William Parker & The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra

For Percy Heath
Victo cd 102

Masterful New York bassist William Parker liberally applies the vibrant colors available from the 14 members of his Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra to this composition saluting Percy Heath (1923-2005), the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ)’s bass player. Recorded at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (Quebec), a month after Heath’s death, parts of the interlocking four-part suite erupt so energetically and frenetically that the result is celebratory not mournful.

Alive with staccato interjections from individual soloists, undulating counterpoint from the brass and reed sections and frequent tutti crescendos, every tincture is captured in crystalline detail. Frequent tempo changes slip past without upsetting the painterly equilibrium. Although soloists aren’t named, among the highlights are raucous neo-gutbucket runs from one trombonist; a tenor saxophonist’s sluicing multiphonics; and an intermezzo of one trumpeter’s grace notes. Brief in his solo display, drummer Andrew Baker’s shuffle beat drives the band without turning overwrought.

Besides subterranean blasts from Dave Hofstra’s tuba which provide thick oil-paint-like consistency to the portrait, the most prominent musical brush strokes are from Parker’s bass. His solid intonation nudges the band in the proper directions whether it’s with brawny walking bass lines or precise bow movements which almost rappel down the strings.

A masterful sonic action painting of one bassist by another, the CD could puzzle long-time MJQ fans. Those who don’t know Heath’s powerful work elsewhere may be surprised that this energetic, polyphonic suite honors a member of the quartet known for understated presentation.

— Ken Waxman