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Parker/ Morris/ Drake - Eloping With the Sun

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Artist: Parker/ Morris/ Drake

Album: Eloping With the Sun

Label: Riti

Review date: Mar. 2, 2003

Three Familiar Improv Faces Adopt Fresh Guises...

Light bulbs of recognition will likely alight in the minds of most free jazz fans in response to the surnames on this date. But those expecting the familiar triangle of double bass, electric guitar and drum kit are in for a promising surprise with the presence of zintir, banjo/banjouke and frame drum in place of the respective usual suspects. This disc documents the harvest of providence and precedence in equal measure. Providence in that the tape machines were fortuitously spooling at AUM Fidelity headquarters in Brooklyn where these three players held court. Precedence in that this marks the first recorded appearance of the players’ respective instruments together in a creative improvised music setting. Morris incorporated both banjo and banjouke into his solo record No Vertigo (Leo). Drake regularly employs frame drum during performances with the likes of Chicago saxophonist Fred Anderson and German reed smith Peter Brötzmann among others.

From a historical vantage, critics aren’t usually kind to improvisers who stray from their principally ascribed instruments. Witness the equivocal reception accorded Charles Mingus’ Plays Piano (Impulse) or Roland Kirk’s all flute opus I Talk With Spirits (Mercury). Both slices of vinyl served as skeet-shooting targets for cynics who couldn’t hear past each musician’s commonly associated roles. Just as stylistic pigeonholes exist, so to do instrument-derived ones, and William Parker has shouldered critical reproach for turning his attentions to several African sound devices including bombard and gralle on various recordings. Drake and Morris have so far skirted such slights and this record adds clout to the claim that all three men should be applauded for their decision to step outside their presumed skins.

The cyclic “Sand Choir” spins on a dervish-like groove born from the oscillating pulse of Drake’s frame drum and Parker’s organic ostinato line. Morris’ brittle banjo picking percolates on top and it’s fascinating to hear his idiosyncratic arpeggiated style applied to the prickly-pitched, tightly strung instrument. Drake’s resonating drum patterns and Parker’s rhythmic handclapping dominate “Dawn Son,” an odd hybrid cross between tone poem and backwoods ditty. Sprawling over a quarter of an hour, the final three tracks annex the majority of playing time with “Stepdance” the shortest at just shy of thirteen minutes. “Hop-Kin,” sails out on another helixical rhythmic current crafted by the peripatetic hands of Parker and Drake. Morris’ spidery fills scuttle forth in tense clusters and the overall effect is trance inducing in its harmonic elasticity and sustained hypnotic momentum. Over the long haul the stability of the interplay begins to fray and unravel, but the players solve the problem by fading out before too much thematic stasis sets in. The piece bleeds right into the aforementioned “Stepdance” and Morris sounds revitalized by the transition, scraping taloned plectrum against banjo strings with renewed and frenzied élan. Drake and Parker continue to hammer home the groove, loosening things up mid-piece to further accentuate Morris’ jittering runs. Tempo eventually slows to a loping drone-laced drawl and muttered chants enter the fray. The coda “Dream” tills much the same terrain, but the fidelity is a few shades brighter, particularly on Morris’ end. As such the music exudes a broader dynamic range and the undulating, ever-shifting rhythms possess an even greater propensity to usurp the senses. With luck, Eloping With the Sun, a bold collective step by three respected players, will motivate others in their peer group to follow suit, and find room for recordings favoring the lesser-lauded constituents in their instrumental arsenals.

By Derek Taylor

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