It’s hard to pick a favorite William Parker outfit. Everything he touches is magic, from his giant orchestras to his solo outings. But his quartets might be his ideal venues: There’s enough structure that the music can’t be called free jazz, and there’s enough leeway to let democracy command the performance. Last October, Parker took two quartets into the studio on the same day, and the result—recorded all in one day—is the blissful two-disc set Meditation/Resurrection.
No one else sounds like William Parker. That statement refers not just to his bass playing but also to his bands’ entire aesthetic—the compositions, the way the musicians interact. This is especially true of his smaller groups, and yet the two quartets here sound entirely distinct from each other. Both include drummer Hamid Drake and alto saxophonist Rob Brown.
The first quartet features trumpeter Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson. Swing, soul, folk and avant-garde intermingle, much the way they do in Parker’s Raining on the Moon ensemble. It’s all deeply rooted in the African-American tradition, going back to blues, spirituals and work songs. Songs like “Leaves/Rain” and “Handsome Lake” are almost funky, Parker laying down a vamp and the horn players improvising over it. Drake, as he does, brings in elements of bop and rock and everything else, never repeating a phrase.
The second quartet, Parker’s superb group In Order to Survive, features the pianist Cooper-Moore. It is far more languorous, in both tempo (mostly leisurely) and length (the shortest of the five tunes runs over 11 minutes). There’s less writing too and more freedom—“Sunrise in East Harlem” is based on just two chords. Parker does more freeform rummaging, Brown blows with less restraint or regard for harmony, Drake switches rhythms relentlessly and Cooper-Moore splashes all over the keys, everything hitting a communal apex on the 18-minute “Things Falling Apart.” With Meditation/Resurrection, jazz master Parker has given us another essential recording.