Saturday, June 25, 2005

Wiliam Parker Quartet ft. Leena Conquest - 08/06/2005, Brussels

William Parker - b
Hamid Drake - d
Lewis Barnes - tp
Rob Brown - as
Leena Conquest - voc, dance

It's been a while and I've lost my notes.

Beforehand, in discussion, this group was described by one member of the audience as being hard bop. Which it is. And isn't. Therein lies its greatness: populist and progressive, rooted and free. The tradition is to be heard straight-forwardly in Barnes's neatly articulated lines (even his occasional blurts are clean-cut); in Brown's piercing and heart-on-sleeve brand of bop, that finds its own third way between '60s volubility and '40s melodicism; tangentially in Leena Conquest's vintage soul voice, not the biggest, but secure and swinging. Then there are the two guys at the back.

Parker, who wrote the tunes and lyrics (spiritual and esoteric, not really my thing), takes off from simple and irresistably groovy Motown/Stax vamps and regularly lands in freer territory. Drake is one of those people who seems to embody what modern jazz is, or could be, or should be: swinging, yes, multicultural, omnivorous, passionate, churning. When Parker pulled out his guembri (Moroccan two- or three-string bass) and the pair jammed on a Gnawa rhythm for 10 solid minutes, I re-evaluated everything I had just heard. I even re-evaluated "Caravan." There was no glib appropriation: they were playing the rhythm for what it was, for the joy of playing it and showing that they knew it, but also for themselves, for what they are. And so, Drake's more swing-oriented playing took on another tint: its accents and fills, sometimes rock, sometimes reggae, sometimes gnawa, clearly became a beautiful sort of inverted prism: the different forms of rhythm blended into his own kind of jazz. And we're back to the tradition, but enriching it rather than living off of it.