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William Parker has done plenty of large-group work, but Double Sunrise over Neptune seems particularly ambitious, consisting of glorious long jams with an exciting, patient pulse and a spiritual mood driven by the vocals of Indian classical singer Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay. It's an amazing work.
"Morning Mantra" and "Neptune's Mirror" are separate readings of the same movement, a piece that ebbs and flows in subtle waves, anchored by a six-note mantra of a bass riff that persists until the final minutes. Parker, conducting, cues soloists and background improvisers from the 16-piece band to create textures that fade in and out of focus, with horns coloring the sound here; violin/viola or guitar taking over elsewhere. Some of these snippets sound composed, or maybe Parker conducted them into being on the spot. The two versions differ substantially in mood although they seem to draw from the same strategic map; for instance, both end with some sublime improvising after the bassline stops.
Bandyopadhyay's voice becomes the center of attention on both tracks, as she either serenely improvises or sings the lyrics penned by Parker: "We are all facing the wind; may we be filled with light..." Her singing, in the long, lilting syllables of classical Indian styles, is the centerpiece, and it defines and grounds the mood and method of the piece.
It's a jam with a spiritual feel, with Parker artfully coaxing and sculpting the sound. His own instrumental contributions come not on bass, but on some exotic horns and the eight-stringed doson'ngoni.
Those pieces bracket a longer movement, "Lights of Lake George," that continues the mantra feel with a different central rhythm and riff. Here, Bandyopadhyay contributes the Surya Pranam mantra, "which glorifies the rising sun and pays homage to the Sun as God," or so say her liner notes. She also sings a tarana, an improvisation based on Persian devotional symbols. It's a clear and passionate work, with the added treat of some composed group lines that add ragged edges around the mantra bassline and serve as the kicking-off point for some crazed, stabbing improvising late in the piece.
Together, the pieces form a nearly continuous suite, although I don't know if it's intended that way; technical difficulties during the original live recording had the band reconvening the next day, and I'm not sure which pieces came from which performance. Stuck between the pages is a 37-second snippet of "O'Neal's Bridge," which sounds like it's got roots in Parker's more traditional jazz side.
Parker is a giant of modern jazz, and he's outdone himself with Neptune. If it's truly all part of one gigantic suite, then I'd love to see it all live someday. Now if someone would only finance a tour for this group, or for the Little Huey Orchestra for that matter...
Elsewhere in the week:
ARTIST -- "TRACK TITLE" -- ALBUM TITLE (LABEL, YEAR)
Horizontal lines denote microphone breaks.
* Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog -- "Todo El Mundo Es Kitsch" -- Party Intellectuals (Pi Recordings, 2008)
* Bloom Project -- "Shattered Eventide" -- Prismatic Season (Edgetone, 2008)
* Peter Evans Quartet -- "!!!!" -- Peter Evans Quartet (Firehouse 12, 2008)
Fire Museum is a revolutionary label in a literal sense -- their recordings include a benefit CD for RAWA, an organization that was clandestinely helping educate women in Afghanistan. It was based on the upper floor of a duplex in the Castro, and I happened to see one of the final shows the label put on before vacating.
* David Leikam Trio and Quartet -- [Trio: Untitled track 3] -- Live (self-released, 2008)
A couple of sets played live at KZSU, featuring our own David Bug.
The quartet tracks, a group called Tippo, are more abstract and noisy, partly
because they include laptop electronics in the mix. The trio, z_bug, has a
more "organic" sound despite being propelled by electric bass plus prodigious
effects; that's because it's rounded out by two drummers, creating sounds and
even beats that are more earthly. z_bug does get into a vicious swirling
menace during track 2; I also like the groove they build up on track 3. (All
tracks are untitled.)
* Bob and Ellen Weller -- "Collusion" -- Point of Contact (Circumvention, 2007)
* William Parker -- "Neptune's Mirror" -- Double Sunrise over Neptune (AUM Fidelity, 2008)
* Cuong Vu -- "Accelerated Thoughts" -- Vu-tet (ArtistShare, 2008)
Vu continues to put out compelling, romantic music with a challenging
side. Great stuff but often a bit too syrupy for my taste -- which has been
par for Cuong Vu's catalog, for me. That doesn't change the importance or
stature of what he's doing. "Just a Memory" and "I Promise" are the tracks I
have in mind here; they're powerful and sentimental, displaying the kind of
gentle airflight that caught the ear of Pat Metheny. "Accelerated Thoughts"
is a quirkier piece, with stacatto pepperings of trumpet and some menacing,
rocking-out electric bass. It's more my style, but I don't fault Vu for
having a muse that doesn't always tickle my ears.
Joseph Jarman -- "Adam's Rib" -- Song for (Delmark, 1991)
* Joel Harrison -- "American Farewell" -- The Wheel (Innova, 2008)
Tom Heasley -- "29 Palms" [excerpt] -- Desert Triptych (Farfield, 2005)
Roper and Wong can also be found with Bobby Bradford in the trio Purple Gums, which has a couple of CDs out, one of which we've played before. Bradford, if I can stretch this tangent even further, gives an interesting interview here explaining the tough realities of trying to play cutting-edge jazz in Los Angeles. (Skip to the bottom, the question about John Carter.)
* = Item in KZSU rotation
! = Pop anomaly
? = Item not in KZSU library
-- Go back to Memory Select playlists.
-- Bay Area free/improv music calendar: http://www.bayimproviser.com.