Bassist William Parker has a fairly epic box out this week. Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World is a 10CD set, with each disc featuring a different ensemble, many of which do not feature his playing. This set (which you can buy from AUM Fidelity) is all about showcasing William Parker the composer. This is the second entry in a five-part series (Part 1 is here) examining this music in detail, two albums per day.
The third disc in the box, The Majesty of Jah, is performed by vocalist Ellen Christi with Parker and trumpeter Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson. One track, “Freedom,” also features samples of music performed by alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc, tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan, pianist Dave Burrell, Cooper-Moore on organ, drummers Hamid Drake and Leonid Galaganov, and vocalists Raina Sokolov-Gonzalez, Jake Sokolov-Gonzalez, Fay Victor and Anaïs Maviel.
Listening to this music, one would be hard pressed to assign it to William Parker as composer. Many pieces are electronic in nature; Christi and Nelson create swirling, layered storms of sound with no “jazz” elements at all and plenty of studio manipulation. “Baldwin,” the track which opens the album, features lengthy excerpts from a mid ’60s interview with the writer James Baldwin, surrounded by ominous synth drones, intermittent but aggressive percussion, and outbursts of fierce trumpet — not just notes, but popping valves and sputtering post-Bill Dixon swirls of sound. These, too, are electronically manipulated, doubled and responding to themselves. “Freedom” is practically an avant-garde theater piece; the vocalists moan like a haunted Greek chorus, more tapes of protesters are heard, the music surges in and out, squalling saxophone solos heard as short outbursts as Christi erupts in a manner that’s halfway between scat singing and some sort of possession. It’s the kind of piece that’s hard to parse, but creates a deeply unsettling mood that lingers long after it’s over.
The fourth disc, Cheops, features vocalist Kiyoko Kitamura and an ensemble consisting of soprano saxophonist Kayla Milmine-Abbott, tuba player Ben Stapp, Matt Moran on vibes, and Rachel Housle on drums, with Parker contributing bass, bass duduk, and flute. Kitamura is an improvising vocalist who has worked extensively with Anthony Braxton and co-leads a group with Joe Morris, Taylor Ho Bynum, and Tomeka Reid that has produced two albums to date, 2018’s Geometry of Caves and 2019’s Geometry of Distance. On the first track here, “Entire Universe,” her voice leaps and dives, growls and whines, flickering from here to there like a squirrel leaping between branches that seem impossibly far apart until it sticks the landing effortlessly. “The Map is Precise” is more poetic, a collection of aphorisms and one-liners that are sometimes achingly sincere (“Improvisation is another word for love”) and sometimes weirdly hilarious (“This story was written on three clay pots that now hold umbrellas”). The music is intricate and pensive; one can hear the musicians thinking. At the same time, it has enough energy to flood the room with light. It’s not as sonically radical as The Majesty of Jah, but Cheops too is a demonstration of the vastness of the musical world Parker has created inside this box.
In the next installment of this series, we’ll discuss an album that features the return of the William Parker/Hamid Drake rhythm team, and one featuring a collection of players from nearly a half dozen countries.
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