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William Parker Violin Trio - Scrapbook

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Artist: William Parker Violin Trio

Album: Scrapbook

Label: Thirsty Ear

Review date: Jun. 19, 2003

Tone World Collage

Under pianist/composer Matthew Shipp’s stewardship Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series has become one of the leading proponents of genre-bridging jazz. Recent releases in the catalog have strayed far from line’s initial offerings, mixing free jazz/improv, hip hop, dub and electronica into an omnivorous pastiche that has won its share of supporters, along with a contingent of detractors. Those listeners who harbor nostalgia for the Series’ nascency will likely greeet William Parker’s Scrapbook as a welcome return to roots.

Together, Parker and drummer Hamid Drake comprise one of the tightest, most micro-reactive rhythm teams in improvised music. In fact, the ‘rhythm section’ tagline only touches on a fraction of what these two are capable of in collusion. Violinist Billy Bang, a colleague of Parker’s since the early 70s, is a master of on-the-fly change ups and can turn from demulcent to stringent in the single flutter of an eyelash. His bow is a precision extension of his brain, acutely calibrated to the tension and temperament of his amplified strings. Coupled with the folk-based intensity that often informs his style the result is one of the most viscerally affecting sounds in improvised music.

On the disc’s title track broad scribbling swatches of sound laced by dovetailing staccato stabs trace the flow of Bang’s action. Parker is unnecessarily plugged into an amp, but on the bright side he eschews the usual murkiness that plagues him under such circumstances and articulates his corpulent lines cleanly. But just as he and Drake lock into one of their mountain-moving grooves the piece fades frustratingly.

“Sunday Morning Church” starts service on a dark bass ostinato and Bang’s somber lyrical lead. Shaving off cerulean melodic ribbons the violinist twists and spindles the mournful theme into a patchwork of permutations as his partners erect a stalwart lock-step rhythm around him. Rising and receding in sawing arcs Bang’s bow cleaves a course for the heavens in a solo that threatens to split his strings asunder with straining force. It’s a performance that shoots straight for the emotional core and pierces the target with a virtuosic bull’s-eye. Drake and Parker keep pace, but it’s purely the violinist’s show, begging the question as to why the bassist’s surname is on the marquee. The answer of course lies in Parker’s follow-up, a statement imbued with measured restraint and space that contrasts beautifully with Bang’s florid fireworks. He lets the cavernous cracks of silence between notes work for him, weaving a spell saturated in nakedly affecting soul. Bang’s reentry reflects a lesson learned as he shapes a coda from a newfound reservoir of reserve.

On other pieces like the strangely dour “Singing Spirits” Bang torques his strings with sharp-edged arco tugs spreading a falling dust of wafer-thin overtones over the undulating harmonic terrain of Parker’s deep strums and Drake’s choppy beats. “Dust on a White Shirt” paints a different picture, in tonal colors bright and festive, as a bobbing rustic rhythm of slap bass and cymbals supports Bang’s skipping arco strokes and delicate pizzicato accents. “Urban” erupts in a stuttering tidal rush and violinist’s bow etches blurred streaks atop a crowded backdrop conjured by his partners. Together the three sculpt and dizzying aural approximation of city-born anomie. The brief “Holiday for Flowers” ties up loose ends with a dissatisfying and somewhat maudlin denouement, but considering the strengths of the album as a whole it’s only a minor mis-step. Where Shipp will guide Blue Series loyalists next is anyone’s guess, but this detour into the sort of music that cemented its early acclaim delivers a refreshing alternative to the label’s recent hybridizing ventures. Parker, Bang and Drake should be proud of their efforts.

By Derek Taylor

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