If Charles Mingus pulling strings behind his own small groups conjures the image of a dude with a bullwhip and a mind to use it, then William Parker behind his newest quartet suggests a different image entirely. On O'Neal's Porch, a debut recording with his new quartet, the bassist is a rock, a steady locus of sound and rhythm aware of his sonic context but absolutely sure of his own gestures. This is never more apparent than on "Leaf," where as liner-note writer and poet David Budbill points out, Parker's bass walks through a maelstrom of notes, in tune with the swirl of sound but confident in his own steady movement. On the rest of the album, Parker allows a heavy dose of spare, buoyant hard bop in both sound and shape, which contours the music even as the band frays the edges here and there.
Many of Parker's themes, like the sweet ballad played twice, "Song for Jesus," or the title track trade in unison heads and catchy rhythms before opening up to solos. Altoist Rob Brown, the sole holdover from Parker's previous quartet, In Order to Survive, wastes little time jumping into wailing solos, though he plays with a lucidity here that acknowledges the inherent calm at the core of Parker's music. The other hornman, trumpeter Lewis Barnes, plays with a brassy tone and sticks not only to the middle register but also to the melody and gives this music an additional hard bop kick. Barnes' behind-the-beat playing and easy melodicism contrasts nicely with the tempestuous Brown. Drummer Hamid Drake has not been playing with Parker for long-the two first got together in Peter Brotzmann's Die Like a Dog Quartet-but the two have been together often lately. Drake shows up again here, micromanaging Parker's time, leaving things wide-open for the soloists and dropping a monster groove all at the same time. Once again the two together sound like the team to beat.