William Parker is Raining on the Moon

William Parker's Raining on the Moon -- January 26 and 27, 2006, The Stone



It's an unusual feeling at a jazz show -- at least in the circles that bassist William Parker moves -- to smile with recognition at the first few notes of a favorite song, or to hope to hear a loved cut off the band's record, but then William Parker is not the usual free jazzer. Over two nights at The Stone (during the month he curated at the stark-yet-intimate East Village venue), Parker presented a solid quintet with melodies, hooks, even false stops and sheet music. And, notably, a singer -- not a vocalizer, but a strong, emotive singer delivering Parker's lyrics.


The words might not be the central point to Raining on the Moon, but they are the selling point. In addition to composing, leading bands, playing in countless other groups and being a master of the double bass, Parker has long been a writer of poetry and prose, occasionally even publishing chap books of his texts. He has on occasion -- as with his Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra -- incorporated  lyrics into his compositions, but with Raining on the Moon, Parker is very much a songwriter in addition to his other hats. His incisively simple words become gospel in the hands of singer and dancer Leena Conquest. When she sings the bluesy "Who made the land? / God made the land / Who owns the land? / Mr. Johnson owns the land," it becomes a critique of capitalism on the head of a pin. Parker's lyrics at times are the sort of nutshell polemics people once recognized in "Humpty Dumpty" and "Ring Around the Rosie," and Conquest moves them from idealogy to tautology.


While Conquest's delivery is poetic, it's saxophonist Rob Brown who provided much of the emotive impact. Brown found stylistically appropriate voices for each of his solos, ranging from mourn to fury on his alto. Brown and Lewis "Flip" Barnes, the band's trumpeter, know Parker's music well. Both are members of the Little Huey big band, and employed that groups band-within-a-band style of vamping to the quintet. They created backing lines and flourishes on the spot, reading each other with seemingly telekinetic cues. The group was more than ably rounded out by Chicago drummer Hamid Drake, also a regular part of Parker's projects.  For the first of their two nights at The Stone, they played songs from their self-titled 2002 record and a couple that had been performed by Little Huey. But a suite of songs filled with tears and hope and prayer (one with lyrics by Conquest) dominated the second night. It was a different feel for the band, more somber, with their hearts further down their sleeves. The band rarely performs, so the presentation of new material gives hope that a new album might be in the works. Which would be welcome. William Parker has appeared on scores of releases, but the lyricist inside him needs more records.


Kurt Gottschalk