New York bassist William Parker believes in music as a healing force, a vehicle for ecstatic transformation, similar to the meditative chants of Buddhist monks and the mystical dances of Sufi dervishes. His basic concept is to mix earthy grooves with cosmic abstractions, stirring up an energetic power that entrances both players and listeners. It's a vision rooted in the '60s and '70s jazz avant-garde: a dynamic combo of revolutionary battle cry and peace-and-love embrace of all living things. Think of Parker as a Black Panther hippie, a spiritual activist who happens to be a master musician. The rhythmic bounce, oblique phrasing, and speaking-in-tongues soulfulness of many of his improv-rich compositions echo the ear-bending explorations of the legendary Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. But despite the overt references, Parker is clearly his own man. From his first work in the '70s, anchoring the outward-bound adventures of free-jazz leaders Cecil Taylor and Frank Lowe, to 2005's luminescent Sound Unity, the latest album featuring his world-class quartet (with drummer Hamid Drake, alto saxophonist Rob Brown, and trumpeter Lewis Barnes), Parker has delivered a distinctive sound, brimming with the fire of Big Life.
Tue., May 20, 8 p.m., 2008