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William Parker/Raining on the Moon: Great Spirit

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When bassist William Parker’s group Raining on the Moon released its 2007 album Corn Meal Dance, the sextet left another album’s worth of material on the table. Parker had considered issuing a two-disc album at the time but ultimately went with one. Eight years later, on Great Spirit, we get the rest of the session. This music could easily have been plucked first.

This is a funky, swinging, soulful band that lifts the soul. Parker, alto saxophonist Rob Brown, trumpeter Lewis Barnes, pianist Eri Yamamoto and drummer Hamid Drake may create the music, but singer Leena Conquest (why isn’t she better known?) is the band’s center. Her rich, soothing and bluesy vocals, delivering lyrics that are both spiritual and socially conscious, keep the musicians rooted in song, even when the tracks stretch out toward 10 minutes. “Bowl of Stone Around the Sun,” “Doson Ngoni Blues” and the beautiful title cut are the kinds of soul-stirring blues-derived pieces we’ve come to expect from ROTM, but they are fresh and inspired nonetheless.

“Feet Music,” on the other hand, is a bit of a shocker-an insistent chord-and-bass pattern and Afro-Cuban rhythm providing a backdrop for powerful, graphic lyrics about slavery (“I’ve been raped, mutilated, castrated”). The tension of “Prayer-Improv” is gorgeous, with Conquest’s soothing vocals draped over chaotic free jazz played by musicians who seem to be warring. “Song (for Whitney Houston)” is the one track that was recorded later, in concert in 2012, and it features just Conquest and Yamamoto in a goosebumps-worthy performance. The final track, “Potpourri,” captures the instrumentalists jamming at session’s end. It’s no less interesting.

Originally Published