William Parker Quartets – Meditation/Resurrection (AUM Fidelity)
It’s almost easy to take for granted how much creativity bassist William Parker brings to whatever context he’s working in. Here he’s working with two quartets, each featured on an entire CD. While the approach with each band differs a bit, the sound as a whole is unmistakably Parker’s.
Both bands feature alto saxophonist Rob Brown and drummer Hamid Drake. On the first disc, trumpeter Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson rounds out the quartet, while pianist and longtime Parker associate Cooper-Moore completes the band on the second.
Disc One’s pianoless quartet is a more freewheeling affair, starting with the piercing “Criminals in the White House.” A similar open-space energy propels “Rodney’s Resurrection,” while “Give Me Back My Drum” has a funky New Orleans vibe and serves as a showcase for Drake’s explosive drum work. The outlier is the tone poem “Horace Silver Part 2,” in which Parker trades his bass for the tarota (a Catalan double-reed instrument), with which he creates plaintive, braided lines with Nelson and Brown.
Disc Two takes a more ruminative turn, due in large part to the poignancy of Cooper-Moore’s piano excursions. That’s immediately evident on the evocative “Sunrise in East Harlem,” which is highlighted by Parker’s elegiac bowed bass solo and Brown’s wailing alto on top of Cooper-Moore’s gospel-like chords. The pianist’s tinkling phrases — sometimes gently sparkling, sometimes turbulent — evoke the leitmotif of “Some Lake Oliver.” Even Cooper-Moore’s more abstract expressions retain a clear-headed gravity.
The blues is a recurring thread — from the easy gliding melodicism of “Leaves/Rain” to the slinky, vamp-driven “Handsome Lake” — as is Parker’s ability to channel his avant-garde impulses into something more immediately digestible. The harmonies are often dissonant though not aggressively so, while the structures allow room for free improvisation without losing a given piece’s overarching thread. The final result is two hours of music and hardly a dull moment.
—John Frederick Moore