Friday, September 30, 2022

William Parker - Universal Tonality (Centering Records / AUM Fidelity, 2022)

This release was twenty years in the making, but well worth the wait. Recorded in December of 2002 in New York City, this modern big band recording featured some of the best talent on the progressive jazz scene. Parker's unique poems and lyrics anchor these six lengthy pieces, sung and spoken with great aplomb by vocalist Leena Conquest. "Tails Of A Peacock" has a rhythm section opening with extra percussion and blustery trumpet, gutsy playing, as clarinet bubbles underneath. The music fills out with instruments, sounding riotously strong and passionate, leading to excellent full band interplay. Conquest adds vocals, both soulful and precise. Spoken word poetry begins "Cloud Texture (death has died today)" backed by piano and bass, turns to graceful singing as louder instruments gradually enter. Abstract bows, and more poetry, dramatic storytelling, recounting jazz history. Piano and horns slowly fold in and the pace slowly begins to increase. Extra percussion adds another layer to the dense large ensemble playing, singing and speaking alternately backed by was violin and drums. Gentle acoustic instruments in a calm period demonstrate the dynamism of this piece. Conquest returns, with light yearning singing and spoken word, evoking the jazz musicians of the past. "Leaves Gathering (headed back to tree)" Develops spoken word themes of spirituality and the nature of sound, as horns frame and then take over, creating swirling, kaleidoscopic sounds, building to complex multi-layered improvisation, adding some electronics into the mix as well as excellent brass and reeds, drums and percussion. Really fine interplay between the musicians, trumpet and saxophone, rhythm section all playing as one. Wordless vocalizing over unusual string accompaniment leads to the close. Unique sounding horn and cymbal give an exotic tinge to "Silver Sunshine" as Conquest enters clearly singing amid the  brisk instrumental playing, the music swaying and swinging, a  full band section flowing naturally as the improvisation develops, leading to "All Entrances (it is for you the sun rises)" where cymbals and guitar develop a complex improvisation, adding swooping strings, nimble guitar, many data points, instrumentally and vocally. The final track is the lengthy "Open System One" leading off with bass and vocals, light saxophone floating by the urgent speak singing, bowed instruments and thick bass lead the ecstatic music playing, and joyous singing. Brisk deep brass and bass support reed solos, and great swaths of collective improvisation are very exciting to hear, with cells of piano and guitar placed among the towering brass and reeds. Wordless vocals float across a stream of light musical accompaniment, then spoken word, finally leading to the end of this momentous performance.  Parker hardly solos, but he is the rock upon which this performance was built. This is an excellent and commendable album from the always reliable William Parker and it is highly recommended. Universal Tonality - amazon.com

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