+ Vermeer. On the wonderful composition “For Fannie Lou Hamer” Parker conducts a large group of winds and brass anchored by jazz rhythm section and Leena Conquest’s emotional vocals. Parker’s lyrics track Hamer’s extraordinary life as a civil rights activist, demanding for the right to vote for the disenfranchised even as she was jailed an beaten mercilessly by southern police. The Kitchen in New York commissioned the piece, and it is a fine mix of composed and improvised music that is very inspiring. The remainder of disc is a suite of shorter pieces dedicated to the painter Vermeer, he of Girl With the Pearl Earring fame. These are a series of shorter song poems inspired by the artists work and performed by a drummerless trio of Parker on bass Darryl Foster on saxophones on Leena Conquest on vocals. The brief sketches allow more freedom for the small group within the context of the suite and Conquest’s voice is as forceful and longing as ever. Disc two; entitled Red Giraffe With Dreadlocks, is an extraordinarily intense and exotic performance for a jazz group combined with the music of India and Africa. The range and power of the human voice in this context is extraordinary, beginning with “Villages, Greeting and Prayer.” There is subtle electronics as well with the vocals before the jazz group glides in, but it when everything collides and combines as one that the magic truly happens. There really is no template for what they are doing; adding double-reed instruments from the jazz side adds a Middle Eastern feel to an already spicy stew. Bass saxophone and anchors “The Giraffe Dances” with excellent bass and drums, building to a heavy jazz blowout, before the vocalists add their own intensities to the conclusion. Disc Three, Ceremonies For Those Who Are Still, is a symphonic recording featuring the trio of William Parker on bass, Charles Gayle on tenor saxophone and Mike Reed on drums alongside a full symphony orchestra. Parker wrote the composition not for the orchestra to be a stock background, but to be an integral evolving part of the music. The music is quite colorful and is in constant motion, dynamically shifting from glistening quiet to heavy storms of sound. There is a choir that makes itself felt on “Trees with Wings” as well that deepens the texture even further. “Ritual” allows the trio to open up and play strongly and powerfully with Reed making the most of the opportunity and Parker rock like on bass while Gayle probes for a handhold. On “My Cup” the two groups come together as a whole, but the jazz trio does tend to get swallowed up by the orchestra and choir. The disc is rounded out by the massive “Escapade for Sonny (Dedicated to Sonny Rollins)” which is an epic blowout for the trio and simply breathtaking free jazz. Everyone is in their element, especially Gayle, who emits wonderful bursts of sound alongside Parker’s driving bass and Reed’s muscular drums. Parker has a wonderful feature for bowed bass and Reed’s strongarmed drumming is showcased before they race to the conclusion. This is an exhausting by amazing effort from William Parker. His compositions range from big band to quartet; symphony to ethnic experimentalism; and then finally free jazz blowout. That one musician can move from setting to setting without a misstep leaves the listener with unbridled admiration. For Those Who Are Still - amazon.com
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