The great thing about William Parker is that he doesn't stop looking for new approaches to music, as long as they're acoustic and based on genuine interplay between real musicians. On this CD he brings a double quartet, his usual band consisting of himself on bass, Rob Brown on alto sax, Lewis Barnes on trumpet and Hamid Drake on drums, augmented with Mazz Sqift on violin, Jessica Pavone on viola, Julia Kent on cello and Shiau-Shu Yu on cello. Leena Conquest guests on vocals on "Natasha's Theme" and "Natasha's Theme 2". Or, if you want, a male quartet and a female quartet.
Like Matthew Shipp's tribute to Jean Genet on the French RogueArt label, this one is a tribute to and inspired by another great French piece of art, Jean-Luc Godard's movie "Alphaville". In this movie, the futuristic city Alphaville is dominated by the logic of computers and ruled by an evil scientist named Von Braun, who has outlawed love and self-expression. And "love and self-expression" are of course themes close to Parker's heart and they have permeated his career and art.
Adding the string quartet helps to evocate the music of the film itself, with the eery tension and typical movie suspense full of romantic drama and sentimental outbursts. But the strings here are luckily more modern, more avant-garde, offering a great contrast with the free jazz musicians, sometimes limiting themselves to pizzicato chattering in the background, sometimes driving heavy unisono lines accentuating the jazz solos, with an especially gloomy and menacing counterpoint in the long "Dr. Badguy". The overall effect is utterly bizarre, creating a kind of busyness which is too much to grasp at once, because there is too much going on, but still in a coherent way, following its own logic. The jazz dominates, and it's great as you can expect from these artists and there are times, especially in the longer pieces that the strings let them do their thing, leaving some breathing space, but never for long : there they are again, to chase the jazz quartet forward, jabb it in the sides, kick it back, emphasize it, play along in moments of frenzy, move it to weird territory, or offer shades and an overall darkness that is highly unusual, to say the least. Without specifically saying that the string quartet would represent the cold futuristic logic of the evil scientist and the jazz band the proponents of love and free expression (or female vs male :-), at least the tension between good and bad and the overall mood of the film is well-captured by the concept of the double band. And the music is excellent to. Like Parker's "Requiem", this is one you should listen to often before you can appreciate it to the full.