Review: William Parker – For Those Who Are, Still

William Parker – For Those Who Are, Still (AUM Fidelity, 2015)

This box set comes with three CDs (see below for full details of the contents of the CDs). The opening sounds of For Fannie Louie Hamer + Vermeer, is basically found in music from India. This goes on at length. It is more improvised than composed and comes across as a free jazz set. Once vocalist Ms. Leena Conquest enters, the group begins moving in a more melodic direction. Ms. Conquest does a fine job singing her lines. Her appearance on this track is all too brief. She does return reciting spoken words later. As she speaks, this large ensemble does more free jazz-based improvisations. The volume of the group also increases, highlighting the spoken words in progress. Ms. Conquest returns as the groove of the band changes to an almost 6/8 time signature. It is a pleasure to hear Ms. Conquest as she leads the group in this manner whether singing, or reciting spoken words. This long song has multiple parts, however, they are not annotated on the CD back cover as such. This particular section reminds me of a recording by Nick Chapman’s, Symphony No. 1 in L Major.

The next song, Vermeer, presents an open space with a specific bass line keeping things together. I don’t recognize this particular groove with vocals, soprano sax, bass and piano. The soprano sax along with Ms. Conquest’s singing is very effective with support from the piano and bass. The common thread of these compositions is they are led by William Parker. He is using “walking bass patterns,” as the writer states in the liner notes. The walking bass lines made me think of Miles Davis’ album, Sketches of Spain. The bass was used to introduce some of the sections of the compositions on that recording. That concept is mainly used throughout the CDs in this boxed set. This seems to be the basis of the materials for this recording.

Awash In The Midst of An Angel’s Tears starts with a series of rough free jazz outlines before Ms. Conquest’s entry into the fray. She maintains melodic integrity while the rest of the musicians play very free. Her soaring voice cuts through the chaotic mayhem with ease, while maintaining the structure. Eventually, William joins Ms. Conquest supporting the lines, thus strengthening the overall melodic motif.

Essence is a short piece featuring, Ms. Conquest. She delivers and then some on this track. Flower Song (Take 2) is a vehicle for the piano, bass and tenor saxophone. The three alternately take turns as this piece progresses. The song is low key, not generating a lot of excitement as was the case early on in For Fannie Lou Hammer + Vermeer.

The rest of the track follows in a similar vein. At the 5:37 mark, William begins a very catchy riff on the bass as the song moves toward the end. When Flower Song (Take 2) does stop, it merges seamlessly into Just Feel. This song features Ms. Conquest, allowing her to become the main focus with her engaging vocals. The rest of the band provides suitable accompaniment. Ms. Conquest’s voice is absolutely stunning in her delivery of these compositional lines.

Feet As Roses allows Ms. Conquest to express herself even more. It’s such a pleasure to hear her voice with this band. The use of the soprano saxophone is very effective as it darts in between Ms. Conquest while she does her vocals.

Gongs For Deaf Dreams starts with William playing the hocchiku (Japanese flute), sharing the spotlight with Ms. Conquest. A call and response, if you will! Sweet Breeze offers more of the ballad approach. Ms. Conquest shines on this song as she does throughout this entire CD and the piano player provides beautiful accompaniment on this track.  It’s very soulful. Ms. Leena Conquest completely destroyed me, emotionally speaking, pushing all the right buttons.

Flower Song (Take One) is very upbeat unlike the second take. This is my preferred version of the two. Around the 5:32 mark, William plays a catchy riff, quite different from the way it was done on the previous take. There is excellent playing by all on this track. This is a great way to end this CD performance.

Disc 2, Red Giraffe With Dreadlocks starts with Indian music. The first is track  Villages, Greetings and Prayer. Vocals are being done by Ms. Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay and Mr. Mola Sylla. Each takes turn as they sing what sounds like an Indian raga. The drone is very much an essential part of Indian music. It has a timeless quality that tends to put listeners in a meditative state as a kind of trance music. Mr. Sylla is speaks for a few minutes and is then followed again by Ms. Bandyopadhyay’s singing. This pattern repeats itself a few times. This part with the spoken words reminds me of the Alice Coltrane recording she did with Swami Satchidananda on World Galaxy. Sparse playing is done by the musicians in this small ensemble.

Track 2, Souls Have Fallen Like Rain, comes on with a bass riff setting the mood for this piece. Cooper Moore comes to the front with his piano playing, as well as Hamid Drake, Klaas Hekman, Rob Brown and the rest of the band. Bill Cole is very effective playing a double reed instrument evoking the spirit of India. The call and response between him and Ms. Bandyopadhyay is quite captivating. These Mishra Brothers (Pandit Rajan and Sajan) raga type improvisations are ear candy! Time seems to slow down while listening to this track. I’m checking the duration of the song and only a few minutes has elapsed. The drone quality of the music keeps things in a specific tonality, a specific place. On this track, less is more.

Track 3 The Giraffe Dances opens with Klaas Hekman’s bass saxophone, opening and closing the pads, without blowing into the horn. After a few minutes, he is joined by Hamid Drake, aggressively playing the drums. Once this duet ends, the band moves into a medium swing tempo. Cooper-Moore is really keeping this together with his playing. He’s aware of all the different dynamics happening within the group. Once Rob Brown steps up for his solo, the piece really starts to move in an angular direction. This has the effect of tightening the music considerably. Cooper-Moore works very well with Rob Brown. It is interesting to hear Ms. Bandyopadhyay singing behind a swing groove with Mr. Sylla is also doing spoken words while this is happening.

Track 4, allows Cooper-Moore to set up the next song. The title of this piece is Tour of The Flying Nun. The open space he’s playing sets the stage for vocalist, Mr. Sylla, who explores this ballad at his leisure.

Track 5, Children Drawing Water From The Well, is a vamp for the band to jam at length. The last song, track 6, Where Do You Send The Poem, the band is joined by Ms. Bandyopadhyay. The tracks on this CD demonstrate the inclusive nature of jazz and how it incorporates so many influences, styles, and techniques. Though both vocalists are again featured, I would have preferred to let Ms. Bandyopadhyay be the only singer as the contrast between her and the band is more interesting. Her improvisation again reminds this writer of the Mishra brothers when they do their vocal gymnastics. This song goes on at length allowing Ms. Bandyopadhyay to fully explore her vocal expertise.

Disc 3, Ceremonies For Those Who Are, Still, track 1, A Magical Figure Dances Barefoot in the Mud, begin with a series of musical incantations, suitable for the NFM Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra hits the lines boldly making the music come alive in a way that exceeds even the previous CDs. The music has shades of Charles Ives along with trace influences from other classical composers. The orchestra is backed by a choir, specifically, the soloists of the NFM Choir, under the skillful direction of conductor, Jan Jakub Bokum. Together, the orchestra and the choir is a formidable combination. They bring a certain majestic quality to the ongoing sounds.

Track 2, Light Shimmering Across The Field of Ice, has familiar instrumental voicings that are impressive. William has found a way to blend classical with free jazz in this piece, which is in itself is quite an accomplishment.

Track 3, Trees With Wings: the voicing hints at Stravinsky but also with dashes of Davis’ Sketches of Spain. The orchestra and choir are in perfect sync. The tracks starting on this CD, are slow, deliberate and very solemn. While this piece has lines, they tend to create a mood as opposed to being the kind of classical music that has the usual grandiose melodic themes that normally appear throughout the composition.

Track 4, Rise Up In Sound, is very upbeat unlike the pieces heard so far. William is using a walking bass line approach while the orchestra is in motion. This song has an almost swing feeling. There are lots of moving parts happening as the song doesn’t stay in a fixed position. There are shifts happening from moment to moment. The choir is singing lines that are somewhat atonal with dissonant chords. The piece is overall on the slow side with a touch of hard accents here and there.

Track 5 Humble Serious comes on the heels of Rise Up In Sound. I can hear William using his characteristic style during some of the slow sections, bowing in the upper bass register. The piano player is touching base on Cecil Taylor early on during this song. William returns to fast and furious bowing while the piano player is lightly evoking Cecil’s unique style. The orchestra is moving along with the lines being expressed by a different instrument taking the lead. Sometimes, it’s the trumpet, or it’s just lines being played by the entire orchestra together. The choir joins in where appropriate, enhancing the colorful melodic soundscape.

Track 6, Tea Leaves of Triple Sadness, glockenspiel fills the space along with a flute and other instruments. Trumpets and trombones dominate some of the sections as the music moves forward. The tuba, percussion, and the string sections are also active.

Track 7, Ritual, Charles Gayle starts this composition along with drummer Mike Reed, and William playing very free. The orchestra is silent during this exchange. Around the 2:30 mark, the piano player enters playing chords along with some of the orchestra members.

Track 8, Winter, continues with the choir singing mournful lines with the piano player. The orchestra follows shortly, joining this composition. This song is part classical, free jazz, swing, along with vamps.

Track 9, My Cup, offers more of the same however, it slightly altered in term of musical variety. The choir adds tension to this composition. This is the type of song one might hear in a Hollywood movie. It has a lot of drama for an action-oriented film.

Track 10, Encore, combines the free jazz improvisations with this orchestra’s classical attunement, both at the same time. This is the best I’ve heard Charles Gayle play in a while and this is the strongest track on this CD. It’s an amalgam of all the elements described during this review.

Track 11, Escapade For Sonny (dedicated to Sonny Rollins) is vintage Charles Gayle as he sounded when he did the Silkheart Recordings during the late eighties. This is very good playing from this trio. I’m not familiar with drummer Mike Reed but he plays well, providing solid drumming throughout this set. Both Charles Gayle and William Parker are bringing it. The flow of this piece is very natural, organic and it maintains the momentum the group executed right from the start. During the song, it does mutate, moving through peaks and valleys. The playing from all three musicians is consistent within the context of whatever area they happen to be exploring. William shines on this song as he propels the music forward. His bow work is outstanding in unison with Mike’s drumming. Charles’ playing is very inspired on this night. This is how I saw him play on many nights when I made trips to the Knitting Factory at its original location (on East Houston Street in lower Manhattan).

Finally, it’s Mike Reed’s turn to take a solo. He does so with gusto, utilizing a very percussive drumming approach, which ends too soon. When the trio resumes, they returns to delving into the abyss of the unknown. All in all, this is the best trio playing of free jazz I’ve heard in a while. This is an interesting boxed set, with the music ranging from India, classical, and more. If you’re fan of William Parker’s large ensembles, including the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, you’ll want to add this to your CD collection.

–Marc Edwards, January 16, 2017

Record Information:
CD1 –
For Fannie Lou Hamer   +   Vermeer

1   For Fannie Lou Hamer  (28:00)

Todd Reynolds: violin / Shiau-Shu Yu: cello / JD Parran: various winds / Sam Furnace: various winds
Ravi Best: trumpet / Masahiko Kono: trombone / Kathleen Supové: piano / Nicki Parrot: bass
JT Lewis: drums / Jim Pugliese: percussion / featuring Leena Conquest: voice
• Recorded live at The Kitchen, NYC on October 28, 2000.

2   Vermeer  (7:09)
3   Awash In The Midst of An Angel’s Tears  (4:19)
4   Essence  (2:47)
5   Flower Song – Take 2  (6:48)
6   Just Feel  (0:57)
7   Feet As Roses  (3:36)
8   Gongs For Deaf Dreams  (3:19)
9   Sweet Breeze  (4:56)
10   Flower Song – Take 1  (6:59)

Leena Conquest: voice / Darryl Foster: soprano & tenor saxophone
Eri Yamamoto: piano / William Parker: bass, hocchiku
• Recorded at The Gallery Recording Studio, Brooklyn on March 6, 2011.

CD2 – Red Giraffe With Dreadlocks

1   Villages, Greetings and Prayer  (15:36)
2   Souls Have Fallen Like Rain  (14:37)
3   The Giraffe Dances  (19:46)
4   Tour of The Flying Poem  (5:53)
5   Children Drawing Water From The Well  (6:15)
6   Where Do You Send The Poem  (12:00)

Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay: voice, electronic shruti box / Mola Sylla: voice, m’bira, ngoni
Bill Cole: double-reed instruments / Rob Brown: alto saxophone
Klaas Hekman: bass saxophone, flute / Cooper-Moore: piano
William Parker: bass / Hamid Drake: drums
• Recorded January 2012 in Paris, France.

CD3 – Ceremonies For Those Who Are Still

1   A Magical Figure Dances Barefoot in the Mud  (4:51)
2   Light Shimmering Across a Field of Ice  (2:28)
3   Trees With Wings  (5:10)
4   Rise Up In Sound  (7:57)
5   Humble Serious  (7:02)
6   Tea Leaves of Triple Sadness  (4:48)
7   Ritual  (3:52)
8   Winter   (5:49)
9   My Cup  (3:42)
10   Encore  (4:16)

NFM Symphony Orchestra, Jan Jakub Bokun: conductor
with Soloists of NFM Choir and
Charles Gayle: tenor & soprano saxophone, piano
William Parker: bass, doson ngoni, bamboo flutes
Mike Reed: drums
• Recorded in premiere performance at the Jazztopad Festival,
Wroclaw, Poland on November 15, 2013.

11  Escapade For Sonny  (25:25)

Charles Gayle: tenor saxophone
William Parker: bass
Mike Reed: drums
• This trio improvisation preceded the premiere of Ceremonies.

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