Friday, February 11, 2022

William Parker, Patricia Nicholson – No Joke! (ESP-Disk, 2021)

Calling on the wonderful legacy of the Sun Ra Arkestra with vocalist June Tyson, the husband and wife team of bassist and composer William Parker and wordsmith, vocalist and dancer Patricia Nicholson create a very impressive and memorable album. They are aided by talented musicians Devin Brahja Waldman on alto saxophone, Gerald Cleaver on drums, James Brandon Lewis on tenor saxophone and Melanie Dyer on viola. The music has a wonderful spontaneous feeling, especially on the nineteen minute opener "Flare Up" which allows the musicians to stretch out at will and where Nicholson can savor the words and use the music to lift her thoughts and ideas ever higher. "Little Black Kid with the Swollen Stomach" nods to the sorrow of hunger with stoic music as the horns take the lead, using an excellent low and guttural solo from Lewis to drive the music forward, and then changing as the horns intertwine beautifully. The music shifts to stark and powerful drums and vocals before downshifting for a subtle conclusion. The third track, "Struggle" has a sinuous arrangement for viola and bowed bass, quite beautiful, leading into Nicholson's spoken word, which powerfully questions whether the hard work for true change is being co-opted by those with a different agenda. "Wilted Light as Flower" develops mid-tempo spacious jazz with long yearning tones of saxophone, shifting from tenor to alto in an agile fashion and working together with the band to create an excellent instrumental soundscape. The album's finale is the massive twenty-one minute plus title track "No Joke," where the vocals and band are in ascendance, with the viola soaring around the horns as the bass and drums forge ahead. Nicholson takes center stage, standing up for the downtrodden and dispossessed in society, like Billie Holiday and Abbey Lincoln have done before her. They band opens up with increasingly furious nearly free jazz that suits the emotion of the words very well. Everything is very well integrated and powerful as the socially conscious lyrics and lacerating music become one relentless force. This album was a superb amalgam of heart-on-sleeve lyrics and vocals with open minded and unyielding modern jazz. Each completes the other and provides a catalyst for this successful and important project. No Joke! -

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