The Best in Jazz: William Parker, Catherine Marie Charlton and More

The best releases of the month, plus an interview with jazz giant William Parker

William Parker. Peter Gannushkin

For 45 years, William Parker has humbly been one of the true giants of the downtown NYC jazz scene. And this month, the renowned double bassist has all four burners on his creative stove at full blast with a hot pair of exciting new titles featuring his unprecedented depth and precision on the stand-up. Meditation/Resurrection is a double album showcasing Parker’s two great quartets: The William Parker Quartet, rounded out by longtime rhythm foil Hamid Drake on drums, Rob Brown on alto sax, and Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson on trumpet; and In Order to Survive, which swaps out Nelson for the mighty Cooper-Moore on piano. Both LP’s are absolute master classes in the classic quartet format and the magic that ensues when all four members of each respective outfit are swinging in singularity. Released in tandem with Meditation/Resurrection is a previously unissued live recording of the David S. Ware Trio performing at the Blue Note on October 4, 2010. Both sets of improvisational fire from that night are featured on this beautifully packaged live LP, a testament to the 20 years of quality titles AUM Fidelity has been putting out, inspiring kids beyond the jazz school to take a chance on this creative instrumental art sculptures being crafted by the very cream of the New York underground. The Observer got to speak to Mr. Parker shortly before performing his two-night engagement at Shapeshifter in Brooklyn. Both Meditation/Resurrection and Live in New York, 2010 can be found on www.aumfidelity.com.

William Parker. Peter Gannushkin

For someone who has been playing in the NYC jazz scene for so long, what are your thoughts on how the city continues to muscle out creative music from its comfort zones in Manhattan?

In 1980, I went to Poland for about two or three weeks, and it was a time where they had just declared martial law. People were struggling and scrambling for food. But they didn’t cancel the jazz festival we were supposed to play; they didn’t cancel our tour of the country. But in America, that would’ve been the first thing they cut. Yet they treated us so royally in Poland despite what was happening over there. With all the cuts to budgets going on all over the world—some far deeper than in America—many of these countries they all still make room for the arts. When Jimmy Carter was president, in 1979, I had a theater artist job, which was under the Certified Education Training Act. I worked with a band called the Juice Quartet, and we worked in the theater and punched in 9 to 5 every day. We got paid for playing music. And there were thousands of other musicians and puppet makers and dancers and singers who did the same thing and were all hired by the city of New York. Then as soon as Reagan came in, he cut the program. And that’s how it’s been ever since.

What inspired the William Parker Quartet’s two-part tribute to Horace Silver?

I wrote that when Horace died. I had met him in Brazil; I was there with Cecil Taylor for the Rio De Janeiro Jazz Festival in the ’80s. And to me, Horace was a guy who always walked to his own rhythm and his own beat. He was never influenced by popular demand and just kept going on his own. As he got older he really went into his own world and had those few albums where he was just talking about being positive and diet and living well. A lot of people might say that’s corny, but that’s what Horace was all about. He’s always been a favorite of mine. His piano playing is just exquisite. He had a rhythmic thing going on that was totally unique. He came from the Islands, and maybe that had something to do with it. But when he passed away, I wrote that piece for him.

What inspired you to make this split double LP between your two small ensembles?

The idea of taking the same rhythm section and horn player, Rob Brown, and coming together with Cooper-Moore, who had been playing with us for years, and also Jalalu, who I had met in the ’70s, and presenting it side-by-side parallel to each other. The same people creating two different music.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of AUM Fidelity. How did you first connect with Steven Joerg and his label?

Well, he was working for Homestead Records, and he recorded In Order to Survive and an album we had done called Compassion Seizes Bed-Study and he also recorded the David S. Ware Quartet. Then he moved on from Homestead to begin his own label, which thankfully still exists today. Steven gives the artist maximum freedom to do what they want, which is good. And he mixes it, does the artwork, supervises everything as well as does the distribution. So he’ll do as much as you want him to do or as little as you want him to do. But he really loves the music and is really working for the artist. My own interests and ideas cannot be contained on just one LP. I have so many things I want to do which I hope will materialize in the future. For instance, I want to do a 10-CD box set of all kinds of vocal music, and I want to put out a Little Huey Creative Orchestra anthology. We have a lot of music that’s unreleased with the Orchestra. I’m grateful to AUM Fidelity for allowing me this forum for all these years.

Tell me about the Blue Note performance from the David S. Ware Trio that AUM Fidelity released in tandem with Meditation/Resurrection.

I did a lot of concerts with David. But I had really forgotten about this thing at the Blue Note, so it was a surprise to me. It’s very nice music, very strong music. And it builds with each listen. It really outlines the essence of David Ware, his sound and how committed he was into transcendental meditation and transcendental sound. Every sound he makes there was a total commitment in the breath going into his saxophone and the sound coming out.

Speaking of David S. Ware, this year marks the 25th anniversary of The Flight of I, Ware’s classic album for Columbia Records, who had a great jazz department in the ’90s.

It was serendipitous how we ended up on Columbia back then. We had met Branford Marsalis in Europe, and he was basically the A&R man on those records. He really loved David, and he asked us to record with him at Columbia. So we went into the studio to record. But the problem with Columbia was the promotion. They did very little to promote the record. Then shortly thereafter we did another album for Columbia right when they began to disband their jazz department. They had a great history of recording classic creative jazz: Ornette Coleman, Henry Threadgill, Arthur Blythe. But they didn’t do anything to push these albums and would wind up dropping the artist, citing how jazz doesn’t sell. Yet they didn’t do anything to promote it in the first place. It felt like self-sabotage.

As someone who shared bills with Rollins Band and Yo La Tengo, what are your thoughts on how punk interprets jazz?

Anybody that’s doing something that has energy and power and is political, I like. I’ve played with James Chance. He would come to shows and sit in with us. Our music was a magnet because it was so different. The punks were pulled over by the energy of it (laughs).

This Month’s Album Picks:

Catherine Marie Charlton, I Dream About This World – The Wyeth Album (Phil’s Records)

This year marks the centennial celebration of one of the great 20th century American painters, Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), whose gorgeous portraits of Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley are as serene to the eye as walking the many trails the artist tramped every day of his life. To honor this national treasure, Cornell graduate and Steinway artist Catherine Marie Charlton—once named one of the Top Ten College Women in Glamour—pays homage to both Andrew and his equally prolific father illustrator N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945) with I Dream About This World –The Wyeth Album. And by utilizing the feelings evoked by the imagery of both the elder Wyeth’s fading Wild West motifs and his son’s natural landscapes, she composes a calming, meditative sound journey akin to the finest titles on Windham Hill, whose owner, Will Ackerman, is one of the guests appearing on this record. They will call it New Age, but I Dream About This World transcends compartmentalization as Charlton’s piano glides smoothly along a quaint path lined by lined by outstanding instrumentation and samples of field recordings sourced from her many “Wyeth Walks.”

Aruán Ortiz, Cub(an)ism (Intakt Records)

It’s been about 20 years since Aruán Ortiz has released an album for solo piano. But with Cub(an)ism, the Brooklyn-based Cuba native makes up for lost time, enjoying another conversation with himself that correlates the rhythms of his motherland with the artwork of one of the country’s most celebrated artists, Cubist painter Wilfredo Lam. What he winds up achieving is a genius exercise in the exploration of depth and perception that reveals a bright new wrinkle in the relationship between music and mathematics, reimagining Afro-Haitian Gaga rhythms, Afro-Cuban rumba and Yambu into heavily improvised meditations on modernism that recall John Cage and Paul Bley. Stunning.

Burning Ghosts, Reclamation (Tzadik)

One of the most magical aspects of Miles Davis is how still he would be on that concert stage—especially during the On The Corner/Jack Johnson era—as this firestorm of improvised avant-funk swirled around him. “Like a cat!” his nephew, drummer Vince Wilburn, Jr., once told me about that stance. And there’s definitely a sense Daniel Rosenboom possesses a very similar sense of center as leader of Burning Ghosts, an L.A.-based quartet well versed in their label boss John Zorn’s time-tested hybrid of heavy metal and free jazz. All throughout their Tzadik debut (which may or may not be named after the Fugazi song), that cool of Rosenboom’s trumpet never falters regardless of how much chaos guitarist Jake Vossler, bassist Richard Giddens and drummer Aaron McLendon barrel his way. Reclamation is the middle ground between Bitches Brew and Bloodlet.

Simona Premazzi, Outspoken (PRE)

Italian-born pianist Simona Premazzi released what surely will be hailed as one of the year’s best jazz albums with Outspoken. Recorded at the legendary Sear Sound with renowned horn man Jeremy Pelt, her fourth LP as a leader pays homage to such heroes as Billy Strayhorn, Ornette Coleman and Andrew Hill with a stunning collection of performances featuring a stacked quartet comprised of Joe Martin on bass, drummer Nasheet Waits and Dayna Stephens on saxophone. This combo has a chemistry that reaches full tilt when joined by Pelt on trumpet for “Peltlude” and vocalist Sara Serpa on the gorgeous “It Is Here.” Bellissimo!

Ralph Towner, Solstice (ECM)

Dave Holland Quartet, Conference of the Birds (ECM)

This month has seen the latest round of classic ECM titles being remastered from the original analog tapes and pressed back onto vinyl, including two of the intrepid label’s greatest masterpieces. Originally recorded in 1974, Solstice was created by a band formed on the spot in the studio, chronicling American guitar icon Ralph Towner’s first meeting with the young lions of European jazz at the time, Jan Gabarek on reeds, Eberhard Weber on bass and cello and percussionist Jon Christensen—all of whom would also go on to create many recordings for Manfred Eicher as well in the ensuing years. There isn’t another jazz album that sounds quite like it. Also from this batch is Conference of the Birds, the first LP recorded by double bassist Dave Holland as a leader in 1972. Now 45 years old, the soundclash that goes down between the brass fire of saxophonists Sam Rivers and Anthony Braxton with Holland and drummer Barry Altschul remains as ferocious as the day it was cut. And both titles have never sounded better as they do back on wax.

The Best in Jazz: William Parker, Catherine Marie Charlton and More