Recordings

William Parker's In Order to Survive
Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy
(Homestead)

Those ill-acquainted with bassist William Parker and his In Order to Survive bandmates (drummer Susie Ibarra, pianist Cooper Moore, alto saxophonist Rob Brown) may find a first spin of Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy somewhat difficult. Not that the songs require some recondite conditioning to fully appreciate, but they're not pretty, safe, neat, and clean like the sounds fed to us on the mainstream airwaves. Corporate-jazz lifers like Bob James or George Benson paint dainty little landscape or still-life pictures, while Parker's big, bold abstract expressionism renders reality in all its disorienting, dangerous, and at times strikingly beautiful (or ugly) actuality.

Compassion marks the final installment in a trilogy of works, which also includes In Order to Survive (music for sextet) and Testimony (a solo bass venture). Parker says the trilogy is based on "embracing and making a commitment to life in its highest partial." He's not talking about trying to wash away the grime of existence by imposing a façade of squeaky-clean order. Precisely the opposite. As one of the nation's pre-eminent innovators on the upright four-string, Parker revels in the down and dirty like an elephant in a mud bath.

As a rule, the bassist evades repetitive riffs and tidy diatonic harmony. On "Holiday for Hypocrites," he doubles Brown's bent sax lead, but he does so microtonally, slyly pushing the contours of his riffs. Clearly, the "proper" alignment of notes takes a back seat to the overall tonality of a piece of music. In his "Sound Journal," Parker refers to this process as taking "the note into a sound ... which is the note that has no name." This kind of extended technique may initially seem sloppy or haphazard, but the internal logic grows more vivid with each listen.

A frantic energy informs much of this disc, with only a few overblown moments, largely thanks to Ibarra. Her colorful cymbal splashes, sensitivity to group dynamics, and polyrhythmic finesse -- especially on "Unrestricted," where she implies resolution for Moore's chords during the silences (yes, on percussion) -- simultaneously drive and temper the wildness. As the melodic frontman, Brown's hanging-on-a-prayer wistfulness honors the bent but unbroken spirit of Albert Ayler while embodying William Parker's ethos that the mud-caked, sinuous route is often more sincere than the rigidly clean, straight line.

-- Sam Prestianni

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