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Monday, February 8, 2021

William Parker – Migration of Silence Into and Out Of the Tone World (Centering, 2021) ****

By Paul Acquaro, Tom Burris, and Nick Ostrum

Following Lee Rice Epstein's review of the new William Parker biography, we thought it would make a nice pairing with a review of Parker's new 10 CD set Migration of Silence Into and Out Of the Tone World out on Centering and AUM Fidelity. Needless to say, it was a daunting task and even as we spread it out among three of us to review, there was still a lot to figure out as both the music and the lyrics require attention, and there is what is said and what is intoned. Here it is, in no particular order. 

Nick Ostrum:

Blue Limelight
featuring Raina Sokolov-Gonzalez: voice/ Mara Rosenbloom: piano / Peter Dennis: bass / Scot Moore: violin / Reina Murooka: violin / Tina Burova: violin / Jim Ferraiuolo: oboe / Kevin Murray: drums / Jim Clouse: drums / Jason Kao Hwang: violin

Blue Limelight begins with a brief, beautiful piano-vocal duo, according to the liner notes, as a mantra for the rest of this wild exploration of funky 70’s soul, ethereal barroom dances, eerie sprightly interludes, and wistfully bucolic mediations. Some of these pieces (Cosmic Funk, A Great Day to Be Dead) have a heavy Curtis Mayfield spirit, which is not surprising given Parker’s Inside Songs project. At other times, one hears influences ranging from Stravinsky (yes, most every romantic oboe-forward piece I hear reminds me of Stravinksy) to pared-down show tune balladry to straight up acerbic jazz and poetry.

The album has a cumulative force to it that transcends the pieces taken in isolation, or the genre pigeon-holing I attempt above. It has a flow that make even the smoother sections fit into the wide and somewhat stilted stylistic mélange. Then again, maybe the unique instrumentation – three to four violins, oboe, bass, piano, understated drums – lends itself to such polish and balance. Either way, Blue Limelight as a whole is a strong statement of Parker’s adaptability and his consummate skills as a composer, who is able to capture the cinematic, the bluesy, and the blustery convincingly in the same album, and sometimes even in the same piece.

Child of Sound
featuring Eri Yamamoto: piano

“Dedicated to all of the almost two million indigenous people who live on Reservations in United States of America. Those who have been marginalized and lied to. Those who have been victims of Genocide,” Child of Sound is one of the most powerfully mellifluous and mournful discs in the release. This is not only because of its social justice inspiration, but also because these are solo compositions performed by the incomparable Eri Yamamoto.

Yamamoto balances a healthy dose of beer bar stride and gospel up-beats with winding classical passages. Many of the pieces evoke folksy countryside vistas, replete with those concerted and controlled frills and flourishes that Yamamoto have made her own over the years. Tracks like Malcolm’s Smile (an ode to Malcolm X), Mexico (reimagined as a large ensemble piece on disc 6, titled Mexico), and Trail of Tears I and II (an eponymous commemoration of the forced relocation of nearly 100,000 indigenous Americans in the mid-19th century) offer a somber counterbalance to the whimsical lightness of compositions such as Rez Sunshine and the welling optimism of The Golden Light (Hymn) and Ascending Earth. Parker is clearly digging into a trove of church music memories on this disc, but it is the way he combines those with bluesy, romantic, show-tune, and neoclassical aesthetics that really make this music shimmer.

featuring Jean Carla Rodea: voice/ Brahim Fribgane: oud / Jackson Krall: tenor drum / Ariel Bart: harmonica / Ohad Kapuya: bass / Illay Sabag: piano / Kevin Murray: drums & percussion / Rachel Housle: drums & percussion / special guests Jim Clouse: tenor sax / Matt Lavelle: trumpet / Matt Lambiase: trumpet / William Parker: Serbian flute & gralla on “Tilted Mirror”; kamele ngoni on “The Bleeding Tree”

An homage to its titular land, historical and present, Mexico is laced with Latin and urban jazz vibes, though it also displays some strong North African, Balkan, and Middle Eastern elements in instrumentation and personnel (minus the Balkan), if not also its melodies and structure. (As the liner notes make clear, this is an international effort, with musicians form Mexico [Rodea], Morocco [Fribgane], Israel [Bart, Kapuya, Sabag] and the US [Krall, Murray, Housle, Clouse, Lavelle, Lambiase, Parker]). The result is a work that reaches from the sweeping epic to doleful lullabies to straightforward but reflective protest music.

The latter strand is especially in the final piece, It Is For You, which repeats the mantra, “Never give up.” After several listens, I began to notice that the phrase is repeated in a cadence that seems to imperfectly reflect the vamping and vocal patterns that run through compositions such as Tilted Mirror and Mexico, both oddly funky romps through Latin-infused, avant-neo-folk forms with infectiously stilted and danceable undercurrents. This seems to be a theme of this album, and much of the collection more broadly: simple rhythms repeated and tweaked as a relatively consistent, cohesive base that grounds the elaborations and curious detours that comprise the rest of the composition. Mexico in particular evokes a range of colors and moods, even as it remains coherent in its exploration of intimate and, at times, hauntingly waifish (Mexico, The Bleeding Tree) meditations on past injustices and the continued struggle for social justice today.

All in all, this makes for a viscerally satisfying listen and, again, attests to William Parker’s continued journeys beyond the bounds of jazz and jazz-based improvisation into musical forms and with musicians from different countries and continents. And he succeeds with a comprehension, confidence and rootedness that has become Parker’s trademark.


Tom Burris:

Parker describes this disc in the liner notes as “a dissection of string paintings, as if fingers were brushes and strings were paint.” It is performed by a string quartet with Parker augmenting the group on khaen (a Thai mouth organ) and flutes. It is also otherworldly, dark and mysterious, with nods to American jazz and political history. Other highly influential cultural landmarks are Africa, Asia, Europe, and the night sky. On “Charcoal Paragraphs,” which opens the disc, the foreboding atmosphere feels like the musicians are keeping Van Gogh's Starry Night hidden away from those who would do it – and us – harm.

A mournful feeling permeates much of the music here, nowhere more than on the title track which becomes an almost unbearable unified cry in the dark. Manzanar was the first U.S. Concentration camp used to incarcerate Japanese Americans during WWII. Simultaneously gorgeous and terrifying, the music here is repetitive but broken up into unique fragments by each player. A disturbing and powerful piece of music. Thankfully, relief appears in “On Being Native,” which serves as a coda to the four preceding pieces. It was based on a poem by David Budbill and features Daniel Carter on alto saxophone, who winds lines around the strings effortlessly. At 21:16, it still doesn't feel long enough & is easily my favorite track on a disc full of excellent ones.

The Fastest Train
The Fastest Train is a trio album featuring Klaas Herman on flutes & Coen Aaberts on percussion and wind instruments. Parker plays an assortment of flutes and pocket trumpet. Imagine a few members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago making outdoor improvised “little instruments” recordings after being inspired by Brotzmann & Bennink's Schwarzwaldfahrt album. (You know, the one B&B made on a weekend trip to the Black Forest.) With so many flutes, it threatens to sun-dance off into New Age land – but thankfully, nothing as dreadful as that happens.

Highlights include the birds and rusty tricycles of “Family Voice,” a Native American late-night campfire peyote jam called “Host for the Anointed,” and the mint tea Joujouka vibes that infiltrate “Blessed.” But the real standout here is “Sacred Prayers,” which features lovely melodies crossing the wide distance between the American Southwest and the Himalayas. The album closes with a deep forest outro called “The Elders at the Edge of the World Part 2,” which is dark, mysterious, and more than a little Herzogian.

Lights in the Rain (The Italian Directors Suite)
This album is performed by a septet that includes Parker on cornet and features vocalist Andrea Wolper. Italian movies made me a film fan & I'm happy to see that William Parker shares this interest. The Visconti piece is brash and subtle simultaneously, similar to the director's own sensibilities. Ariel Bart's harmonica takes on an appropriate accordion-like feel on many of the compositions here, beginning with “Fellini,” a carnival-esque musing based on a Fellini quote about dreams. “Leone” marks a return to real harmonica music, which also includes an obligatory nod to Morricone. I'm not surprised that there doesn't seem to be that same film composer's nod to Alessandro Cicognini on “De Sica,” as Cicognini is still under-appreciated – but Parker states that this track is “about the film that never made but only imagined.” So... that's a pretty good reason, I guess.

Rossellini gets a warm salute in the liner notes in the form of a poem that contains the lines “Life over war / Life over death / People over power.” This was not only the point of Rossellini's postwar work, but also of all of Italian Neorealism. And so it is also in the music of William Parker. 


Paul Acquaro:

Cheops is a dynamic and sometimes frightening album. The music here features the wordless vocal styling of Kyoko Kitamura, warm vibes from Matt Moran, expressive tuba from Ben Stapp, precise soprano sax from Kayla Milmine-Abbott, sensitive drumming from Rachel Housle, and finally William Parker providing a solid bass. 

The recording’s title track is dedicated to the late trumpeter Roy Campbell who had a deep affinity for things Egypt. Parker writes in the liner notes how he misses Campbell's presence in music and life, as the pair had worked closely for many years. 'The Map is Precise' is a piece with a great deal of spoken word poetry that is evocative of history and feelings. The words are pointedly chosen, but the meaning is broad and there are a lot of ways to interpret them, which makes it engaging and thought provoking. “If We Play Soft Enough” is a tour de force … the central piece on the disc that incorporates all sorts of 'soft' instruments, building to a 'soft' musical climax over its 22 minute life-span. Finally, the track ‘Harriot” is dedicated to the Jamaican born, and later UK based, saxophonist Joe Harriot who is considered a pioneer of free-jazz in the late 50’s and early 1960s.

Harlem Speaks
This album is dedicated to the Harlem Renaissance and it mixes personal and historical events in a seamless mix of lyrics and tone. The voice and rhythm section combination is a skeletal approach, leaving a lot of space to fill, but Fay Victor's strong voice and 'classic' jazz approach is more than capable of doing so. The recording begins with her scatting/singing over just Hamid Drake's drum kit work. A deep rhythmic sense builds a web of unheard support, as they channel the music rife with history and expectation. Parker’s musical choices go beyond notes, for sure he delivers a groove that sits so well with Drake’s sense of rhythm that the two of them elevate beyond a standard rhythm section. Parker doesn’t have to play a lot, like on 2nd tune … just a couple notes provide the constellations to imagine your own pictures. This approach is taken to an extreme on the title track is much more along the “avant-garde” side of things, with Drake’s insistent, gripping pulse driving a eye-opening combination of guttural scat and Parker’s plucking on the Mbiri. Again, the sparse instrumentation is hardly a detriment as the trio explores a whole new sound scape. 

While some of the lyrics are a little heavy handed  - “all I got left is my soul / my soul is not for sale" - it is hardly a problem as the actual words speak to something much deeper than their literal meanings . A bold album, accessible and engaging, it is more a straight ahead jazz album that many of the other musical excursions on the discs in this set.

Majesty of Jah
What an interesting concept: hearing the words and voice of the author James Baldwin interspersed with piercing lines from the trumpet Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson and some gentle percussion by Parker. This construction of the juxtapositions and long, well selected comments from Baldwin on his life and experiences is powerful, and its power is heightened by its minimalist construction. Next, on the title track, the trumpet over Parker's deliberate and repetitive bass line is rather hypnotic, which support the impressionistic lyrics well. The track 'Freedom', according to the liner notes refer back to music that was written in protest to Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s. Parker adds "things were bad but Reagan who was probably one of the worst presidents in history made it worse." Insane how this almost seems quaint when reading this in January 2021. 'Sun Song' is another hypnotic one in which Parker is playing a donso ngoni, which is a type guitar from Mali. The gentle, repetitive phrases provide a floating bed for Nelson's sumptuous melodic lines and Ellen Christi's wordless chants.

The album, which investigates notions of freedom, protest and origins, closes with an question about slavery. In 'Letter to a Resurrected Slave Owner', the narrator asks "If the world was brand new, what would you do? Would you do the same thing?" A haunting reprise to the depths that the album plumbs.

Afternoon Poem
Afternoon Poem is a solo vocal recording presented by Lisa Sokolov. The tracks are a collection of Parker's poetry and Sokolov delivers an emotive and engaging performance, however, I have not yet found my way into it, yet. I welcome your comments on thoughts to help complete this review.