William Parker | Centering | Unreleased Early Recordings 1976 – 1987 | 6 CD Box Set | No Business Records

6 CD Box Set + Book

William Parker | Centering | Unreleased Early Recordings 1976 - 1987 | no business recordsDISC ONE

William Parker-Daniel Carter Duo. Tracklist: 1. Thulin (28:33) 2. Time and Period (25:51) Daniel Carter (alto sax, trumpet); William Parker (bass). Recorded by Donny Fury at his studio, 1980. William Parker Ensemble 3. Commitment (21:38) William Parker (bass); John Hagen (tenor sax); Arthur Williams (trumpet) Someplace Nice, New York, NY, August 1977. Recorded by Peter Kuhn.

William Parker | Centering | Unreleased Early Recordings 1976 - 1987 | no business recordsDISC TWO

Centering Dance Music Ensemble 1980. Tracklist: 1. Facing the Sun, One is Never the Same (24:18) 2. One Day Understanding (Variation on a Theme by Albert Ayler) 3. Bass Interlude (1:55) 4. Tapestry (16:28) David S. Ware (tenor sax); William Parker (bass); Denis Charles with Patricia Nicholson (dance). Kiva, New York, NY, May 9, 1980. Recorded by Sinan Tertemez.

William Parker | Centering | Unreleased Early Recordings 1976 - 1987 | no business recordsDISC THREE

Centering Dance Music Ensemble 1980 (continued). Tracklist: 1. Rainbow Light (26:56) William Parker-Charles Gayle Duo 2. Crosses (Long Scarf Over Canal Street) (18:39) 3. Entrusted Spirit (Dedicated to Bilal Abdur Rahman). Charles Gayle (tenor sax); William Parker (bass) El Bohio, New York, NY, July 3, 1987. Centering Dance Music Ensemble: Voices 4. Angel Dance (5:50) 5. Sincerity (6:39) 6. In the Thicket (1:22) Brenda Bakr (voice on 4); Ellen Christi (voice on 5); Brenda Bakr, Ellen Christi, and Lisa Sokolov (voices on 6); William Parker (bass); Rashid Bakr (drums) Recorded circa 1980. Location unknown.

William Parker | Centering | Unreleased Early Recordings 1976 - 1987 | no business recordsDISC FOUR

Big Moon Ensemble. Tracklist: 1. Dedication to Kenneth Patchen (24:59) 2. Hiroshima, Part One (16:30) 3. Hiroshima, Part Two (28:44) Jemeel Moondoc (alto sax), Daniel Carter (alto sax, tenor sax, trumpet, cornet); Arthur Williams, Roy Campbell, Jr. (trumpet); William Parker (bass, recitation); Jay Oliver (bass); Denis Charles, Rashid Bakr (drums). Saint Marks Church, New York, NY, May 4,1979. Concert produced by Judy Rhodes. Recorded by Peter Kuhn.

William Parker | Centering | Unreleased Early Recordings 1976 - 1987 | no business recordsDISC FIVE

Centering Big Band (Extending the Clues). Tracklist: 1. Ankti (Extending the Clues) (12:59) 2. Munyaovi (Cliff of the Porcupine) (14:46) 3. Palatala (Red Light of Sunrise) (4:35) 4. Lomahongva (Beautiful Clouds Arising) (29:10) 5. Tototo (Warrior Spirit Who Sings) (10:58). Daniel Carter, Jemeel Moondoc (alto sax), Ricardo Strobert (alto sax, flute); David S. Ware (tenor sax); Charles Tyler (baritone sax); Raphe Malik, Roy Campbell, Jr. (trumpet); Alex Lodico, Masahiko Kono (trombone); William Parker (bass); Zen Matsuura (drums); Lisa Sokolov, Ellen Christi (voice) Kool Jazz Festival/Soundscape, I(rving Plaza, New York, NY, June 25,1984. Recorded by Kazunori Sugiyama

William Parker | Centering | Unreleased Early Recordings 1976 - 1987 | no business recordsDISC SIX

Centering Dance Music Ensemble 1976 (Dawn Voice). Tracklist: 1. Illuminese/Voice (34:07) 2. Falling Shadows (13:06) 3. Dawn/Face Still, Hands Folded (30:52). A dance section called “Prelude” preceded the music. Rozanne Levine (clarinet); Malik Baraka, John Mingione (trumpet); Billy Bang, Ramsey Ameen (violin); William Parker (bass, recitation); Ellen Christi (voice); with Patricia Nicholson (choreography, dance); Susan Kuhn, Leslie Levinson, Kenna Lile (dance) Washington Square Church, New York, NY, October 24,1976. Recorded by John Mingione.

Produced by William Parker and Danas Mikailionis. Co-producer: Valerij Anosov. Mastering: Arunas Zujus at MAMAstudios. Essay and Interview: Ed Hazell. Package and Book Cover Design: Oskaras Anosovas. Book Layout: Jeff DiPerna, tabula rasa graphic design. Original artwork: ©Jeff Schlanger, musicWitness*. Photos: pgs. 8,11,16, 25, 28,31,36, 47, 58, 65 ©Raymond Ross Archives/CTSIMAGES; pg. 33, courtesy of Tom Marcello; pg. 55 courtesy of Harley White, Sr.; pgs. 34, 63, 64 courtesy of Rozanne Levine; pgs. 12,15, 23, 27, 39, 40, 57 courtesy of William Parker. Printed in Lithuania by UAB “Garsu pasaulis”

Acknowledgments: The NoBusiness Records team expresses its gratitude to Ed Hazell, Jeff DiPerna, Jeff Schlanger, Ellen Christi, and the Raymond Ross Archives for their invaluable input in making this release possible. Thanks, also, to UAB “Garsy pasaulis” for their longstanding support. Ed Hazell wishes to thank Fred and Edie Alien, Ben Young, Kazunori Sugiyama, Rick Lopez, Rozanne Levine, Lisa Sokolov, Patricia Nicholson, Ellen Christi, and the Raymond Ross Archives. Special thanks to Jeff DiPerna for his obsessive attention to detail and sensitive book design; Michael Ehlers for bringing most of these sessions to my attention and for his ongoing inspiration and friendship; and Jeff Schlanger for generously sharing his art, memories, and insights. And most of all, thanks to William Parker for his music and his wisdom.

This box of music is dedicated to my wife, Patricia.

I would also like to thank the producer Danas Mikailionis for his conviction to the project and Ed Hazell for guiding us through these musical memories. I give sincere thanks to all the musicians who made a commitment to the music; those who have passed on to the next life—Billy Bang, Malik Baraka, Denis Charles, Raphe Malik, Jay Oliver, Charles Tyler, Arthur Williams—and those who continue to play and create beautiful music of their own today—Ramsey Ameen, Brenda Bakr, Roy Campbell Jr., Daniel Carter, Ellen Christi, Charles Downs, Charles Gayle, John Hagen, Masahiko Kono, Rozanne Levine, Alex Lodico, Zen Matsuura, John Mingione, Jemeel Moondoc, Lisa Sokolov, Ricardo Strobert, and David S. Ware. —William Parker

William Parker | Centering | Unreleased Early Recordings 1976 - 1987 | no business records

William Parker | Centering | Unreleased Early Recordings 1976 - 1987 | no business recordsCentering: Art is the Process of Living

by Ed Hazell

The music on these six discs comes from roughly the first decade of William Barker’s career, one of the most intensely creative periods enjoyed by any musician of any era. It’s safe to say that much of the music will come as a revelation to even his most devoted listeners. The full extent of Parker’s activity from this period has been difficult to assess until quite recently. In the ’70s, his work as a sideman was documented on a trickle of hard-to-find, self-produced IPs that were never widely distributed to begin with and are now mostly out of print. (However, recordings on which he appears with Jemeel Moondoc’s Muntu and the collective quartet, Commitment, have recently been reissued by NoBusiness). The trickle grew into a steadier stream in the ’80s, as Black Saint/Soul Note, Hat Hut, and other, mainly European, labels began recording musicians with whom Parker regularly worked, such as Cecil Taylor, Billy Bang, and David S. Ware. A more comprehensive account of his extraordinarily busy career had to wait until 1999, when free-jazz researcher Rick Lopez established his online William Parker Sessionography. Over the years Lopez has pieced together information from fans and researchers around the world into an account of impressive and growing detail. (excerpt)

William Parker | Centering | Unreleased Early Recordings 1976 - 1987 | no business records

If there is a CD you really want to have, it is this one

a six CD box with unreleased performances by William Parker, redorded between 1976 and 1987, in a variety of line-ups and musical styles. The whole box is accompanied by a 66-page booklet containing lots of pictures, drawings and paintings by Jeff Schlanger and a full explanation by William Parker himself on the performances. In essence, these recordings were planned to be released on Parker’s own Centering label in these two decades, but he could not afford it. We can only applaud – again – the No Business label for making this music available.

Disc One brings Parker in two lengthy duets with Daniel Carter on sax. The two pieces are close to half an hour each, and even if they are nice to listen to, they lack the tension and focus that we know from their other collaborations. The last track brings us a trio of William Parker in the company of John Hagen on tenor sax and Arthur Williams on trumpet, a slow and abstract cinematic piece. Again, nice, but not essential.

Disc two brings us the Centering Dance Music Ensemble, with David S. Ware on tenor, William Parker on bass, Denis Charles on drums, a trio that was accompanying Patricia Nicholson’s – Parker’s wife – dance performance. Accompanying is maybe the wrong word, because the interaction went both ways, with her dancing also influencing the music itself. In any case, you can only hear the music and the trio is great, very boppish and very open. When you think about the energy and lyricism a sax trio can bring, this is about it, with Ware occupying a lot of space, yet also leaving room for solos by Parker and Charles. It is raw, and beautiful and radiates the autheniticity of feeling that you only find in great performances.

Disc three continues the performance of the previous CD, and then proceeds with a duo between the bassist and Charles Gayle on tenor, which is a real treat to hear, fierce and forceful as you can expect, with relentless energy and ideas. The disc ends with two voice-bass duos, with Brenda Bakr, and Ellen Christi respectively, followed by an ensemble with three vocalists – Brenda Bakr, Ellen Christi, and Lisa Sokolov with Parker on bass and Rashid Bakr on drums. Vocal music is not really something I relate to easily (except of Parker’s “Raining On The Moon”), so I will not expand too much on it.

Disc four is a mad free-for-all free jazz fest, with all musicians pushing each other forward in an at moments chaotic yet entirely delightful sonic extravaganza, but then one that just never stops, relentlessly, endlessly. And once you think you’ve heard it all, the band increases the tension, the madness and the hypnotic drive, and you can only remain baffled and overwhelmed by the sheer power and lust for life expressed by this magnificent octet consisting of Jemeel Moondoc on alto sax, Daniel Carter on alto sax, tenor sax, trumpet, cornet, Arthur Williams and Roy Campbell, Jr. on trumpet, William Parker on bass and recitation, Jay Oliver on bass, and Denis Charles and Rashid Bakr on drums. To be fair, on the last of the three tracks, the music slows down a bit, with musicians taking a step back once in a while, and with the entire band giving Parker himself the place in the spotlight for a long arco improvisation, nicely rounded off by the whole band. This alone is worth the purchase of the box!

Disc five brings us a slightly different band, with Ellen Christi and Lisa Sokolov on vocals, and with Daniel Carter and Jemeel Moondoc on alto sax, Ricardo Strobert on alto sax and flute, David S. Ware on tenor sax, Charles Tyler on baritone, Raphe Malik and Roy Campbell, Jr. on trumpet, Alex Lodico and Masahiko Kono on trombone, William Parker on bass, and Zen Matsuura on drums. Some of the themes are composed, and written in function of the singers, with lots of very open improvisations, linked in a kind of musical suite that gets better and better as it evolves, with moments of grand sweeping themes and beautiful emotional expressivity. If you enjoyed “Double Sunrise Over Neptune”, you will like this one too, and to me the best part of the box.

Disc six is again a dance performance piece with the Centering Dance Music Ensemble, featuring Patricia Nicholson’s choreography with herself, Susan Kuhn, Leslie Levinson and Kenna Lile as dancers. The band is Rozanne Levine on clarinet, Malik Baraka and John Mingione on trumpet, Billy Bang and Ramsey Ameen on violin, William Parker on bass and recitation, and with Ellen Christi on vocals. And even if I said that vocals are not really my thing, I must reconsider my opinion, because the way the music is approached here, cautiously, mainly driven by the beautiful clarinet tones of Rozanne Levine and Ellen Christi’s ethereal singing, with an incredible sense of pace and space … is really nothing short of breath-taking. The interweaving of the instruments and voice, creating a nebulous sonic substance, like mist hanging over water. This is the image that came to mind while listening, and interestingly enough, Parker explains that the music was inspired by a picture of light shining through trees at dawn. Not the same visual, but close enough. It is just fabulous.

So, in sum, even if not everything is of the same high level, you get at least some discs that are extremely good, together with a great overview of Parker as a bassist, band leader and composer, including the incredible scope of his musical approaches, from the almost classical dance ensemble to the wildest free moments, yet at no time is it boring : you get energy, intensity, creativity, spirituality, ideas, images, dark moods and uplifting moods, volume and tenderness, raw madness and sophisticated refinement … deep music, resonating music, and soul … you get soul in truckloads.

Again, we can only applaud NoBusiness for having brought these recordings back to the world, again in an impeccable total package.

Don’t miss it! A must-have for Parker fans. — Stef

William Parker | Centering | Unreleased Early Recordings 1976 - 1987 | no business records

When the Wildflowers

sessions were released on CD by Knitting Factory about 12 years ago, it was a revelation and an education for those of us who hadn’t heard those seminal documents of the New York 1970s loft scene. I felt a similar sense of discovery, even of privileged awareness, listening to this new six-disc set of early William Parker. As with Wildflowers, the set contains contributions from ensembles small and large, and the musical diversity on offer bespeaks a magical time in which, though many financial roads were closed, every musical path was open and inviting.

While all of the material here is being issued for the first time, some of it was intended for release more than 30 years ago. Beyond giving this collection its title, Centering is the bassist’s label, which, for its first couple of decades, boasted only one release — the excellent Through Acceptance of the Mystery, Peace from 1980 (now available on Eremite). As Parker and Ed Hazell point out in this set’s documentation, this silent period belied Parker’s schedule as a leader and sideman, which was robust to say the least. He was integral to Jemeel Moondoc’s Muntu, an ensemble and label documented in another NoBusiness box and reviewed in these pages by Derek Taylor. A version of Muntu makes an appearance here as part of the Big Moon Ensemble, recorded in performance in 1979. Parker and unsung bass virtuoso Jay Oliver match incendiary wit with Moondoc, Daniel Carter, Roy Campbell, and a two-drummer configuration of Denis Charles and Rashid Bakr. The former skinsman had been in Cecil Taylor’s first recording group in the 1950s; the latter, along with Parker, was involved with Taylor in the late ’70s and early ’80s. By contrast, two duo sets fill in some important gaps, one from 1980 with Carter and a 1987 concert with Charles Gayle, very soon after the tenor saxophonist had achieved some wider recognition. There are also fascinating tidbits of projects whose uniqueness should have been better preserved, such as the three-voice version of William and Patricia Nicholson’s Centering Dance Music Ensemble.

This aggregate addresses another facet of Parker’s diverse art. He has always been involved in extramusical activities, not least as an engaging and insightful writer and poet, and while voice informs key moments of this set, dance drives much of the music to its energetic heights. Check out the Centering Dance Music Ensemble’s 1980 concert, featuring Parker, Nicholson, Denis Charles, and David S. Ware (who also appeared on the Wildflowers set). Charles’s opening solo plays with tempo as if it were a fractious child: taming it, letting it loose for an instant, reining it back in with a quick loving remonstration, letting it go again. It must have been the dance, the turns, arcs and undulations that Patricia unleashed on the music that helped it all to happen, that abetted the unfurling of Ware’s stratospheric exhortations as he and the others push forward, back and beyond, exceeding themselves from moment to moment.

It is this energy, a continual exploration in the face of often mystical retrospection, that unifies the music on these six discs. The feeling imbues the largest and smallest structures, even the one-and-a-half minute “In the Thicket,” a quick episode for three voices, from the ensemble mentioned above. Brenda Bakr, Ellen Christi and Lisa Sokolov paint an epiphonic portrait of a man in quest of enlightenment, laying in a thicket for one day without food. “Hopefully something good will sing through me,” proclaims a sole voice, “Making the mystery clearer.” The voice hovers just on the edge of meter, evoking a lined-out hymn and a minor blues in one fell swoop. The response, the staccato repetitions of “in the thicket he lay,” conjure shades of funk and soul, hip hop’s syncopations and rhythmic precision, until a brief return of the minor blues elucidates the mystery. It’s a microcosmic version of every composition and every improvisation. Each musician is an orchestra, coaxing myriad sounds from their instruments and often switching to another with intuitive certainty. John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, Steve Coleman and countless others had laid the groundwork; Parker and these young artists, hungry for more than food, were carrying the torch, unwilling to compromise in the name of category and unashamed of the poverty such a journey would entail. After the release of Centering, the mystery is indeed clearer. — Marc Medwin

Il percorso di William Parker è sostenuto da palpitante vitalità

scaturisce da un crogiolo in cui si temprano creatività, coerenza, forza etica e spirituale. Arte e vita vi si intrecciano in modo saldo. Romanzesca è la descrizione della giornata tipo del contrabbassista, tra il Village e il Lower East Side nei primi anni Settanta, riportata nel saggio di Ed Hazell che accompagna la splendida edizione di questi sei CD, in un libretto corredato pure da belle foto, dalle vorticose opere grafiche di Jeff Schlanger e da un’intervista con lo stesso Parker.

La stessa descrizione che incontravamo pure nell’ottimo testo di Marcello Lorrai, William Parker – Conversazioni sul jazz, pubblicato da Auditorium nel 2010. La giornata del giovane contrabbassista iniziava dunque tra le dieci e le undici del mattino, quando egli trascinava il suo strumento al Firehouse12, per suonare col Juice Quartet. Lì aveva conosciuto Andrew Hill e Billy Higgins. Proseguiva poi nel primo pomeriggio allo Studio We, dove si incontravano tra gli altri Archie Shepp, Karl Berger, Wilbur Ware. Oppure raggiungeva Cecil Taylor che provava con il suo Large Ensemble, con Jimmy Lyons, David S. Ware, Raphe Malik. Una piccola pausa, poi in serata William si trasferiva allo Studio Rivbea di Sam e Bea Rivers, dove si riunivano tra gli altri Charles Tyler, Earl Cross, Steve Reid. Più tardi, in un seminterrato tra la Quarta Strada e la Sesta Avenue, suonava con Daniel Carter, Billy Bang, Earl Freeman, Dewey Johnson, Roger Baird e altri. Fino alle tre di mattina, e poi ancora un’oretta a chiacchierare di musica.

Il training vorticoso, al limite della forza umana, comprendeva però altre collaborazioni importanti, tra gli altri con Charles Brackeen, Don Cherry, Billy Bang, Frank Lowe, Sunny Murray. “Il mio atteggiamento era di non rifiutare nessuna occasione, in una giornata potevo passare da Rasheid Ali a Maxine Sullivan,” ricorda Parker. Un tirocinio formidabile, svolto sul campo nel periodo dorato dei loft newyorchesi. I sei CD raccolti nel cofanetto presentano musica registrata a ridosso di questo ribollente processo formativo: materiale dichiaratamente inedito, datato tra il 1976 e il 1987.

Un cofanetto di straordinario interesse, che apre uno squarcio significativo sull’attività iniziale di Parker. Già l’etichetta NoBusiness aveva meritoriamente pubblicato nel 2010 un doppio CD, The Complete Recordings 1981/1983, che riuniva tutte le registrazioni del quartetto Commitment. Nella quantità del materiale presentato in questa nuova, monumentale pubblicazione, il valore documentario si associa a quello artistico, di prima qualità. Solo nel primo disco si avverte qualche calo della tensione, nei brani in duo con il sax alto (e la tromba) di Daniel Carter. Qui i molti episodi interessanti si diluiscono un tantino nella dilatazione delle performance.

Ma già nella terza traccia del primo disco, registrata nel ’77 a nome del William Parker Ensemble, ci troviamo di fronte a un brano dalla terribile forza espressiva. La lunghezza di quasi 22 minuti è giustificata dalla vastità dell’affresco sonoro, tratto tra l’altro da un concerto di cui un’altra parte fu pubblicata nel 1998 dall’etichetta Eremite sul disco Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace. Solo tre gli strumenti in campo: la tromba di Arthur Williams, il sax tenore di John Hagen e il contrabbasso del leader. In realtà creano un maestoso, imponente spazio orchestrale, nel quale si stagliano disegni melodici, ampi contrasti timbrici, respiri poderosi della musica. Parker, qui con l’archetto, trae dallo strumento una gamma timbrica formidabile.

Proseguendo nell’ascolto, la varietà degli organici strumentali offre un quadro articolato dell’attività iniziale di Parker, improntata ad approcci diversi per ogni contesto. Si va dal duo citato con Carter a quello formidabile, possente con Charles Gayle, fino alla Centering Big Band di tredici elementi. Proprio attraverso questa pubblicazione la varietà di ispirazione e la determinazione creativa dei primi tempi di Parker sono messe in risalto, e il lavoro del musicista trova una giusta focalizzazione. Una visione completa della sua vicenda artistica, oltre alla successiva discografia, può affidarsi al testo citato di Lorrai, all’altro volumetto redatto dallo stesso Parker, “Who Owns Music?” (Buddy’s Knife Jazzedition, Köln 2007), e alla fondamentale William Parker Sessionography, un work in progress on-line.

Episodio pregnante di questa lunga antologia, in parte registrato a suo tempo da Parker con l’intento di pubblicarla in proprio, è il trio con David S.Ware e Denis Charles, del 1980. Il Centering Dance Music Ensemble, che era completato dalla moglie di Parker, Patricia Nicholson, alla danza, anche in mancanza di questa componente brilla per sé, e ribolle di forza tellurica. Si ascolti ad esempio, anche per ricordare il compianto Ware, “One Day Understanding”. Dove pure la batteria di Charles spreme una delle sue memorabili performance per dare fuoco a Ware. Il magistero del batterista prosegue nel lavoro timbrico, dinamico e melodico del brano che apre il terzo disco, “Raimbow Light”.

Ma innumerevoli sono gli altri motivi di interesse: in primo luogo il lavoro di Parker con organici allargati e big band, che porterà poi agli sviluppi ben conosciuti negli anni Novanta con la Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, la cui conoscenza in Italia è legata alla meritoria opera di Nicola Tessitore al festival di Verona. Il quarto disco, interamente dedicato al Big Moon Ensemble, mette in risalto l’impatto poderoso, dionisiaco di un doppio quartetto. Due ance, due trombe, due contrabbassi e due batterie, ovvero lo stesso organico di Free Jazz. L’impatto energetico, magmatico e di spazialità orchestrale che ne fa scaturire Parker è notevole. Più che a Ornette, si rivolge a Coltrane, ad Ayler. E altrove.

La Centering Big Band, della quale sono proposti estratti di un concerto registrato al Kool Jazz Festival nell’84, rappresenta un altro punto altissimo della raccolta. Nella vasta formazione svettano solisti di alto profilo, mai riuniti insieme prima di allora, che sviluppano trame di forza empatica sulle poche indicazioni scritte di Parker. In particolare in “Lomahonva,” dove il sax alto di Jemeel Moondoc, ancora il tenore di Ware e il baritono di Charles Tyler producono scintille.

Il concetto di “Centering,” utilizzato da Patricia Nicholson per indicare la tensione verso un centro spaziale, temporale e immanente a cui si rivolgeva il lavoro comune suo e di Parker, portò ad altri ensemble qui documentati. In uno sono coinvolte voci femminili, abbinate a contrabbasso e batteria; l’altro, il documento più lontano della raccolta (del ’76), vede impegnato un singolare organico con clarinetto, due trombe, due violini, contrabbasso, e la voce di Ellen Christi. Brani dagli orditi timbrici più trasparenti, dall’incedere solenne, dal carattere evocativo e contemplativo, con una parte finale recitata dallo stesso Parker, in memoria del padre. Un altro aspetto del multiforme ingegno di William Parker, qui degnamente messo in risalto.– Giuseppe Segala

6 CD Box Set + Book version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)

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5 thoughts on “William Parker | Centering | Unreleased Early Recordings 1976 – 1987 | 6 CD Box Set | No Business Records

  1. When New York’s now justly famous, Vision Festival first took place in 1996 committed jazz fans greeted the event as if they were witnessing a full-fledged musical resurrection. So many advanced players of unbridled free form and experimental sounds were involved that the annual festival soon became a crowded week-long summer happening. Ironically – which was one reason for the Fest’s popularity – these probing sounds and its players were supposed to have vanished after the revolutionary 1960s, superseded first by Jazz-Rock pounders’ simple melodies and then jazz’s Young Lions who aped the sounds and sartorial choices of the 1950s – both of which had major record label support. Still bassist/composer/bandleader William Parker’s Centering: Unreleased Early Recordings 1976–1987 NoBusiness NBCD 42-47 aptly demonstrates, experimental sounds never vanished; they just went underground. As the 24 often lengthy tracks that make up this 6-CD set of hitherto unreleased material substantiates in its breadth of performances, sonically questing players were improvising and composing during those so-called lost years. But it took the founding of the Vision Festival by Parker and his wife, dancer/choreographer Patricia Nicholson, to provide the proper medium for this work. Major stylists such as saxophonists Charles Gayle and David S. Ware, vocalist Ellen Christi and trumpeter Roy Campbell, all of whom are represented in the set, would go on to mentor a multiplying groundswell of younger rule stretchers and future Vision Fest participants. Also, despite being professionally recorded, the conservative climate of the times, plus the cost of producing and distributing LPs, left the tapes used for these CDs stacked in performers’ apartments. Now the belated release of Centering fills in a blank in jazz history, equivalent to what coming across a cache of unreleased John Cage or Morton Feldman recordings would do. Included in the package is an attractively designed 66-page paperback book with vintage photos, posters and sketches along with essays discussing the background of the sessions, the musicians’ experiences and the New York scene.

    From a historical perspective the most valuable artifacts are those which feature Parker playing alongside saxophonists who are now major influences in the international avant garde. From 1980 the bassist and alto saxophonist Daniel Carter are involved in musical discussions which make up for their lack of nuance with brilliant and mercurial playing, eviscerating every timbre and tone that could be sourced from their instruments. As Parker’s chunky rhythms hold the bottom while simultaneously rubbing and stopping strings to produce unique interjections, Carter ranges all over his horn. On “Thulin”, for instance, multiphonic split tones, triple tonguing, barks and bites are just the beginning of the saxophonist’s agitated interface. Working his solo into a fever pitch of altissimo cries and freak notes, he often sounds as if he’s playing two reed instruments. Eventually Parker’s juddering percussiveness grounds the track; angling the two towards a finale, but not before an extended a capella passage by the bassist, where his multi-string sinewy strokes expose timbres that could be created by a string quartet. Contrast that with the beefy pedal point Parker uses on the two 1987 tracks with tenor saxophonist Gayle. After the reedist’s almost continuous overblowing exposes snarling altissimo or nephritic guttural tones, Parker asserts himself on “Entrusted Spirit” with tremolo strums and slaps which echo sympathetically alongside Gayle’s expansive multiphonics. Finally the saxman’s pressurized snarls and mercurial split tones are muted to an affiliated moderato tone by smooth pizzicato lines from Parker, bringing wood tapping and top-of-range angling into the mix.

    Equally instructive, tenor saxophone Ware and Parker, who would become one-half of Ware’s celebrated quartet in the 1990s, recorded with drummer Denis Charles in 1980 as the Centering Dance Music Ensemble. Unlike earlier Parker compositions on this set performed by string or vocal-based ensembles to back-up Nicholson’s choreography that seem overly notated and more distant, the Ware-Parker-Charles creations are vibrant free jazz that may have caused repetitive strain injuries among dance company members. Highpoint is the inclusive and contrapuntal Tapestry. Here the saxophonist’s juddering smears and expansive reed vibrations, Parker’s focused slaps and Charles’ bass drum thumps are individually showcased then smartly combined into a tremolo vamp that descends into satisfying cohesion. Edifyingly demonstrating that the so-called avant-gardists celebrated the tradition is One Day Understanding. With a dirge-like middle section where Ware directly quotes an Albert Ayler head, the exposition and conclusion allow the saxman full range for glossolalia, spinning split tones and fervid overblowing effectively honoring saxophone titans like John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman by inference. Parker’s sputtering spiccato slices relate to Henry Grimes’ and Jimmy Garrison’s liberation of the bass role; while Charles, whose military-style rebounds and hard backbeat helped define free jazz in the late 1950s, just plays himself.

    Even more germane to contemporary experimenters who frequently amalgamate into large-scale improvisational ensembles are two other Parker-led groups. Both 1979’s eight- member Big Moon Ensemble and 1984’s 13-person Centering Big Band are links between Coleman’s Double Quartet and Coltrane’s Ascension band and today. Vaulting between inchoate and inspired, the Big Moon tracks are polyrhythmic, polytonal and polyharmonic with the instrumental tessitura stretched to make room for thundering solos from the likes of Carter and Campbell plus trumpeter Arthur Williams and altoist Jameel Moondoc. On tunes such as “Hiroshima Part Two” and “Dedication to Kenneth Patchen” the cumulative effect of the multi-colored free-form cascading is intensified by aboriginal war whoops and unbalanced screams from the band members as they play. Tremolo triplets from Campbell meet Williams’ capillary flutter tonguing on “… Patchen”, as Moondoc’s juddering split tones contrast with Carter’s leaping glossolalia. With Charles and Rashid Bakr both thrashing percussion, Parker and fellow bassist Jay Oliver stroke manfully to finally downshift the collective cascading, only to have it revive with increased ferocity on “Hiroshima”. Stacked horn parts encompassing stop-time screaming and pressurized vibratos are strung out during this nearly 50-minute piece as each musician seems to be trying to outdo the others in ferocity. Instructively the bassist’s later experiments with World music improv are adumbrated in a protracted sequence when his string strumming and the percussion work sound as if they’re emanating from a koto and a taiko drum.

    There’s no mistaking the jazz inflections on the five big band selections however. But their modernity is apparent in the resourceful balance among intense riffs from the five saxophones, Parker’s time-keeping plus percussionist Zen Matsura’s cymbal clanks and press rolls as well as stacked and cascading vocal interchange from Christi and fellow vocalist Lisa Sokolov. Intense, heraldic triplets from trumpeters Campbell and Raphe Malik add to the churning excitement of tunes like “Munyaovi”, as first the snorting reeds then the brass section’s triplet expansion match the vocalists in staccato invention. The overall effect isn’t unlike Count Basie’s band at full force playing a swing riff. Space is furthermore made throughout for comforting trombone slurs, twanging rhythmic sequences from Parker and, on Tototo, an alluring balladic line from Moondoc. That piece climaxes with a polyphonic entanglement of the drummer’s harsh ruffs and flams, screaming penny whistle-style brass shrills and guttural baritone sax honks, completed by a slithery sax line that coalesces with harmonized voices.

    The big band selections were taped at the 1984 Kool Jazz Festival, one of Parker’s rare high-profile gigs. It may have taken another dozen years to organize the Vision Festival and find the multiplicity of gigs and recordings Parker and his associates now participate in, but this momentous box set confirms that all along experimental music’s foundation was being cultivated slightly out of the public eye.

  2. This revelatory six disc set brings to light recordings the avant-garde bassist, composer and improviser William Parker could not afford to release at the time. Moving from thrillingly intense loft jazz duos with saxophonists Daniel Carter and Charles Gayle to stunning big band sets, Centering is testament to Parker’s creative brilliance. The way he breaks a 13-piece group down to squealing and honking alto and baritone is inspired, while his use of female vocalists for both cosmic abstractions and soulful refrains rivals Sun Ra. Big Moon Ensemble’s free bop is incredibly powerful, all squalling trumpets, wailing arco bass and torrential drums, while the Centering Dance Music Ensemble’s ‘Dawn Voice’ suite, with its eerily beautiful Stravinskian clarinet and violins, is quite breathtaking.

  3. Nobusiness Records has been building up to this monumental, six-disc cache of unreleased early recordings by bassist William Parker for some time. The Lithuanian label’s unsurpassed documentation of the New York City loft jazz era has so far encompassed reissues and never before released material on saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc’s Muntu Recordings (2010), Commitment’s Complete Recordings 1980/1983 (2010), violinist Billy Bang’s Survival Ensemble’s Black Man’s Blues/New York Collage (2011) and the Freestyle Band (2012). Following in those footsteps, this box set is a high quality production, lovingly researched and engineered to provide generous playing times and good sound given the age and provenance of some of the sources. Accompanying the CDs is a booklet containing contemporary photos and posters, authoritative essays by Ed Hazell exploring the cultural context of these performances, and an interview with Parker which provides background to each session.

    Parker and most of his cohorts were among the cadre of younger musicians who came of age during the loft era and have to some extent continued the ethos of self determinism which the lofts represented, not least in Parker’s ongoing involvement in the annual Vision Festival. Interestingly the only participant on these discs who appeared on the 5 LP Wildflowers: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions (Douglas, 1977), probably the definitive chronicle of the loft jazz era, is saxophonist David S. Ware. So this is a milieu which left little trace and has been largely unheard until now. The first three discs contain small groups, while the last three document larger ensembles.

    Disc one comprises two lengthy excerpts from a 90-minute studio date for Parker and reedman Daniel Carter, originally intended for issue on the bassist’s Centering imprint. Carter plays with a certain detachment so that even the heat is deployed with a blow torch control. Never just a fire breather he also shows traces of the grainy lyricism which became more prevalent over the years. Carter remains shockingly underrated, and one can only speculate that the distribution of this recording at the time would have put him more firmly on the radar. Peaks of empathy and synchronicity punctuate their mercurial give and take. There is always a shape and contour to the bass narrative—what Parker calls in the booklet “compositional improvisation.” For “Thulin” Parker sticks with his bow, displaying his uncanny facility, while on “Time and Period” he switches to a pliant pizzicato, walking tautly beside Carter’s bop-derived licks. Carter’s vocal embellishments are happily brief. Together they create a powerful, intense, purposefully paced and ultimately uplifting experience.

    Rounding out the first disc is the 21-minute “Commitment.” Intriguingly, this is a different selection to that released under the same title on Parker’s Through Acceptance Of The Mystery Peace (Eremite, 1998), which clearly comes from the same concert, and both must represent fragments from a longer work. What a work it is: the composerly layers creating a spellbinding, at times serene affair, although belying the chamber instrumentation in places. A dirge like interplay between John Hagen’s assertive tenor saxophone and Arthur Williams’ clear and texturally inventive trumpet forms the defining characteristic over Parker’s bowed undulations. Both sessions are real finds.

    The entire second disc and the first track of the third consist of an extended showing by a trio featuring David S Ware’s burly tenor saxophone accompanied by Parker and Denis Charles’ dancing drums. Billed as the Centering Dance Ensemble, the almost unheard part of the offering are the sporadic footfalls of Parker’s wife Patricia Nicholson. Although thematic material enters during the session, it is largely a blowing date. There are occasional hints of the majesty and gravitas Ware displayed with his classic quartet in the ’90s, notably on the “Rainbow Light,” but the brawny tone, bottomless imagination and prodigious stamina are already in place. Parker’s elastic propulsion meshes well with Charles, and he takes a turbo-charged arco solo before a delicate investigation of harmonics to end “One Day Understanding (Variation on a Theme by Albert Ayler).” Inspired by Ed Blackwell, in his features Charles deconstructs the rhythm into its essential components, allocated between distinct parts of his kit, leavened by telling portions of silence.

    Making up the central stretch of disc three is 38 minutes of a 1987 live duet between Parker and tenor saxophonist Charles Gayle. Coming a year before the saxophonist’s initial clutch of Silkheart releases, this set now represents the reedman’s earliest issued recording. Like Ware, Gayle possesses imagination and stamina to spare, imbued with a raw shamanistic spirituality. Both he and the bassist come out of the gate full pelt, stentorian bellows vying with abrasive pizzicato, both creating form from thin air. Parker’s bowing makes a exceptionally fine blend with the saxophonist’s braying invocation on “Entrusted Spirit (Dedicated to Bilal Abdur Rahman).”

    Completing the disc are three short vocal pieces completely unlike anything heard thus far. Wordless but lyrical, the voices of Ellen Christi and Brenda Bakr are buoyed by the relaxed lope of Parker in combination with Rashid Bakr’s drums. But it is the final “In The Thicket” which stands out, with the two women joined by Lisa Sokolov for a short but sweet a capella rendering of a Parker lyric, presaging the songs for his Raining On The Moon quintet in the ’00s.

    Disc four contains another outstanding live session. Drawing inspiration from Ornette Coleman’s double quartet on Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1960), Parker’s Big Moon Ensemble brought together an octet, comprising many of his closest associates over the years. Alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc’s Muntu unit is here in its entirety, along with Carter once more and his fellow spokesperson from Other Dimensions in Music, trumpeter Roy Campbell. As with Ornette’s masterpiece, individual soloists are cushioned, echoed and challenged by a chorus of horns and rhythm. Although the sound is slightly muffled (Carter suffers the most), it remains sufficiently clear to convey the energy, excitement and assuredness of an indispensable performance.

    Collected on disc five are extracts from a rare high profile gig at the Kool Jazz Festival by Parker’s Centering Big Band. Even though bringing together musicians who hadn’t appeared together before, Parker provides only loose orchestrations, relying instead on the smarts of his players. It works like a dream, occasionally murky, mostly exciting and at times dazzling, as the seething mass parts for hot solos, especially by Ware and Campbell on flugelhorn, which bloom before being subsumed back into the bristling nexus. Other highlights come during a series of pre-planned duets in “Lomahongva (Beautiful Clouds Arising),” where Moondoc, Ware and baritone saxophonist Charles Tyler excel. Voices are integrated into the ensemble just like any other instrument, but also feature in the charts which make effective use of unison riffs, recalling British pianist Keith Tippett’s arrangements for his Centipede orchestra. In the final “Tototo (Warrior Spirit Who Sings)” the successful contrast of descending phrases for saxophone, against soaring voices and horns produces a bittersweet elegy. While it might be nice to know exactly who plays when, in the end one is just grateful that this music has escaped from the vaults.

    The final disc is revelatory. It contains passages from a production by another version of the Centering Dance Ensemble, this time taking on a chamber feel in the absence of drums. The whole piece evokes a mass or liturgy, particularly in light of the final section where Parker declaims an affecting poem about his father’s death. In “Illuminese/Voice” long slow lines for the leader’s arco bottom end interweave with the contrapuntal trumpets of John Mingione and Malik Baraka, and the clarinet of Rozanne Levine. “Falling Shadows” is even better, an exquisitely modulating chorale for horns, voice and strings, which calls to mind Arvo Part in its simple beauty. For the extended closing selection, Parker deploys his resources thoughtfully, moving between call and response for Christi’s voice and Levine’s clarinet, the sawing violins of Billy Bang and Ramsey Ameen, and the concluding recitation (the only cut which has already seen release, as an 8-minute snippet on the 1998 Eremite issue). In the booklet, Parker recalls that this was the only dance-music piece done in this style. It suggests one unexplored avenue which might well bear further examination.

    One of principal delights of this superb collection is that it so clearly establishes the antecedents for so much of Parker’s subsequent output, demonstrating a breathtaking breadth and confidence in his expression, even at this early stage in his development. We are lucky to have Parker still active among us, given that so many of the participants here have now passed, but also to have this poignant reminder of an otherwise unsung scene.

  4. When the Wildflowers sessions were released on CD by Knitting Factory about 12 years ago, it was a revelation and an education for those of us who hadn’t heard those seminal documents of the New York 1970s loft scene. I felt a similar sense of discovery, even of privileged awareness, listening to this new six-disc set of early William Parker. As with Wildflowers, the set contains contributions from ensembles small and large, and the musical diversity on offer bespeaks a magical time in which, though many financial roads were closed, every musical path was open and inviting.

    While all of the material here is being issued for the first time, some of it was intended for release more than 30 years ago. Beyond giving this collection its title, Centering is the bassist’s label, which, for its first couple of decades, boasted only one release — the excellent Through Acceptance of the Mystery, Peace from 1980 (now available on Eremite). As Parker and Ed Hazell point out in this set’s documentation, this silent period belied Parker’s schedule as a leader and sideman, which was robust to say the least. He was integral to Jemeel Moondoc’s Muntu, an ensemble and label documented in another NoBusiness box and reviewed in these pages by Derek Taylor. A version of Muntu makes an appearance here as part of the Big Moon Ensemble, recorded in performance in 1979. Parker and unsung bass virtuoso Jay Oliver match incendiary wit with Moondoc, Daniel Carter, Roy Campbell, and a two-drummer configuration of Denis Charles and Rashid Bakr. The former skinsman had been in Cecil Taylor’s first recording group in the 1950s; the latter, along with Parker, was involved with Taylor in the late ’70s and early ’80s. By contrast, two duo sets fill in some important gaps, one from 1980 with Carter and a 1987 concert with Charles Gayle, very soon after the tenor saxophonist had achieved some wider recognition. There are also fascinating tidbits of projects whose uniqueness should have been better preserved, such as the three-voice version of William and Patricia Nicholson’s Centering Dance Music Ensemble.

    This aggregate addresses another facet of Parker’s diverse art. He has always been involved in extramusical activities, not least as an engaging and insightful writer and poet, and while voice informs key moments of this set, dance drives much of the music to its energetic heights. Check out the Centering Dance Music Ensemble’s 1980 concert, featuring Parker, Nicholson, Denis Charles, and David S. Ware (who also appeared on the Wildflowers set). Charles’s opening solo plays with tempo as if it were a fractious child: taming it, letting it loose for an instant, reining it back in with a quick loving remonstration, letting it go again. It must have been the dance, the turns, arcs and undulations that Patricia unleashed on the music that helped it all to happen, that abetted the unfurling of Ware’s stratospheric exhortations as he and the others push forward, back and beyond, exceeding themselves from moment to moment.

    It is this energy, a continual exploration in the face of often mystical retrospection, that unifies the music on these six discs. The feeling imbues the largest and smallest structures, even the one-and-a-half minute “In the Thicket,” a quick episode for three voices, from the ensemble mentioned above. Brenda Bakr, Ellen Christi and Lisa Sokolov paint an epiphonic portrait of a man in quest of enlightenment, laying in a thicket for one day without food. “Hopefully something good will sing through me,” proclaims a sole voice, “Making the mystery clearer.” The voice hovers just on the edge of meter, evoking a lined-out hymn and a minor blues in one fell swoop. The response, the staccato repetitions of “in the thicket he lay,” conjure shades of funk and soul, hip hop’s syncopations and rhythmic precision, until a brief return of the minor blues elucidates the mystery. It’s a microcosmic version of every composition and every improvisation. Each musician is an orchestra, coaxing myriad sounds from their instruments and often switching to another with intuitive certainty. John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, Steve Coleman and countless others had laid the groundwork; Parker and these young artists, hungry for more than food, were carrying the torch, unwilling to compromise in the name of category and unashamed of the poverty such a journey would entail. After the release of Centering, the mystery is indeed clearer.

  5. Centering is bassist William Parker’s own label an ongoing concern from the 1970’s until today. When times were tight and Parker wasn’t able to release his music on LP, he stored it with the hopes of future release. The Lithuanian record label NoBusiness has done several excellent archival projects in addition to recording new cutting edge music, and they have prepared an wonderful package of Parker’s previously unreleased music dating from 1976-1987.

    This is a beautifully done package with six compact discs and an excellent booklet with essays and photographs. The breadth of Parker’s music during this period is fascinating, ranging from working in duets with Daniel Carter to large ensemble performances that included singers and dancers as well. Parker is extraordinary throughout, composing and arranging works for diverse ensembles and musicians and blending voices and playing superbly whether bowing or plucking the bass. Disc one features Parker in a duo with saxophonist and trumpeter Daniel Carter with two long and compelling improvisations.

    Disc two has a fantastic trio of David S. Ware on tenor saxophone, William Parker on bass and Denis Charles drums. Parker’s wife Patricia Nicholson was also dancing during this session, so it would have been fascinating to see how she and the band would have interacted with one another. Disc three continues that session before splitting off into a couple of fascinating duet performances between Parker and free jazz saxophonist Charles Gayle.

    The remainder of the disc is scored for voices with three short performances. Discs four and five develop larger ensembles beginning with the septet The Big Moon Ensemble and then The Centering Big Band which really demonstrate Parker’s ability to arrange and conduct a large group of musicians from the bass. The performances are open ended, but the musicians keep things from becoming anarchy and instead keep the music powerful and full of grace.

    Finally, disc six concludes with three extended performances from the Centering Dance Music Ensemble which integrates both voice and dance into a fascinating sextet with two trumpets and two violins. Listening to this fascinating boxed set, it is easy to see how the music presented here laid the foundation for the work that Parker has done over the last few decades.

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