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William Parker: Luc’s Lantern

Because he has toiled on the fringe of jazz culture, William Parker is usually pegged as an avant-gardist, which in many ways he is. But Parker’s artistry is squarely rooted in traditional foundations, and for every freeform exploration in his recent career, there’s been a lyrical meditation. Listeners who like adventure but don’t go for atonality could easily find a lot of Parker to like, if steered toward a clear point of entry. This recording, which finds the bassist conversing in trio with pianist Eri Yamamoto and drummer Michael Thompson, could very well be it.

The centerpiece and namesake of Luc’s Lantern is a rollicking outing built upon the merest wisp of a melody, and it perfectly showcases Parker’s thunderous prowess. The rest of the album employs less demonstrative methods, for a winsome overall effect. With “Jaki” and “Bud in Alphaville,” Parker tips his porkpie to Jaki Byard and Bud Powell, two pianists who balanced formal inventiveness with buoyant swing (and yes, crossed paths with Charles Mingus en route). “Adena,” “Mourning Sunset” and “Evening Star Song” each employ a subtly sauntering bass ostinato, over which Yamamoto chimes big, two-handed chords. “Phoenix,” with its coolly bluesy meandering, could almost pass for an improvised coda by Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio. And on the lovely ballad “Song for Tyler,” Parker shows a straightforward sentimental side.

Underlying each track is the considerable chemistry of Parker’s trio, which manages to sound like a working group. Yamamoto has big shoes to fill-those of Parker’s longtime associate Matthew Shipp-and he does, notwithstanding a few inevitable choruses borrowed from the Shipp-Parker playbook. Thompson is impressive too, both in his rhythmic affinity with Parker and in his sensitivity to texture and tone. Altogether, the three musicians show a restraint that’s all the more admirable for sounding unstudied. That relaxed sensibility is a big part of why, when the plaintive and mildly discordant “Candlesticks on the Lake” stops at a minute-twenty, it feels like the album ended too soon.

Originally Published