Steve Swell / Bobby Zankel / Dave Burrell / Diane Monroe / William Parker / Muhammad Ali

February 11, 2018

Celebrating William Parker@65

NotTwo MW 9562-2

Avoiding the trappings of a nostalgia while celebrating the Golden Age status of one band member, a sextet of New Yorkers and Philadelphians prove that there’s prove that there’s still plenty of energy in Energy Music. Played by committed musicians, The New Thing still sounds new.

A four-part suite honoring the 65th birthday of bassist William Parker, who has seemingly played with every musician interested in exploratory sounds, Celebrating is doubly relevant by confirming that creative musicians don’t disappear just because they live outside of New York or Chicago. Philadelphia-based alto saxophonist Bobby Zankel, who has worked with everyone from Cecil Taylor to the Dells, is the chief instigator here. Violinist Diane Monroe a former members of Uptown String Quartet and the String Trio of New York is another Philly resident. Pianist Dave Burrell, whose skills were utilized by Archie Shepp and David Murray, and drummer Muhammad Ali, known for the 1970s’ Paris-based Center of the World quartet, also live in Pennsylvania’s largest city. New York trombonist Steve Swell fills out the band

Zankel, Swell and Parker have had long associations with Taylor and there are points at which “Celebrating William Parker at 65” resembles that pianist’s excursions into larger-scale multi-shaded performances. There are also hints of Ornette Coleman’s electric-band ideas as well as more traditional sequences. Those respites appear as each of the suite’s sequences transitions to the next with the introductory theme reprised. There’s also a point on “Celebrating William Parker at 65 Suite Part 3” where Monroe quotes “Wade on the Water” in the middle of her solo.

Other than that, the interaction is paramountly freeform with the sections throbbing with multiphonics and polyphony. Solos are brief, to the point and non-disruptive, as secondary tones from another’s instrument often harmonize with the primary player’s narrative. Ali rolls shuffles and ruffs to keep the pulse moving, while the birthday honoree pursues similar rhythm section duties, until he follows the violinist to solo on the same track. Bowing at supersonic speeds, scrubbing sul ponticello lines, Parker alternates vocalized melodic tones with low-pitched rhythmic tropes as his output becomes narrower and quieter. Meanwhile on “Celebrating William Parker at 65 Suite Part 2” Burrell exhibits his faultless command of piano history, at points slapping out contrasting dynamics like Taylor and at others plinking elevated notes to fashion Stride-like swing. Elsewhere, Swell’s rugged yet relaxed plunger work adds gutbucket emotion and tailgate passion to his solos and the performance itself. In the same way, Zankel, whose sharp split tones touch on Jackie McLean and Coleman also provide an affiliated horizontal exposition which keeps overtones in line as if he was playing lead alto.

With the exception of Monroe, each of the players can now qualify for a government pension. But that doesn’t stop the CD from being as moving and exciting as the music they played 30, 40 or even 50 years ago.

–Ken Waxman

Track Lusting: 1. Celebrating William Parker at 65 Suite Part 1 2. 2. Celebrating William Parker at 65 Suite Part 2 3. Celebrating William Parker at 65 Suite Part 3 4. Celebrating William Parker at 65 Suite Part 4

Personnel: Steve Swell (trombone); Bobby Zankel (alto saxophone); Dave Burrell (piano); Diane Monroe (violin); William Parker (bass) and Muhammad Ali (drums)