William Parker/Raining On The Moon – Corn Meal Dance (2007)

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by Pico

William Parker is in many ways like fellow double-bassist Dave Holland: nimble, quick, creative, accurate and full of ideas. He is also one of the rare bassists whose notes manage to capture attention even in a strictly supportive role. Village Voice calls him “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time.” A fixture on New York’s Lower East Side energy music scene for more than thirty-five years, Parker has rightfully become one of its leading figures as player, bandleader and composer.

You can find Parker-led efforts leading or co-leading ensembles of every stripe; from solo to full-fledged orchestras. He even has a project that is a celebration of the music of Curtis Mayfield. One of the Parkers currently in my rotation is Bobo’s Pink Cadillac where Parker fronts a trio featuring Perry Robinson on an avant garde clarinet and it not only works, it’s inspired.

But most recently last month, Parker released his second album using a more conventional band format of an alto (Rob Brown), trumpet (Lewis Barnes), drums (Hamid Drake) and Piano (Eri Yamamoto). He calls this band “Raining On The Moon,” after the prior, 2002 release of the same name, this group also features a vocalist, Leena Conquest.

The other (relatively) conventional aspect is the music itself; there are clearly identifiable, tuneful melodies, and little dissonance. But before anyone gets the notion that this giant of avant jazz has sold out, it’s no grab for some mainstream audience; rather, this is a showcase for one of Parker’s other artistic passions: poetry.

Parker takes his poetry seriously enough to have published three books on poetry (“Music Is,” “Document Humanum,” and “The Shadow People”), so it made sense for him to combine his music with his poetry. In Leena Conquest, he found a perfect voice to sing his poetry. Her soulful, gospel-tinged pipes blends in well with the instrumentalists, but it’s her smart sense of phrasing that gives life to Parker’s prose. The resulting music is something akin to the beat poetry of the 50’s and 60’s, only much more substantial.

The poems set to music are deeply spiritual, dealing a lot into the abstract and symbolism, so it’s often hard to ascertain the message Parker is getting across. But reading and understanding poetry is not something I’ve done much at all, so I’ll leave a critical evaluation of Parker’s literary skills to others.

Luckily, you don’t really need to grasp the poetry to enjoy the music; it’s appeal should come more naturally. The prior Raining On The Moon had a few selections with no vocals and clearly favored instrumental play over the sung poetry. In contrast, Corn Meal Dance strives for more balance between the two, with Leena Conquest performing on every track.

The CD opens with “Doctor Yesterday,” which has a conventional jazzy strut for it’s main melodic line but the extended instrumental break stretches out a lot more. Yamamoto does a fine job with her piano work, while Drake is shuffling around on his drum kit propelling the whole tune on his own. “Tutsi Orphans” has dark overtones paced by Parker’s foreboding bass and shifting tempos.

“Poem for June Jordan,” is a fairly brief ode to the late political activist, poet and teacher of that name and is sung by Conquest accompanied only by piano. “Soledad” begins a trio of extended, ten-minute pieces. The song carries on at first with a steady groove until the middle section is reached and the tune breaks down into free-jazz, highlighted by Barnes’ trumpet and Yamamoto’s Cecil Taylor flourishes until Parker’s bass signals the ensemble to return to that groove.

“Corn Meal Dance” is an uplifting waltz with virtually no improvision but horn fills interspersed with Conquest’s sung recital. “Land Song” is where Brown takes his turn to shine on the instrumental break with Parker walking up and down his bass with perfection.

“Prayer” is an hymnal type song with Conquest again accompanied only by Yamamoto’s piano and the only track on the CD where the vocals are married to the melody in a conventional manner. It’s here where Conquest puts on her best singing performance.

“Old Tears” is a recycling of a blues-based Parker song that first appeared on Raining On The Moon as instrumental, but Conquest added lyrics and her vocals for this album. The closer “Gilmore’s Hat” shows good interplay between the horn section and Conquest; both Barnes and Brown playfully vie with the vocalist for lead.

CD packaging doesn’t usually merit mention, but AUM Fidelity, the record label that distributes Corn Meal Dance, deserves some kudos for a nice, thick booklet full of attractive modern art, songs lyrics, group portraits and full liner notes. It’s rare to get such meaningful extras like that with the disc these days.

The music on the disc still matters the most, of course. On Corn Meal Dance, Parker, in typical form, makes music that matters.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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