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Daniel Carter/William Parker/Matthew Shipp: Seraphic Light (AUM Fidelity)

Review of live album by free-improv trio

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This is a live recording of a concert that woodwind/brass virtuoso Daniel Carter, bassist William Parker, and pianist Matthew Shipp gave at Tufts University in April of 2017. It was the culminating event of a program titled “Art, Race, and Politics in America,” which also included a screening of filmmaker Edward O. Bland’s 1959 documentary The Cry of Jazz and a panel discussion/Q&A between attendees and musicians.

Despite its title, the piece is not a revisiting of Coltrane’s “Seraphic Light” (from his posthumously released Stellar Regions). It’s similarly meditative in tone, though, and like its predecessor it melds spiritual yearning with serenity. Throughout the 50-plus-minute performance, the interplay among the principals—sometimes call and response, sometimes finely interwoven counterpoint, sometimes contrasting themes set against one another—reflects the spirit of free improvisation at its most profound. The individual and the collective are complementary, mutually empowering entities; the quest for transcendence is in itself transcendent.

Carter, variously on flute, trumpet, clarinet, and tenor, alto, and soprano saxophones, mines his instruments’ expressive range, free-flowing yet intensely focused, both hearkening to and aggressively prodding his compatriots. Shipp and Parker unfurl flexible timbral variations, alternating between extended lines (Parker’s arco harmonics are a special delight) and rigorously punctuated single-note passages. There’s also plenty of merriment; at one point, Shipp playfully invokes the old Twilight Zone theme, over which Parker emotes some appropriately ghostlike moans as Carter booms portentously below.

Through it all, a spirit of welcoming good-naturedness prevails. True to the evening’s overriding theme—community, solidarity, uplift—this was a journey into the unknown that was also family-friendly, and all the more enlightening for it.


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Originally Published