Wednesday, March 31, 2010

William Parker

William Parker (bass; b. 1952)
(photo: Dave Kaufman)

Probably the most creative and forward-thinking bassist since Charlie Mingus, William Parker has been a prolific recording artist for more than three decades and over 20 albums. William Parker's technique is direct and his phrasing is always well considered. His records range from avant garde to hard bop to large ensemble pieces -- all with great inventiveness. He has played with such luminaries as Charles Bracken, Rashid Ali and Don Cherry -- to name a few. All have had an influence on Parker's work to one degree or another.

A series of releases recorded with his most consistent quartet, featuring Hamid Drake (drums), Rob Brown (sax), Lewis Barnes (trumpet), include two highly recommended projects, O'Neals Porch and Sound Unity (both on Aum Fidelity). Both highlight the ability of each member to establish, develop and create thematic moods that evoke a sheer mastery of their instrument.

The themes and directions of both albums, while building toward free improvisation, actually start with a foundation that many will find accessible. The material is highly layered and the individual performances gel magnificently. At their best, they're reminiscent of Charles Mingus' releases for Impulse during the 60s, such as Black Saint and Sinner Lady.

The title tracks and "Song For Jesus" are notable for their lyrical beauty. Brown and Barnes also express themselves wonderfully throughout these sessions, making it clear that no one in this band is ever overshadowed. While many of Parker's albums are very complex with themes and textures that can be overwhelming and arching in new directions, both Sound Unity and O'Neals Porch are well suited for the uninitiated. Two must listens by far.

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