Saturday, November 17, 2018

William Parker - Flower In a Stained-Glass Window / The Blinking of The Ear (Centering / AUM Fidelity, 2018)

Recorded during a burst of creativity during 2017 and 2018 bassist and composer William Parker led a medium sized ensemble in creating this very impressive double disc set. Disc one is called Flower In a Stained-Glass Window and features the amazing vocals of Leena Conquest, and a powerful seven piece band and all compositions (music and lyrics) are by all Parker. "Fallen Flower" is a spoken word piece with subtle accompaniment, the words are focused social commentary and are recited with lacerating effect. Bowed bass and trumpet support sung vocals longing for peace on "Gone," invoking nature and the futility of war in a haunting manner then moving into a free jazz squall of "Emmett Till"as Conquest implores the lynching victim's name. "Broken Earth" features bowed bass as there is spoken word recitation about climate change framed by ripe piano, leading into the gospel flavored hand claps of "I Had a Dream Last Night" as shaken percussion leads Conquest to invoke a dream of a female Jesus who absorbs the pain of the downtrodden, with her beautiful soulful singing as the lyrics invite pantheism, and a multi-ethnic, all inclusive peace. The short "Flag" speaks of blood and revolution, and the refusal to pick cotton, moving into "Give Me Back My Drum" which uses the full band and demanding vocals, strong full bodied piano, great horn arrangement and rhythm section playing, which develops into a wonderful collective improvisation that really takes off and soars. "Living Hope" sees the band playing darker but not despondent tones of music, along with well articulated spoken word, every word defiant in hope with the realization that the people you ask for freedom are not free themselves, and the very judges are criminals themselves. Thick propulsive bass powers "Children" leading with the story of the bomber the Enola Gay and the dividing line between soldier and murderer. The music rises to meet the strong speak singing, where politics equals death, and generations of children are lost. Storming brass and rhythm section fly then downshift for vocals, and all the while deep and resonant bass shows the way. "What is That About?" has bright and bouncy piano, scatting vocals, and a manic feeling of excitement though the Earth is dying. Impressionistic vocals, speaking and singing in complete control, about ecology, freedom and civil rights, the music frames the words and singing perfectly as sawing bowed bass and droplets of piano fall, punchy brass leading to another wonderful full band conclusion. The delicate flute and chimes of "Music Song" recount the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. from a spiritual perspective and the first disc ends on a positive note with "Samba," where spoken word pleads with listeners to wake up and change alongside great rhythmic drums and percussion Conquest appealing for change from the inside out, freeing yourself from yourself. Disc Two is called The Blinking of the Ear and it features mezzo soprano AnnMarie Sandy singing Parker's lyrics with a tight modern/free jazz quintet. "Meditation on Freedom" opens with piano, bass and drums creating a subtle and stable foundation, as the horns ease in, the music begins to gradually build in volume and intensity, the band sounding resourceful and playing with a purpose. The singer cries for freedom halfway through, her operatic voice is a dramatic change from the previous disc, ending with a lengthy well executed band improvisation. The singer reaches and holds notes on "Without Love Everything Will Fail" as the band rotates around her, light and nimble percussion and trumpet, a supple bass solo with piano comping and her voice intoning freedom and love, gradually evolving into a full band performance. "Dark Remembrance" features stark singing seeking spiritual grace, with leaps of voice, and lyrics about lynching and racism - powerful metaphors met my stoic music, haunting and graceful. "Heavenly Home Meditation on Peace (Part One)" has bass and horns uneasily building to a potent full band momentum and playing in tight formation. The singer cries free at last, her emotional voice framed by gentle horns, and swinging drumming then a fine piano feature leading to more operatic singing. "(Part Two)" uses slowly opening music, the singer's soaring voice reaching for the sky framed by piano, as the music fills in gradually, yet still open and lonely as the singer becomes well integrated with the group, her voice an instrument in the ensemble. This is a very well performed collection of music, which is continuing Parker's interest in vocal music. From gospel, jazz, or poetry to classical music, the compositions and improvisations in this are natural and  organic and the musicians are deeply focused with one another, creating graceful and profound music. Flower in a Stained-Glass Window / The Blinking of the Ear -

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