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William Parker - Double Sunrise Over Neptune

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Artist: William Parker

Album: Double Sunrise Over Neptune

Label: AUM Fidelity

Review date: Aug. 20, 2008

In the ’90s, William Parker clinched a reputation as one of the premier free jazz bassists and asserted himself as a strong bandleader within that genre with his quartet In Order To Survive and the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. His projects this decade revealed other ambitions: highly approachable free-bop with the William Parker Quartet, ethno-jazz fusions in his duo with percussionist Hamid Drake and on his solo album Long Hidden: The Olmec Series, and even a tribute to Curtis Mayfield on an irritatingly scarce Italian release.

On Double Sunrise Over Neptune, Parker not only incorporates everything that has gone before, he harnesses new soundworlds in an attempt to create an unabashedly pan-global, pan-spiritual and pan-stylistic music. In the spirit of boundless optimism that animates the music, he had the nerve to debut the piece on the opening night of the high-profile Vision Festival XII. Not too surprisingly, the convergence of opening night glitches and a 16-strong group including an Indian singer, a jazz quartet and a chamber string quartet resulted in some technical difficulties, so only half of the Festival set is on this record. The rest was recorded by the same musicians the following afternoon, and it’s the return engagement that opens the CD.

“Morning Mantra” unfolds from a sturdy bass ostinato played by Shayna Dulberger – Parker yields his main axe and instead switches between doson n’goni (an African lute), double reeds, and conduction – and the tandem drum flow of Hamid Drake and Gerald Cleaver. Guitarist Joe Morris, at his most African-sounding, lays down fractal figures, and behind him horns and strings swell like… well, competing sunrises. Then Parker and Bill Cole circle in on exotic reeds that shift the action from North Africa to the Middle East, with plenty of good old-fashioned American swing in the engine room.

But all this is prologue. It takes Indian classical singer Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay’s entrance just past three minutes to complete the picture. Like Don Cherry’s Relativity Suite (JCOA), Double Sunrise Over Neptune doesn’t just combine the music of different cultures, it intends for that act to make a point about the essential connectedness of humanity.

Lest this all sound a bit too crystal-hut for you, be aware that the music balances utopian vision with forceful physicality. There’s the rhythm section’s remorseless drive, but also brief swarms of horn activity, some as tight and in the pocket as anything played by the Basie Band, some free and wooly, that swirl around the groove. Expressive solos abound from violinist Jason Hao Kwang, trumpeter Lewis Barnes, and others, some bristly, some splendidly lyrical.

Still, Bandyopadhyay is the focal point and the deal-breaker. If you warm to her ornate improvisations and ululating renditions of Parker’s beatific poetry, everything will fall into place. If not, you’ll find stretches of the long pieces that dominate this record tough going indeed. And if, like me, you remain on the fence about her presence, the rest of the players ensure that there is a lot to love about this visionary set.

By Bill Meyer

Other Reviews of William Parker

Raining on the Moon

Sound Unity

Long Hidden: The Olmec Series

At Somewhere There

I Plan to Stay a Believer: The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield

Crumbling in the Shadows is Fraulein Miller’s Stale Cake

Centering: Unreleased Early Recordings 1976-1987

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View all articles by Bill Meyer

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