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William Parker + The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra
For Percy Heath
Victo CD 102

Parker/Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra Some may find Percy Heath an unlikely dedicatee of a concert-length work by William Parker. Heath's legacy as the bassist for The Modern Jazz Quartet and The Heath Brothers is primarily that of an ensemble player, not a virtuoso soloist. This should not suggest that Heath merely blended in with artful efficiency. He carried the MJQ by their collars without rumpling the tuxes, which is perhaps why he is more renowned for elegance than power and torque, even though these qualities have equal presence in his playing. It is therefore intriguing that Heath dubbed Parker "Iron Fingers" after first hearing Parker with Cecil Taylor in the early 1980s, a story Parker tells in his brief booklet notes for this four part composition for the 14-piece Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. Instead of extrapolating what he heard in Heath's playing, Parker emphatically sets out to live up to Heath’s nickname, commencing this largely hard-charging set with a brisk solo walk. What’s different about Parker’s approach to this staple of jazz bass playing is that it is phrase-based, not changes-based. The rolling and tumbling phrases don’t enable the easy anticipation of harmonic movement, turnarounds, etc. Subsequently, Parker’s charts initially seem to have loose-fitting parts; but, in short order, they adhere, creating riveting passages that inevitably launch a solo from a member of Parker’s extremely deep bench, including trumpeters Roy Campbell and Lewis Barnes, saxophonists Rob Brown and Sabir Mateen, and trombonist Steve Swell. The piece rarely downshifts, but when it does, the poignancy contrasts well against the prevailing ferric fervency of the performance. It is a inspired tribute.

 

Odean Pope
To The Roach
CIMP #353

Odean Pope 24 years -- it's Gonsalves' stint with Ellington; and tenor saxophonist Odean Pope's tenure with Max Roach. While Pope never had a singular recorded performance like "Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue" with Roach, he helped the drummer maintain a forward-leaning edge in his working unit when other bop-birthed legends meandered or played it relatively safe. In particular, Roach's preference in concert for the long form -- with tunes stretching out to 20 minutes or more -- took on a reactionary aspect in the neo-classic '80s, a militancy of sorts. Though Roach made his greatest albums before Pope replaced Billy Harper in the drummer's quartet in the late 1970s, Roach's quartet with Pope, Cecil Bridgewater and Tyrone Brown is a splendid late chapter in a great epic. Pope has sustained Roach's unbending spirit on his own recordings, so it's no surprise that it permeates To The Roach, especially the magisterial title piece. The presence of guitarist Matt Davis is something of a surprise, but only on paper, as his lean sound and propulsive lines fit in with bassist Michael Taylor, another well-suited newcomer to Pope’s fold, and Pope’s steadfast drummer, Craig McIver. McIver gives the necessary nods to the Jo Jones-Roach lineage with well-designed solos and impeccably timed fills, and continues to support Pope in the open field with an easily asserted power and an unerring knack for echoing key phrases in Pope’s solos, perhaps his most refined Roach-like attribute. Pope is simply stoked throughout the set, whether the vehicle is a playfully Monkish romp, a chestnut-flavored ballad replete with a sweeping cadenza, or a bristling flag-waver. As his most cited asset is his indomitable sound, it is somewhat counter intuitive to think of Pope as a tenor player with great range, but his albums always prove him to be so, and To The Roach is no exception.

 

Enrico Rava
The Words and the Days
ECM 1982

Much has been written about Manfred Eicher’s penchant for a reverberant recorded sound, but too often the discussion centers predominantly, if not exclusively on the piano. Enrico Rava’s newest quintet album is a timely reminder that the trumpet also benefits from Eicher’s approach, as it intensifies the mystique and the brio Rava conveys. Not that Rava needs sweetening; his tone is luminous and his shadings subtle even when he plays acoustically in a slightly dry room. Still, those extra few nanoseconds of decay repeatedly serve the music extremely well, whether Rava and trombonist Gianluca Petrella are slaloming through long-lined themes, or the trumpeter is letting a single note hover over the refined interplay of pianist Andrea Pozza, bassist Rosario Bonaccorso and drummer Roberto Gatto. It is especially evocative when ballads like Rava’s “Todamor” are brought to a simmer, and the splash of cymbals and the deep bass vibrato seep into the foreground. On the Chet Baker-associated “The Wind,” the mix emphasizes Petrella’s shadowing of Rava’s statement of the theme with a very live mid range and low end, creating a voluptuous sound not commonly identified with the pouting trumpet icon. However, the engineering does not diffuse the quintet’s edge when Rava ramps up a rapid-fire solo and his cohorts kick into high gear. Eicher’s approach supplements rather than supplants Rava’s concepts, making the producer an invaluable sixth man.

 

Ned Rothenberg’s Sync with Strings
Inner Diaspora
Tzadik TZ 8114

Ned Rothenberg An album teeming with bristling melodies, elegantly unfurling arrangements, and strong rhythms, Inner Diaspora could be the most important album Ned Rothenberg ever makes. It speaks truth to power on a couple of counts. It is a decisively secular response to what Rothenberg describes in his booklet notes as Tzadik boss John Zorn’s long-standing request for “a Jewish record” (Rothenberg’s italics). Given Sync’s multi-cultural mandate, it is also an implicit critique of the conundrum of Jewish identity politics, which Rothenberg compares to a well whose water both nurtures and alienates. The Jewish tinge of Rothenberg’s music is as likely to be based on the Arabic and Iberian scales and rhythms of Sephardic music as it on the Eastern European forms used in klezmer, and the tinge intensifies into a blush only occasionally. Even when the dramatic sweep of Mark Feldman's violin and Erik Friedlander's cello presence are front and center, Samir Chatterjee's tabla patterns and Jerome Harris' lap steel, acoustic bass and steel stringed guitars sufficiently fuse the cultural bearings of the music into a paradoxical polyglot: This is Jewish music and it's not. If one can, take this issue off the table, as defining to the album as it is, and consider the material using only Rothenberg's recordings to date as the evaluative criteria. The album still retains a somewhat exclusive stature in Rothenberg's discography as it documents his range as a composer and multi-instrumentalist, and his specificity of expression and idiomatic detail, at their fullest. Each piece brings an aspect of Rothenberg's identity into bold relief, be it a treacherous odd-metered theme reflecting his considerable research into Indian music or an alto saxophone solo that affirms his roots in the creative music of the 1970s. As there are bright sensuous melodies the listener can slip into like a bath as well as goose bump-raising compositional structures, the album can be heard primarily as an aesthetic statement, apart from the issue of Jewish identity. Inner Diaspora works as both.

Delmark Records

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