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Dopolarians: Garden Party (Mahakala)

A review of the debut album from the avant-garde sextet featuring the late Alvin Fielder

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Dopolarians, Garden Party
The cover of Garden Party by Dopolarians

Early in 2019, the avant-garde jazz world suffered a crate-sized blow when drummer Alvin Fielder passed away at 83. A Sun Ra Arkestra member in the late 1950s, Fielder cofounded the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), played on Roscoe Mitchell’s 1966 touchstone Sound, and, in recent years, teamed with double bassist Damon Smith on several heady, must-hear recordings.

Garden Party, the debut by Dopolarians—a supergroup featuring Fielder, tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan, bassist William Parker, pianist Christopher Parker, alto saxophonist/saxello player Chad Fowler, and vocalist Kelley Hurt—is a bittersweet entry in the percussionist’s canon: the final session he would make before falling ill. It’s also a set that bursts with joy and abandon, suggesting the intoxicating big-band spirit of Charles Mingus.

These six blissed-out, part-improvised, part-composed pieces are a testament to the chemistry—and history—that the members of Dopolarians share. Fielder played with Jordan in the Improvisational Arts Quintet, William Parker and Jordan have appeared on albums together and are Vision Festival fixtures, and Chris Parker, Fowler, and Hurt go way back. Their simpatico interplay is palpable from Parker’s very first playful piano notes, which open up the jaunty 10-minute “C Melody.” With Parker and Fielder leading the melodic charge, Jordan and Fowler trade lines and screams with soulful force. The potent, blues-laden swagger of “C Melody” percolates through the entire record.

Garden Party was recorded in New Orleans, and all the players save William Parker have Southern origins; those roots resonate in glorious fashion. “Dopolaria,” a love song with a theme inspired by part of a Puccini melody, is slow-burning and majestic, while the earthy title track is an improvised children’s song akin to the spiritual uplift of Sun Ra, featuring an angelic-voiced Hurt.

It’s sad that Fielder isn’t here to see the release of Garden Party, a perfect balance of euphoric improvisation, bluesy mettle, and melodic composition that’s as edgy as it is infectious.

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