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John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet at the Earshot Jazz Festival

William Parker
Arturo Sandoval

The passion of the Huey was abundant when the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra celebrated its 10th anniversary in the basement of St. Nicholas Of Myra.

Led by bassist William Parker, the 15-piece band began with an Asian-flavored song where flutes, gongs and chimes filled the air and called the audience to attention. This haunting tune lasted several minutes before Parker stepped up to a microphone and brought the set into focus. “Many heavy spirits falling up,” Parker repeated several times. Then, a moment of realization: “Malachi Favors,” he shouted. “God will give you the recognition you need.” Paying tribute to the recently deceased Art Ensemble bassist, Parker continued his elegy with a beautiful solo where he vigorously strummed his bass to create a variety of textures before building into a solid walking line that led to the next number.

Parker is always a lightning rod, and was once again here, but Little Huey is a musical democracy in action. Seldom staying in one place long, the band reacts to the succession of soloists, often chattering back as if giving an “Amen!” at a church testimonial. Around mid-set, poet David Budbill told the audience of 175 people, “I want to be famous, so I can be humble about being famous,” which lightened the tone and got a few laughs.

Parker and drummers Guillermo E. Brown and Andrew Barker were impressive as a unit. When they focused on light percussion, the music became more static with overtones of horn-driven Ellingtonia peeking through. At other times, they’d really kick up the drive to create a dancing Latin groove at one point and a brash marching band-like countenance later on.

A perfect Little Huey set that covered the entire range of emotions and sound in one seamless piece – it was a wild and beautiful ride that adeptly illustrated the dynamic power of large-group improvisation.

Originally Published