[31 March 2009]
“When Critics measure the present only with past yardsticks, or when they fail to search widely enough for an era’s authentic gestures, then it appears to them that no usable culture exists” – W.T. Lhamon, Deliberate Speed
When looking at jazz in the 21st century, it’s hard to set out on that quest for “authenticity” within the music itself. Being in a market where there are countless amounts of imitation, finding players passionate about their art form and the ideals of advancing it is no easy task. William Parker’s recent concept has been based on the idea of “Universal Tonality,” which claims that all sounds, like human beings, come from the same place. These sounds aren’t invented, yet existed before we were born, and will exist after we are gone. Parker’s ideals are grounded in those expressed by legends such as Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, but instead of imitating, he’s been on his way since the early 90’s creating a new format for the free jazz scene. Taking this into consideration, it’s easy to see where the common ideals lie between his live disc, Double Sunrise Over Neptune and Petit Oiseau.
“Morning Mantra”, the premiere track on Double Sunrise Over Neptune (which actually had to be recorded on an unprepared second night because of sound difficulties during the first run), sets the tone for the rest of the night’s recording. Parker plays no upright bass throughout these sessions, and it really provides a different overall feeling – something more sparse and open as a whole. This must be a common feel he’s going for at the moment, because Petit Oiseau has the same spare mentality even when he stands behind the upright. The idea portrays itself as he’s painting colors and telling a story (what he calls “tone poems”) rather than leading us into a mess of unintentional improvised sound, a quality that really sets Parker’s vision above and beyond so many of his peers.
Double Sunrise Over Neptune expresses this vision with numbers – the two-part work featuring 16 of the scene’s greatest jazzmen. The interaction between musicians to create a whole is unparalleled. Featuring some of alto saxophonist Rob Brown’s best work to date, he works beautifully with vocalist Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, so much so that you can only hope that future endeavors between the two occur. Joe Morris has carved himself out a niche as one of the most in demand; jarringly perfect guitarists on the scene. Shayna Dulberger must have had one of the biggest assignments, taking on Parker’s normal spot behind the bass. She is on her way to becoming a seasoned veteran and works well to hold down many rhythmic and tonal explorations that sound like Parker saw through the bass. Dulberger captures that vision and brings it to life, becoming one of the shining stars on this disc.
Petit Oiseau represents quite possibly the greatest working quartet in jazz today: William Parker on bass, Lewis Barnes on trumpet, Rob Brown and alto sax and b-flat clarinet, and Hamid Drake behind the kit. Over 8 original compositions, the quartet covers massive amounts of ground including paying tribute to musicians Malachi Favors, Alan Shorter, Arthur Williams, and even the nomadic people of Northern Europe. The quartet works together on such a level that the classic quartets did, on their way to creating history. Petit Oiseau follows in a line of great recordings by the quartet, and is unrelenting in its artistic vision. They know how to let each other go out on tangents while knowing the exact time to swing, and swing hard
William Parker has the ability, talent, and scene support to put jazz back into the public consciousness on a wide level. Since his heavy emergence in the 90’s, he continues to push forward in a scene that many have called dead or dying over the past two decades. Parker is finally putting the past milestones to rest and creating his own. The jazz scene needs a leader, and they have one in William Parker.