William Parker Quartet — Petit Oiseau (AUM Fidelity, 2008 )
Parker’s stuff is commonly put in the free jazz bin, and with good reason. He’s been involved in a lot of free-improv projects, and he plays with tried-and-convicted free-jazzers like David S. Ware. He’s put out a solo bass album exploring the possible sounds of the instrument. His big-band work with the Little Huey Creative Orchestra, while often grooving, includes plenty of free-jazz elements. Parker is undeniably a giant of free jazz.
But his quartet’s work might be better served if critics would categorized as just plain modern jazz: post-bop compositions with healthy, grooving rhythms to them. Much of Petit Oiseau certainly fits that bill. Sure, there’s some wild fire to the solos from Rob Brown and Lewis Barnes, and there’s no glossy piano like you’d hear in a typical jazz-club date, but the rhythm is infectious and the writing is catchy. The cover art by David Kroll is misty and tranquil, but the music inside pops and percolates.
The 17-minute “Groove Sweet” is a great example, a suite composed of a few different grooves serving as bedrock for some tasty soloing. “Talaps Theme” is another nice jam, one that’s down at a more radio-friendly six minutes. “Four for Tommy” is forcefully chugging bop, a jazzy good listen, while “Malachi’s Mode” inserts a touch of joyous South African tones.
It’s only towards the end of the album that the quartet explores more experimental, inner-space territory. “Dust from a Mountain” opens with mystical wood-flute tones, later opening up for a big-sky, searching sax solo. “Shorter for Alan,” which I’m guessing is a play-on-words tribute involving Wayne Shorter (I’m drawing a blank on the “Alan” part, though), has its jamming aspects but uses a dark, abstract theme and incorporates some freely played group work as well as an introspective unaccompanied bass solo.