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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

William Parker and Patricia Nicholson - No Joke! (ESP Disk', 2021) ****

No Joke! is a collaboration between Parker and his wife. Nicholson is a performance artist, dancer, improviser, poet, and choreographer. She recites verse against the background of energetic, cleanly rhythmic jazz on the 1st, 3rd and final cut. You can hear something very similar on Open the Gates by Irreversible Entanglements ( very well reviewed here by Martin Schray ). In addition to Parker’s bass, the band consists of James Brandon Lewis, tenor sax; Devin Brahja Waldman, alto sax; Melanie Dyer, viola; and Francesco Mela and Gerald Cleaver trade off on drums.

The album is explicitly political. Nicholson’s poetry provides the kind of content of content that is rare in jazz generally and especially rare in free jazz and Avant Garde jazz. It is not unprecedented. One could compare 'Flare Up,' the opening number of No Joke! to Charles Mingus’ 'Fables of Faubus'.

“Mingus: Name me someone who’s ridiculous, Dannie. Richmond: Governor Faubus. Mingus: Why is he so sick and ridiculous? Richmond: He won’t permit us in the schools. Mingus: Then he’s a fool!” Not great poetry, but the judgment is clear and impeccable.

Here are some of Nicholson’s judgments, from 'Flare Up:' “The red hats are bathing deep in the river of illusion” and “the rallying cry of the red hats is a blasphemy of all they claim to be,” and from Struggle “pushed aside by a main stream of angry creatures of indeterminate pedigree.” The word “mainstream” split deliberately in two is better poetry than we get from Mingus. Whether it really furthers the cause of peace and social healing to accuse people of blaspheme, or the cause of anti-racism to question their pedigree, is beyond my jurisdiction as an amateur music critic.

Nicholson’s voice stands out brightly against the music and is perfectly complimented by the Parkeresque pace and beat of the instrumental music. That music is very fine. 'Flare Up' is largely a dialogue between viola and the brass. 'Little Black Kid with the Swollen Stomach' opens with the thump and whispery rattle of Parker’s bass, inviting the horns in during the first minute. Thereafter we are treated to a sax dialogue that turns occasionally to a wailing chorus. Drummer Mela wraps up with a powerful chant in a language that I did not recognize but an emotional content that was universal.

'Struggle' has a decidedly more James Brandon Lewis feel. It starts with another Parker signature, a pom pom pommmmm, pommm pom beat. Nicholson comes in with “you know how Sisyphus always be pushin’ that boulder up a hill… never getting’ nowhere, ump un.” This way of putting the Greek myth in a modern political context adds resonance to both traditions. Toward the end we get “streets that crack and turn with each movement in a body’s life,” delivered twice with her rhythm approaching singing without losing the magic of the chant. 'Wilted Light as a Flower' is the only purely instrument piece, again a call and response/chorus between the horns.

I can’t leave this review without mentioning the brilliance of Melanie Dyer’s viola. She accompanies Nicholson and gives a rich, savory flavor to the background. I am going to have to look up more of this. Likewise, both drummers make me want to pick up sticks and tap something.

Ken says check this one out.