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Two names immediately jump out of the lineup of this avant-garde collective: bassist William Parker and drummer Brian Blade. But it’s readily apparent that the group itself is the star. Alto saxophonist Chad Fowler, pianist Christopher Parker, trumpeter Marc Franklin and vocalist Kelley Hurt round out the roster, and they expand on the template of the group’s 2019 debut, in which individual expression creates its own type of unity.
While the three tracks comprising The Bond certainly qualify as “outside,” the individual parts are often structured inside familiar frameworks. That’s how elements of the blues, gospel and spiritual jazz become evident within the 21-minute title track. The piece opens like a summoning of the spirits, with Fowler and Franklin’s dirge-like phrases singing on top of Christopher Parker’s rumbling figures. Soon enough, though, Blade’s thunderous punctuations spark a more uninhibited approach. About 13 minutes in, Christopher Parker mirrors Hurt’s high-register fluttering vocal phrases, a microcosm of the empathetic listening that goes on throughout this record.
“The Emergence” takes an even more sprawling journey. The piece begins and ends with an explosion of energy; in between, the group settles into a more tranquil mode (occasionally interrupted with cacophonous bursts), highlighted by Hurt’s alternately serene and impassioned vocalizing. Parker’s rich, lyrical pianism is the center of gravity throughout these extended works, providing a solid harmonic anchor beneath the group improvisation.
If the first two pieces unfold like a series of chapters in a novel, the final selection is more like a short story. Clocking in at less than 10 minutes, “The Release” maintains its moody, introspective motif throughout, driven by Christopher Parker’s thick descending chords. From the delicate beauty of the piano intro to the dark front-line harmony that ends the piece, it’s a graceful conclusion.
It takes a special group of musicians to come up with something at once uncompromisingly creative, emotionally resonant and utterly approachable. — John Frederick Moore