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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Oliver Lake & William Parker - To Roy (Intakt Records, 2015) *****

By Stefan Wood

In January 2014 the innovative jazz trumpeter Roy Campbell died from cardiovascular disease.  "To Roy," is a spirited and powerful tribute to him, by two of his peers:  Oliver Lake and William Parker.  While both have an extensive discography, this is the first pairing of the two on record.  

And while the duets of alto saxophone and bass is nothing new, this short, intense free form effort is magnificent in its originality and creativity.  For one thing, Oliver Lake is at the top of his game here.  Occupying mostly at a high register, he draws from way back to the sound of Albert Ayler and Frank Wright, aggressive and acerbic, yet never too abrasive, with clean notes.   At times his sound is like an electronic instrument, percussive notes that dart in and out, trading off against Parker's equally percussive bass.  Parker is in fine form as well, whether stringing or plucking, his sound does not take a back seat to the strong alto sound.  In fact, he matches Lake's high register, complementing his sound, though at other times he counterpoints by pushing the bass' naturally lower register.  

The album feels unusually short, yet it is 50 minutes long.  That's how engaging their interplay is.  Standout tracks are:  the opening track "Variation on a Theme by Marvin Gaye," a jubilant and exciting free form play on "Inner City Blues," Parker echoing the funky bass line while Lake riffs all over it.  Flight Plan" is a muscular track, the two artists slugging out a variety of textures and sounds with almost supernatural speed.  "2 of Us," and the final track "To Roy," both feature intricately woven interactions by the pair, intertwining their sounds to almost create a third, combined voice.  

There is joy, sorrow, intelligence, rip roaring instinctive play, that all together create a spellbinding effort that is spiritually moving and creatively stimulating.  Easily one of the best albums I've heard this year, as well as containing some of the finest efforts that either artist has produced in a while.  Especially Oliver Lake; his playing is jaw dropping.