WILLIAM PARKER

Fractured Dimensions
FMP CD 122

COLLECTIVE 4TET
Synopsis
Leo LR 380

Change one man and you change the music, is an old — and pre-feminist — Free Music axiom. The converse is true as well, of course. Maintain a consistent combo line up and the sounds become that much more profound, since each player knows exactly what he can count on from the others.

Validating both sides of the equation are the quartets on these two CDs, each coincidentally featuring bassist William Parker. FRACTURED DIMENSIONS, whose title might reflect the recording circumstances, shows what happens when three members of a regularly constituted band — Other Dimensions in Music (ODM) — are forced by circumstance to play with someone else at the last minute. More than 78 minutes of music resulted from Alan Silva’s piano and synthesizer tones being grafted onto the sounds perfected by Parker, brassman Roy Campbell and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter in a Berlin concert in 1998 when ODM’s drummer was a no show.

More than four years later Parker joined with the other members of the Collective 4tet to record its first CD after a five year hiatus. Luckily, the creative concordance was still flowing among the bassman, fellow Americans trombonist Jeff Hoyer and pianist Mark Hennen plus Swiss percussionist Heinz Geisser. Geisser, who usually works in bands with fellow Swiss pianist Guerino Mazzola, conceived of this co-op group in the early 1990s and its personnel has remained constant since then. Besides Parker, whose list of collaborators at this point probably outnumbers the membership of the United Nations, the other players have certified downtown New York credentials. Hoyer has played with Cecil Taylor and in Bill Dixon’s Vision Festival Orchestra that included Campbell. Hennen has played in large aggregations led by drummer William Hooker and Silva, and in a combo featuring Carter and another Parker associate reedist Sabir Mateen.

Because of this shared background, the Collective 4tet lives up to its name, never coming across as if it was a William Parker quartet with three sidemen. The bassist does add his distinctive rock-solid time keeping to the mix, but SYNOPSIS is as much Geisser’s or Hennen’s or Hoyer’s session as it is Parker’s.

Especially impressive in this context, Hoyer, like Gary Valente in most of Carla Bley’s bands, has a complete command of old time tailgate techniques, screwed onto modernistic impulses. So, on something like the title track, not only can he create protracted plunger tones, but he can also bend and expand them in short chromatic bursts.

Constantly pushing the air forward with his valves, mouthpiece and bell more than with slide positions, he offers fragments of rubato trills. Meantime Hennen contributes low frequency, right-handed syncopation, Parker buzzing, bowed bass notes, and Geisser the spatter and drip of near liquid cymbal timbres. Overall, the sonic compression becomes so viscous that at points it seems as if you’d be unable to cut it with a blade — not to mention a trombone slide, a cymbal edge or a double bass bow. As the pianist showcases high and low-pitched contrasting tremolos, the piece ends with a protracted trombone exhalation

Other tunes can be just as intense. “Jig”, for instance, begins with National steel guitar-like plucks from Parker, with purposely heavy-handed tremolos and glisses from Hennen, who is intent on curlicue decorations, flashing octave digressions and a cascading waterfall of notes. Eventually the thunder of drum rolls and undulating ‘bone slurs give way to two minutes of complete silence, ultimately shattered by another 50 seconds of prolonged trombone lines, sparking piano glisses, powerful bass plunks and multi-directional percussion.

Although Hennen’s vehement chording and contrasting dynamics and Geisser’s consistent clips, bangs and bops encourage chromatic blats and purrs, the trombonist doesn’t always have to appear musically as if he’s a senile old man — constantly talking to himself. On “Left Turn”, the appropriately titled, most outside number here, his response to the pianist and drummer is to bury notes in the bell like a small animal digging in the ground, and blow raspberries of almost “treated” colored noises. Geisser drags his drumstick the full length of a metallic resonating cymbal and Hennen first sounds the bottom frame and escapement then drones the string action on the piano’s inside speaking length for their bits.

Conventional piano sounds do make their appearance on FRACTURED DIMENSIONS, but Silva, who first made his reputation as a bassist with Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra and Albert Ayler, usually emphasizes the orchestral colors of his synthesizer. While restraint has never been a watchword in Free Jazz, during the course of this continuous performance, the other musicians play forcefully enough to mute his tendency to come across fortissimo, spewing crescendos like E. Power Biggs playing a massive cathedral organ.

Most of the CD appears to be a prelude and postscript to “Acrosses Rain”, the almost 34-minute climatic track. Showcasing Carter on flute, his unsegmented airy tones meet the pluck and scrape of Parker’s lacerated bass attack and Campbell’s trumpeted grace notes. Somehow here, Silva seems to be able to produce octave jumps and chordal asides along with what sounds like metallic marimba beats and symphonic orchestral textures.

Later, as Silva exposes some Taylor-like repeated syncopated phrases, Campbell begins a melancholy Harmon-muted tone exposition, with burbling, repeated shakes à la Miles Davis. Parker’s swollen swatches of double-stopping arco bass get more abrasive as the trumpeter trills higher and higher notes, seemingly picking up some grit in his tone along the way. Suddenly you realize that the almost Milesean trope has been mixed with some Bubber Miley-style wah wahs with Carter adding slightly more dissonant timbres from his trumpet as well. As Silva enters with a swelling keyboard concord, Campbell pitches his output higher and Carter explores his horn’s limits, at times evidently wallowing in tonal flatness.

Arco, Parker begins mountain climbing with his G-string as his pickaxe, hitting more elevated pitches as he ascends. Soon Campbell reasserts himself, with portamento-smeared tones and higher-pitched extended grace notes, more like Dizzy Gillespie than Davis. Eventually he’s in stratospheric Cat Anderson-territory, moving upwards in octaves as Carter outlines his emotional articulation below.

A valuable figure in any band, that includes TEST and different projects involving Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp, Carter’s chameleon-like character makes him MVP in many situations. Here he can match Campbell’s brassy trumpet flourishes with boppish, razor-sharp alto saxophone trills at one point, then a few minutes later transform the same instrument into a cauldron of cascading dynamics, squealing out hunks of pitchsliding staccatissimo split tones. All this takes place on top of the vibrating surface of Silva’s sythn, as the keyboardist introduces polytones and polyrhythms, intermittently pierced by Parker’s bass tones.

Other times, as on “Eternal Flower”, the saxman vibrates a bury tone for maximum sensual effect, producing the sort of boudoir fireplace warmth from his axe that you would expect from Gene Ammons or Hank Crawford. Behind him, Silva creates an undercurrent of shifting tones. Later Carter masticates the reed for maximum split-tone effects and Campbell barks himself into piccolo trumpet range.

Then there’s “Sonnet For Armstrong”, which may or may not be about Louis A. Carter, smearing out a long-lined tone from the chalumeau register of the clarinet, may have impressed Armstrong, as may have the repeated pattern Parker bows over and over again throughout. But Satchmo may have had trouble warming up to Campbell, muted and high-pitched, going his own way with chromatic double-tonguing and resonating grace notes. And he probably wouldn’t have known what to do when Silva turns on the string part of his synthesizer to birth what appears to be the shriek of a thousand tiny bats that have migrated from a horror flick soundtrack.

While you wonder whether the penultimate plunger-muted trumpet notes are from Campbell or Carter, it’s likely that the quiet, smudged grace notes that combine with a dimineundo of low frequency descending piano chords ending the piece — and the CD — are Campbell products.

Altering the band personnel or keeping it constant are the illustrated strategies here. Each CD shows how well each of those concepts can operate in practice.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Fractured: 1. Figures standing in the door 2. Eternal flower 3. End Of famina 4. Vermeer 5. Acrosses rain 6. Sonnet for Armstrong

Personnel: Fractured: Roy Campbell (trumpet, flugelhorn); Daniel Carter (alto saxophone, flute, clarinet and trumpet); Alan Silva (piano, synthesizer); William Parker (bass)

Track Listing: 1. Convergence 2. Going ahead 3. Synopsis 4. Left turn 5. Jig

Personnel: Jeff Hoyer (trombone); Mark Hennen (piano); William Parker (bass); Heinz Geisser (percussion)