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 third entry in a five-part series (Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here) examining this music in detail, two albums per day.
The fifth album in the box, Harlem Speaks, features Parker on bass, balafon, guimbri, and gralla (a Catalan double-reed instrument), and Hamid Drake on drums and frame drum. In addition to the dozens of albums and years of live performances as a rhythm section behind Peter Brötzmann and many others, Parker and Drake have also recorded two duo albums, Piercing the Veil and Summer Snow (plus a remix album, Black Cherry). They’re as deeply and tightly bonded a team as has ever existed in jazz/creative music history. Here, they’re joined by vocalist Fay Victor, whose interest in poetry and various vocal traditions from calypso to full-on avant-garde wailing puts her in a lineage with legends like Jeanne Lee and Linda Sharrock. Her lyrics frequently take one- or two-line concepts and repeat and rework them over and over, mantralike, until the words fall apart and pure vocal sound is all that remains. She never seems to be a singer standing in front of musicians; she stands with them, her voice mingling with the sounds they produce and honoring their contributions as equal to her own. “Paintings in the Sky,” on which Parker plays guimbri (a thick-stringed North African instrument like a bass lute) and Drake plays the frame drum, has an almost ceremonial aspect; it could be 24 hours long. “Don’t let the Last Poets be the last poets,” Victor pleads.
Mexico, the sixth CD in the box, has only four tracks, but they’re long. The opener, “Tilted Mirror,” runs almost a half hour, and “The Bleeding Tree” and “Mexico” are 12 and 17 minutes, respectively. The music is performed by an international ensemble: vocalist Jean Carla Rodea, who sings in both English and Spanish, is from Mexico City; harmonica player Ariel Bart, pianist Illay Sabag, and bassist Ohad Kapuya are from Israel; oud player Brahim Fribgane is from Morocco; and the three drummers Rachel Housle, Jackson Krall, and Kevin Murray are all Americans like Parker and the horn players (Matt Lambiase and Matt Lavelle on trumpets, Jim Clouse on tenor sax) who appear on “Mexico.” The combination of instruments, particularly the piano and the harmonica — which Bart makes sound almost like a bandoneon, bringing to mind the stark tango extrapolations of Dino Saluzzi — give it a mysterious, from-no-place feeling. Occasionally, a rattle of percussion and a whistle from the background will conjure the anarchic spirit of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. “It is for You,” the shortest (under 10 minutes!) and last piece on the album, builds from a simple blues riff and becomes a powerful chant of “Never, never give up,” as the band lurches endlessly forward like a group of pilgrims dragging their feet through the desert but somehow managing to find the energy for one more step, and one more, and one more…
In the fourth installment of this series, we’ll look at an album for solo (and double, and triple) voice, and an album of pieces dedicated to legendary Italian movie directors.
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