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 final entry in a five-part series (Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here, Part 3 is here, Part 4 is here) examining this music in detail, two albums per day.
The Fastest Train is a collaboration with two Dutch musicians, Klaas Hekman and Coen Aalberts. Hekman is a bass saxophonist and Aalberts is a drummer, but here they are both playing flutes and other small wind instruments, and Aalberts is playing a wide variety of hand-held percussion instruments. Parker is playing an even larger variety of flutes from all over the world, and a pocket trumpet. This is one of only three entirely instrumental discs in the box, and it’s a fascinating, immersive experience. The trio are making music that combines ideas from the Art Ensemble of Chicago (“little instruments,” compositional freedom) and Don Cherry (instruments and sounds from all over the world combined organically and non-hierarchically) with splashes of the silliness of the Dutch Instant Composers’ Pool. “Cultivation” is a noble and dignified piece of ritual music, two different flutes occasionally punctuated by a slowly tolling small gong, but the use of cowbell and a novelty whistle in “Listen to the Sky” makes it hard not to laugh, or at least grin.
The final album in the box, Manzanar, is also instrumental. Four of the tracks feature the Universal Tonality String Quartet, which includes violinists Jason Kao Hwang and Gwen Laster, viola player Melanie Dyer, and cellist Dara Bloom. The final track, “On Being Native,” is performed by Hwang, second violinist Jean Cook, Nicole Federici on viola, Alexander Waterman on cello, and Daniel Carter on alto sax. “Khaen” gets its name from a traditional Thai mouth organ, which Parker plays (along with Navajo and Slovak flutes) on the piece. At times it sounds like a harmonica, at other times like a train whistle. “Lakota Song” is closer to jazz than anything else on the disc. Bloom plucks the cello’s strings in a forceful, repetitive figure that brings to mind Abdul Wadud‘s work with Julius Hemphill, as the violins and viola ping and zoom.
Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World is a major work by a major figure in American music. For far too long, masters like Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Bill Dixon and, yes, William Parker have not received their due as American composers. A box like this, demonstrating as it does the breadth of its creator’s musical vision as formed and shaped over nearly five decades of work and creative resilience, is a crucial document and both demands and deserves recognition.
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