William Parker: Double Sunrise Over Neptune

William Parker opens his latest album, Double Sunrise Over Neptune, with an ascending six-note bassline that’s reminiscent of the melody from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. The motif, played throughout the 15-minute opener, “Morning Mantra,” might not seem all that important, especially given all of the improvisational currents flowing around it. But to listeners familiar with Parker’s leadership role in the free-jazz underground, the bassline is a signal that, no, Double Sunrise is not your typical anarchic jam session. And thank Neptune for that.

Like the bestseller to which the bassist’s riff pays homage, this groovy large ensemble recording acknowledges that a little freedom goes a long way. The occasional explosion of brass-and-string squall is more or less leavened by a cool-blue pulse-that and vocalist Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, whose scatting evokes June Tyson at her otherworldly best. Imagine the Arkestra diva on Sun Ra’s most pop-informed recordings, such as Space Is the Place and Nuclear War, and you should have a good idea of what’s in store. If all of this smacks of nostalgia, Parker is at least intrepid in the moment he chooses to embrace, a moment that barely existed in the first place. Consider it a road seldom taken. Or perhaps a suggestion that free jazz might have a future in something it’s long avoided: structure.