Thursday, February 8, 2007
WILLIAM PARKER & THE LITTLE HUEYCREATIVE MUSIC ORCHESTRA | For Percy Heath | Victo
Must an extended work dedicated to Percy Heath—the late bassist mostly associated with the Modern Jazz Quartet—draw on his precise, unflappable swing? William Parker doesn’t think so. Instead, the most downtown of jazz bass players fulfills the elder statesman’s final request of him—“Just keep playing your music”—by offering up another harmonic and rhythmic rollercoaster.
That said, For Percy Heath is an unusual effort for Parker’s 14-piece Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra: the horn-heavy big band is in its element at clubs and performance lofts, but this arrangement has a fullness and finesse that only fit in a concert hall. (The disc was recorded live at the 2005 International Actual Music Festival.)
Full of abrupt, cart-wheeling themes and heady counterpoint, For Percy Heath is studded with intriguing timbral experiments. Dave Hofstra’s tuba underscores the horns while nimble-fingered (and -bowed) Parker explores the space behind and around them. At one point in the first movement, he silences all instruments except bass, tuba, Dave Sewelson’s baritone sax, and Andrew Barker’s drums, which drive a playfully chatty conversation between the three bottom voices.
But for every arresting moment in the first half of the piece, there’s a tedious or needlessly opaque moment; the music is hit-and-miss until the third movement, when the avant-garde rumpus suddenly opens into rich, often tender melody. Solo and small-ensemble passages shine through, with the orchestra now sympathetic instead of discordant. By the end of the stridently syncopated fourth movement, the music has found a refreshing sense of purpose. Even the most seasoned jazzhead will need to plug through For Percy Heath several times, and with patience, to get anywhere. But despite some chaff, Parker’s music succeeds. —Michael J. West
GUY CLARK | Workbench Songs | Dualtone
Buying a Guy Clark album is like buying a pair of your favorite jeans. You know exactly how it will feel and fit, but the newness is always a subtle but pervasive thrill. On Workbench Songs, Clark does what he does best—create honest music, filled with moments of obvious but profound observations we all wish we had made before. And it always rhymes. It’s one of those records you listen to from start to finish, then play it again.
All 11 tracks are co-writes with his Nashville cronies, save for Townes Van Zandt’s “No Lonesome Tune” and the traditional “Diamond Joe.” From the witty wordplay in “Tornado Time in Texas” (with an assist by longtime collaborator Verlon Thompson)—“Take the paint right off your barn/ Blow the tattoo off your arm”—to the poignant lament of “Magdalene,” Clark nails it every time on this gem. —James Kelly
PAUL WELLER | Hit Parade | Yep Roc
Paul Weller reminds me of Van Morrison. Not for his music, of course, which is radically different from Morrison’s blues, but for his voice. It is resolutely bittersweet and soulful, even when he belted out mod anthems with pivotal late-’70s punk band the Jam.
That scruffily emotional tone is a pivot for a stylistically varied career: Hit Parade, which charts Weller’s four-decade development, encompasses the Jam’s raging mod anthems; the blue-eyed soul and jazz pop of his second group, the very-’80s Style Council; and the muscular, mature Brit rock of his ‘90s solo albums.
While a rock icon in Britain, Weller only has one legitimate hit (Style Council’s “My Ever Changing Moods”) and underground cred (for the Jam classics like “That’s Entertainment”) over here. For those unfamiliar with his work, this disc is a necessary primer to an idiosyncratic rock ‘n’ roll talent. —Mosi Reeves