45. The band that stays together…

Moon. From William Parker Quartet, Live at Yoshi’s, 2006

Like a lot of other people, I picked up the first recording by William Parker’s quartet, re-pressed by Aum Fidelity in 2002 after its first release the previous year. (I remember buying it, browsing in a store in West Lafayette, Indiana that turned out to have a good CD selection). After Parker’s work with Cecil Taylor, Matthew Shipp and David S Ware, O’Neal’s Porch made it clear he’d got to something else that was rather special.

I still listen to that one fairly often. The pianoless quartet format à la Ornette works brilliantly for Rob Brown on alto and Lewis Barnes on trumpet. And Parker and the astounding Hamid Drake are one of the great rhythm pairings. Like Haden and Blackwell, I would always chase down a recording that featured either one of them, but if they are together then joy is more or less guaranteed. Sceptical? Just try Groove Number 7.

But that first release has been also displaced in my affections by this one from five years later. It came out on the fine live compilation Wood Flute Songs in 2013, but is available separately, and now on bandcamp. It’s more expansive, naturally, offering two full sets from a night in California, and showing how well a band plays together that stays together.

There’s a rich menu of new music here but this one, the last number in set two, is also the final track on that first CD – the only title there they revisited on that gig. It’s a nice taste of the virtues of the band. There’s an ease with the time that in this case allows an almost straight ahead feel, but entirely flexibly when anyone is moved to a freer moment, a seamless interweaving of the two horns, and a four-way responsiveness, the kind that usually depends on long-term musical collaboration.

Those virtues are wonderfully displayed throughout the two sets. But I also like the valedictory air of this relatively gentle piece. They are still playing, for sure, but there’s a sense, for me, that they have done good work and are heading for the wind-up, an air of taking things home. Hear it imagining you have just heard the preceding 150 mins (!) of high-level music-making. Better, hear all the rest first. Imagine you have played all that, and know that it was good.

Maybe that is my fancy. But anyhow, a great way to end a gig. I’ve never been to Yoshi’s, or seen this quartet – just admired them from a distance. But I feel I’ve shared one of their musical peaks, which is what live recording is for. If I’d been there, I’d have gone off into the night very happy. I reckon they did too.

Why the No 45? This is one of a series running (in no particular order) through 2021. I explain a bit what it’s doing here.

There’s a cumulative playlist of all the ones that can be found on Spotify

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