who delivers solo piano versions of 14 Parker’s compositions.
Some of the music would be difficult to attribute to Parker, if it were heard “blind”; the third disc, The mystery of Jah, is a collaboration between singer Ellen Christi and trumpeter Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson, with lots of electronic sound manipulation and lengthy excerpts from an interview with writer James Baldwin. The seventh disc, Afternoon poem, is a solo vocal disc performed by Lisa Sokolov, using layering to harmonize with herself with stunning precision. The eighth disc, The fastest train, is instrumental and features Parker, but he doesn’t play bass; instead, he uses his collection of flutes and a pocket trumpet, while two Dutch musicians, Klaas Hekman and Coen Aalberts, play the flute and small hand percussion instruments. The resulting music is soft and at times ritualistic, reminiscent of the work of Don Cherry or the Art Ensemble Of Chicago in its non-hierarchical exploration of sounds from around the world.
It’s not a box to listen to back and forth. Each record is unique and discreet, and deserves separate consideration as an individual work, giving it ample time to soak up before moving on to another. What brings it all together – and what makes it so amazing – is that this is not an archive dump, as some of his previous cartoons were. All music was recorded between November 2018 and February 2020, specifically for this collection. The intention, clearly, is to present 10 different facets of Parker’s music, and in the process to reveal the commonalities and universal qualities that run through all of his work.
This sonic universality is reflected in Parker’s desire to collaborate, which is one of the major themes of Bradley’s book. Throughout the text he repeatedly and consistently presents Parker not only as an individual creative mind, but as part of an artistic community and perhaps more importantly, part of the world at large. His art is inextricably linked with his politics, which is not so much left in the traditional binary concept that rules debate in the United States as it is humanist. Parker believes that everyone has something to contribute, and that to stifle that contribution with political oppression, lack of opportunity or any other mechanism is a loss for all of humanity, for the potential was endless.
In addition, if he has made solo bass recordings, he never dominates the ensembles in which he is, always at the service of the collective sound. Bradley shows this by analyzing many groups that Parker has been a part of over the years and documenting how personal friendships fueled artistic partnerships, and vice versa. Sometimes Parker becomes a supporting actor in what is theoretically his own story – a long section on his time with Cecil Taylor is more of a biography of the pianist than the bassist. But each of his major projects, including the Raining On The Moon quartet, Little Huey and In Order To Survive, is discussed and analyzed in depth; her family history and personal life are documented in detail; and finally as complete a portrait as possible of William Parker, artist and human being, is painted. Essential reading.
And now, the airs! (You will notice that the format below has changed slightly; there are only ten releases, and they are now numbered. There are two reasons for this. January is a rather lean month for new releases, although all the music below is excellent, and I liked the structure of Black Market enough to steal it.)