Thursday, February 18, 2010

Leon Parker: The World Is A Drum

Leon Parker (drums, percussion; b. 1965)

With an idea of explore how far one can take rhythm within and outside jazz, Leon Parker has shown that imagination, creativity and aesthetic can erupt in the smallest and sparsest of places. Leon Parker use of percussion's and drums was different from the onset. To me he must have been influenced by the late, great legend, Billy Higgins. He did a great bit of gigging in the New York scene before getting a gig with Columbia records which saw him becoming one the most talked about musicians during the '90s heyday for jazz scene. At the time artists like Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride, Jeff "Tain" Waits, Charlie Hunter and others were stepping into the gap left by Miles, Monk, Dizzy and others.

While there were certainly a wealth of jazz drummers at the time ("Tain" being one of the most high profile) none seemed to be doing something different, original and rewarding like Parker. Leon Parker worked as a sideman with fellow artists such as Dewey Redman, Charlie Hunter, Dave Kikoski, Sam Newsome to name just a few. His albums seemed to combined the natural elements of modern jazz but his use or lack there of of most of his drum kit (using just the cymbals at times) gave the music a "world" or African atmosphere.

His debut album, Above & Below (Epicure) featured a jarring but funky versions of Monk's "Beshima Swing," "Epistrophy" and some very cool percussive work on Dizzy's "Caravan". Parker is also helped on his debut by some even more impressive work from Mark Turner, Joshua Redman and David Sanchez (sax), and the always enjoyable Jacky Terrasson (piano). This is an impressive and inventive debut that is unavailable at the moment but you may be lucky enough to find it at some better used record stores.

His next two albums, Belief (Columbia, 1996) and Awakening (Columbia, 1998) grow on the concepts from the debut but incorporate more percussion and world music themes. Belief starts is with a really cool Caribbean themed "Ray Of Light" that set a nice groove for the album. It has a nice balance of bop and world influences that take the album one step ahead from Above & Below. You can really start to hear Parker coming into his own as a leader and composer on Belief. Awakening while starting off funky levels out with another Caribbean drum tinged "It Is What It Is" and slide you into the lovely, spiritual journey of "Mother Earth". Awakening might take a few listens as it seems Parker might have been given a great deal of freedom in this recording. The emotion and ideas come alive and well worth the experience.

It would take until 2001 for Leon Parker to record another album, The Simple Life (M) which was emulates Parker's diverse talents by being recorded in various settings (live, studio, and even on the street). It includes some wonderful by Monk again as well as a few reimagined originals from the Belief album. Leon Parker's music has a rhythm and tone that is spiritual, haunting and beauty all within the short period of listening to just one album. He is a real talent that I hope starts to record more frequently. Check out the great live work with Jacky Terrasson's band.


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