A sax-organ-drums trio is an unexpected format for a tribute to William Parker. For one thing, Parker—a prolific bandleader, sideman, songwriter, and recording artist—has rarely performed with organists. For another, he’s a bassist, and there’s no bass in the trio of drummer Jeff Cosgrove, organist John Medeski, and saxophonist Jeff Lederer; Medeski holds down the lower end with his pedals.
Parker has long been revered for his creative playing and contributions to improvised music. But his writing prowess stands out equally, if not more. His canon plows a lot of ground, pulling from blues, bebop, soul, funk, and folk, and he employs everything from duos to big bands to execute the vision. Cosgrove has experienced Parker’s genius up close, having been part of a trio with him and pianist Matthew Shipp.
Truth be told, it’s not much of a stretch to set Parker’s work in a classic organ combo. Many of his tunes naturally groove, and Cosgrove draws several from Parker’s quartets, where he grooved most. “O’Neal’s Porch,” one of Parker’s most hummable tunes, is a perfect example, its soulful theme leading to Lederer’s wild flutters. The trio approaches “Moon” similarly, playing melody and harmony straight, and then dropping both in favor of Lederer’s out-there solo. His proclamation at the outset of “Corn Meal Dance” is gospel-like; Medeski plays here like a church organist while Cosgrove brushes gently.
History Gets Ahead of the Story reveres Parker’s work while finding new things to say through it. There’s the singsong exchange between flute and high-pitched organ that introduces “Little Bird.” The menacing ambience of “Ghost” created by all three instruments and punctuated by Cosgrove’s malleting. The freewheeling group deconstruction of “Things Fall Apart,” in which everyone abides by an unstated rhythm. The spectacular solos—Lederer’s soaring and spiraling, Medeski’s spiky and burbling—that freshen up “Harlem.” No doubt Parker approves.