Adam Lane / Lou Grassi / Mark Whitecage – Drunk Butterfly (CF 116)
William Parker Quartet – Petit Oiseau (Aum Fidelity)
“Drunk Butterfly” features three musicians often associated with Cadence and CIMP, although singly rather than as a group. The opening title, “Last of the Beboppers,” is at once misleading and perfect. It’s misleading because this trio is so decidedly “postbop” or “freebop” that I hate even more than usual limiting them with a label. It’s perfect, well, in several ways, depending on how the music strikes you; from one point of view this music might be heard as saying “goodbye to all that,” and from another it suggests an enduring engagement with and even fondness for Jazz tradition. No reason both these things can’t be true. And that this is so suggests much about this record. Sometimes, as on the opening of “Last” or “Sanctum,” Lane and Grassi lock like an old school rhythm section, with Whitecage shaping lines on top. At other times, though, the sound of this trio is better described with a more modern critical cliché—a “conversation” of three equally important voices. And of course on most tracks they so mix up these two modes as to render them indistinguishable except in brief passages. It’s appropriate then that track six carries a forward-looking title that balances the backwards glance of the first: “Avanti Galoppi.” Nice. Incidentally, both titles are Grassi contributions, and on “Avanti” Grassi takes his most extended solo.
While I’m on about titles we might as well pause over the title track. It’s hard not to run with the metaphor of “Drunk Butterfly,” taking the second word as emblem of artistic and/or spiritual beauty, and the first as a sign of celebration having left the trio a little unsteady on their feet. But we’re in the presence of heavyweights here, musicians in genuine command of their art. Inebriation here is only a metaphor for high spirits and fun—and at least in my listening both things translated through my speakers. Speaking of speakers, though, I would like to add that if you listen to this CD only on your computer you’re going to miss a lot. All three musicians here make full use of not just their instruments’ dynamic range but also their voices: the woodiness and rich undertones of Lane’s bass; the reediness of Whitecage’s sax—or the way it resonates differently at different volume levels; and Grassi as usual producing a rich range of textures and sounds from every element of his spare kit. Whitecage’s playing is worth one final note. On “Last of the Beboppers” the dry, clean tone of his alto recalls Lee Konitz way more than it does Charlie Parker, but his rapid-fire flow more resembles Bird. The fusion of such conceptual and somatic complexities are a big part of what makes “Drunk Butterfly” such a pleasure.
Good as “Drunk Butterfly” is, however, I find myself wishing for a new language to describe “Petit Oiseau”. I can’t think of another downtown guy who grooves like William Parker—a bass player with an obviously low threshold for boredom whose rhythms and lines stay irresistible even while proving invariably inventive. Petit Oiseaux is an album that simultaneously celebrates Jazz tradition and looks beyond it. All tracks are Parker originals, and several of them pay tribute to figures from various aspects of the tradition: trumpeter Alan Shorter (“Shorter for Alan”), trumpeter Arthur Williams (“The Golden Bell”), trumpeter Tommy Turrentine and pianist Tommy Flanagan (“Four for Tommy”), bassist Malachi Favors (“Malachi’s Mode”), and even—allegorically—to Charlie Parker (“Little Bird”). Parker’s notes carefully lay out his intentions: “Petit Oiseaux” is his “attempt to write a post bop tune”; “Dust from a Mountain” is “a transformation piece”; etc. These details are interesting (not that it’s news that Parker is a thinker), but few listeners will notice or need them—the album is that engaging. Truth be told it was over before I knew it, and I simply had to hear it again. “Malachi’s Mode” is a track that particularly stays with me. Remembered most for his work with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Malachi Favors would be a musician hard to represent in any literal or simple way. Perhaps because he soloed so rarely, on this track Parker’s bass line is especially steady and rhythmic. In fact it sounds virtually South African, recalling the faith-fired celebrations of Township harmonies. Drake’s touch here is fleet, rather like a cymbal-driven shuffle. Barnes’ and Brown’s horns bring still different elements to the mix. Their unison playing on the head reproduces the Township feel of Parker’s line, but their soloing is free and sometimes even a little sour. The mix of these elements is hard to define—but just as the discretely different elements of gin and vermouth combine to produce a potion of power, character, and unique flavor, so do these make a music that sounds new in the very process of honoring a past giant. Of course, a record like this works only if everyone in the quartet is there. No worries on this score. This quartet has been playing together since the turn of the millennium and has that kind of rapport where they complete one another’s thoughts and finish one another’s sentences. Each member contributes sensitively and powerfully to the ensemble sound. All four mix it up, varying textures and timbres, responding to the needs of the moment. A big part of what gets me about this record is that, groovy as it is, it never loses its edge, never fails to impart a feeling of freshness. (2) is one of those terrific records that gets me excited about Jazz all over again and assures me that, whatever the dire straits of the music industry, Jazz is still alive, still growing, still dazzling, still discovering new possibilities every day. Parker’s been increasingly prolific of late, but I’d recommend this record both to listeners who have been following Parker since his early days with Cecil Taylor and also to students discovering Jazz for the first time.
Both “Drunk Butterfly” and “Petit Oiseau” are strong, vibrant records, playful and thoughtful all at the same time. Between the collapse of the recording industry and the marginalized state of contemporary Jazz, neither one of them will get their proper due. That’s a shame, because the world
could use this joy.
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