PARKER / In Order To Survive
The Peach Orchard... (AUM010/11)
PRESS Issue One, Spring 1999
READER'S POLL : TOP 'AVANT' ALBUM 1999
THE WIRE : TOP RECORDS OF 1999
IMPOSSIBLE WEB-SITE > Review by Bobby Hill
Which brings me to my third, admittedly, unlikely choice. It's been near 50 years since MJQ's sonorous seeds were first sowed, and 40 years since JCQ harvested them to new ends. My third choice is bassist William Parker's In Order to Survive Quartet. The reason: Parker's quartet provides the greatest opportunity to coax the next breath of new light into jazz music's still fertile terrain.
The first quartet recording from Parker's IOTS was 1996's Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy (Homestead Records), a powerful recording that was equal parts lush and luminous. Thankfully, the same ensemble - alto saxophonist Rob Brown, pianist Cooper-Moore, and drummer Susie Ibarra - is featured on The Peach Orchard (AUM Fidelity), the latest recording from the quartet. This double CD builds upon the compositional aspects of it's predecessor. Parker continues to craft some of the most memorably tuneful compositions (you'll likely be humming the melodies in your head) in the creative improvised music sub-genre. 'Thot', the CD's opening selection, is a perfect example. Basically a blues, it begins with Parker uncharacteristically entering with a conventional four-note walking bass, accompanied by Brown's own four-note theme; only each note from Brown is stretched across Parker's entire four-tone stroll. The central theme constructed from Parker and Brown's union is soon both complimented and deconstructed by piano and percussion insertions from Cooper-Moore and Ibarra. 'Theme from Pelikan' and 'In Order to Survive' employ similar constructs - walking bass line, finger-popping rhythms, and memorable themes that seem to 'swing' in ways not often attributed to avant music.
Throughout the CD, original thematic paradigms are tectonically erected, rejected, and reestablished. The apocalyptic entry of Cooper-Moore's piano tremolos on the introduction to the title piece eerily evoke the advancement of the US Calvary, in a piece that laments the army's forceful transformation of the Navaho land in what is now known as New Mexico. On 'Moholo', dedicated to South African expatriate drummer Louis Moholo, Ibarra's decision to employ mallets (low end) and cymbals (high-end) effectively evokes the contrasting pleasure and pain that Moholo may have felt upon leaving his tyrannical homeland in pursuit of musical and personal liberties. The double CD's highlight piece is 'Posium Pendasem #3', a haunting dirge that is part of Parker's longer song cycle dubbed 'The Bronx Mysteries'. The piece, which is augmented by the bass clarinet work of Assif Tsahar serves as a showcase for Parker's splendid bowed bass work.
Like the MJQ and JCQ, much has been written about the members of Parker's IOTS quartet. Parker, Brown, and Ibarra are each leaders in their own right. Besides, who could possibly advance upon Parker's liner note description of Brown as "…sculpt(ing) passionate sound pyramids from (his) saxophone", or Ibarra "…sounding like an African drum choir traveling through Tibet." Particular mention should be made, though, of pianist Cooper-Moore. It's been reported that, outside of his own groups, his artistry is exclusive to the ensembles of Parker. His playing consistently provides a clarity and economy the provides the perfect foil to Parker's structural contours, even in the music's most cacophonous moments.
THE PEACH ORCHARD draws its inspiration from events that took place on the Navaho land in what is now called New Mexico. The great Navaho chief Manuelito and his people were fighting against being pushed out of their homelands by the United States Army. Out of all the things the Navaho cultivated they loved their peach orchards the most. In the end of this struggle they like all Native Americans lost everything, including their cherished peach orchard which was destroyed. In reading about this I immediately felt a very deep sadness. I can only imagine the sadness they must have felt. It was the beginning of the end. In this composition you can hear the massive blanketing of America by Europe; you can also hear the voice not only of Manuelito, but of Nana, Geronimo, Wovoka, Sitting Bull, Kicking Bird, Kicking Bear, and all of the others." -- William Parker from the notes.
The group infuses high-intensity energy into emphatic mediations across a range of subject matter, including nature ("Leaf Dance"), ancient Egypt ("Thot"), and the genocide of the Native Americans (the title track). And at the heart of every piece beats Parker's ethos of the musician as a storyteller. "Whether you play loud or whether you play soft," he says, "you have to tell a story to make the music happen."
On the sprawling, 20-minute title track, you can hear what Parker refers to in the liner notes as "the massive blanketing of America by Europe" in Brown's overwhelming barrage of upper-register shrieks on alto sax. "Theme for Pelikan," a tribute to poet, painter, philosopher, and musician Dr. E. Pelikan Chalto, cleverly conveys the multi-dimensional talents of its namesake by starting with a simple folk theme and evolving into a vast, protean arragement. "Leaf Dance" mirrors the uncanny harmony of the natural world by developing up to four distinctive grooves at once. The group's bluesy theme song, "In Order to Survive," swings with a tenacious, optimistic bounce that nobly implies a tale of self-determination against a music industry hostile to novel ideas (i.e., in order to survive, creative musicians must stay positive and persevere against all odds). -Sam Prestianni