Tuesday, October 29, 2019

CD Reviews: William Parker/In Order to Survive & Whit Dickey/Tao Quartets

William Parker/ In Order to Survive

Whit Dickey Tao Quartets
Peace Planet/Box of Light

(AUM Fidelity) www.aumfidelity.com

This pair of two-CD releases from AUM Fidelity continues the label's unwavering devotion to freely improvised music that finds its strength in group interaction and deep communication. One album chronicles a live evening with bassist William Parker's quartet In Order to Survive, the other gives drummer Whit Dickey - a longtime sideman to people like Matthew Shipp and David S. Ware - the opportunity to lead two different quartets.

Before long, William Parker might start to rival Ron Carter as the most-recorded bassist in jazz. If that's a slight exaggeration, the bassist is still one of the busiest musicians around, playing in groups of various sizes and helping to drive the Vision Festival with his wife, Patricia Nicholson Parker. In Order to Survive is one of his longest-lasting bands, having formed back in 1993. While the drum chair has shifted a little and the frontline once included trombonist Grachan Moncur III, the band has always included Cooper-Moore (piano) and Rob Brown (alto saxophone). Hamid Drake handles drums for these two sets, which were recorded at Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn to celebrate the release of their previous album, 2017's Meditation/Resurrection.

Both discs of Live/Shapeshifter feature continuous, nearly hour-long performances, banded into separate tracks. Disc One is considered a suite, "Eternal Is the Voice Of Love," which is subdivided into five movements. Brown's unique alto voice acts as a beacon during the opening section, "Entrance to the Tone World." His style recalls Jimmy Lyons, Cecil Taylor's longstanding musical partner, in that Brown has the traditional jazz vocabulary down pat, but shuffles it around in a way to shape it into something different that makes him hard to ignore. He really takes off during the fourth movement, "A Situation," only then digging into some of the horn's noisier tricks.

Parker lets everyone drive here, but he also changes directions a couple times by going into some heavy bass vamps. When he shifts to shakuhachi mid-way through the set, it brings some strong contrast to the music. Likewise, his bowed melody in the final section, "Birth of the Sunset" creates something that is equal parts rugged and lyrical.

Disc two features distinct tracks which still segue together. "Demons Living in the Halls of Justice" shows that even when IOTS doesn't work with band grooves, they can each operate on parallel grooves that work together. However Parker and Drake do some fine interlocking work in "Drum and Bass Interlude" as well. It's only when the vocals come up, in the track named for the band, that the energy flags. The sentiment of the lyric is inarguable: "In order to survive/ we must keep hope alive." But for 14:45, Parker, with help from Dave Sewelson, repeats the words ad nauseum, with little room left for instrumental breaks. It becomes an endurance test. Or something better experienced live.

Whit Dickey admits that he drums with his eyes closed, as a way to help focus on his performance. It's a testament to his skills that he can excel at an instrument that requires specific physical contact. Dickey doesn't play with flash and bombast, preferring to churn and stoke fires from behind. As such, Peace Planet, the first set of the double set, sounds like could have been lead by Rob Brown or pianist Matthew Shipp. Behind them, joined by William Parker, Dickey adds color to the music with cymbal crashes and tom work. This quartet of longtime musical friends get involved in many four-way discussions. "Seventh Sun" finds Parker playing a walking bass line in the early part, but in the final minutes it almost becomes a ballad, at least in terms of tempo. "Suite for DSW" pays tribute to David S. Ware with a varied set of moods that never attempts to outwardly imitate the later tenor giant, but to reflect on his deep spirit.

Box Of Light also includes Brown, but this time Michael Bisio handles bass and trombonist Steve Swell rounds out the quartet. In the liner notes, Dickey describes this set as the rollicking Yang to Peace Planet's flowing Yin. The drummer sounds more aggressive in the presence of the two horns and Bisio's wild bass. He even takes a solo in "Ellipse: Passage Through," starting with cymbal washes and rolling through his whole kit. After an rich bowed solo from Bisio, the horns reemerge very much in sync with one another. The music was created spontaneously but Swell's skill at drawing out Brown's thoughts makes it feel like a composed work. In "Jungle Suite," Swell also gets in some great muted effects on his horn.

AUM released a Dickey trio album two years ago, Vessel In Orbit with violist Mat Maneri and Shipp. These sessions with the Tao Quartets offers reasons to go back and find that one. Hopefully it also means that Dickey will continue to work as a leader as well as a sideman.

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