Kurt Gottschalk

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

There are two kinds of festivals within the six nights (and one day) of the Vision Festival. There's the festival for people who travel to get there and the festival of people who travel to play. Vision is the highest concentration of New York energy jazz in the world, a fact that year after year seems to eclipse its "world class" (if there's reason to use such a phrase) nature. It is at once a chance to hear within a tight schedule (this year sticking closer to advertised times than ever) the cream of NYC's hard improv: Sabir Matteen, Roy Campbell Jr., William Parker, Borah Bergman, Daniel Carter, Rob Brown, Steve Swell, Billy Bang, Henry Grimes and (for the last time as such) the David S. Ware Quartet. But their presence, and that of such perennial associates as Kidd Jordan, Hamid Drake, Bill Dixon and Joe Morris, shouldn't overshadow the sweet surprises each year brings.

Rhythm and Beauty

The oldest and simplest of families of instruments is also the largest and most diverse. From Charlie Parker to The Sex Pistols, percussion has been the common element to and the driving force behind most forms of music in the last hundred years. The instruments can be metal or wood, outfitted with leather or strings; they can be carried, sat behind or worn. They can be simple and homemade or complex and expensive. Watch tourists gather around a guy beating on plastic buckets on a New York subway platform and you'll get the idea: Drums are everywhere, and are made from just about anything.


It makes a certain amount of sense that the first survey to be written about Gypsy musicians across Europe would come from an outsider (although given that there's no real "inside" to the Roma diaspora, it's almost an inevitability). Garth Cartwright, a New Zealander living in London, describes himself as a "refugee from Auckland's disembodied suburbs" -- not exactly a political exile, but still a scribe with a feeling of separation from the motherland and a clear empathy for the generations of Gypsy homelessness. He's shamelessly a stranger in a strange land, devoted to his subject.

Looking Behind the Vision Festival

On June 13, when the doors of the Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts open for Vision Festival XI, Arts for Art -- the organization that organizes and presents the annual jazz fest -- will also be opening the door to the adoration and criticism they've faced every year for a decade. The praise and complaints are largely for the same thing, namely for hosting hours and hours of high energy jazz. Horns blaring, basses booming and drums being beaten, it's a tradition carried on for some forty years, in the wake of the great John Coltrane.