Tuesday, March 2, 2010

New Old Stuff by Archie Shepp & William Parker

This week I managed to get a hold of Mayor of Punkville (2000) by William Parker and the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra and Archie Shepp's Fire Music (1965).  I review them together only because I am listening to them today.  

Mayor of Punkville is big band music, if not exactly big band jazz.  I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to it tonight, though as you might judge from this blog, I am not a big big band fan.  It is a two CD set, and the two discs are quite different in character.  The first disc consists of a short interlude followed by three very long pieces (from over 18 minutes to almost a half hour for the last).  The second piece, 'James Baldwin to the Rescue' includes vocals and sounds like 1965 agitprop/funk.  While the music is interesting, I find the lyrics rather gaudy and over-done.  The piece after it, 'Oglala Eclipse' is musically exquisite.  From the liner notes, it is dedicated to a handful and jazzmen (including Wayne Shorter's brother) and several famous Native Americans.  

The second contains shorter pieces along with another half-hour marathon.  Included is a three movement composition: 'Steps to Noh Mountain.'  Parker's intellectual and spiritual interests are obviously as wide as his musical imagination.  Here as a sample is the first movement. 
William Parker and the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra/Mayor of Punkville/Steps to Noh Mountain: Departure
Here is the interesting thing: I think that this music is the kind of thing that could have saved the classical music industry if it had been a little less snobbish in demeanor.  A lot of jazz fans will find this stuff pretty edgy, but it has coherent flow and rhythm.  Someone who has had to sit through a concert of atonal music while wearing a bow tie would immediately recognize William Parker as a voice of liberation.  You can find a list of the band members at the AllAboutJazz review

Archie Shepp's Fire Music was recorded in 1965, a year after Four for Trane.  It is not as shocking or quite as good as the latter document, to judge from a first listen.  But it is brilliant nonetheless.  Shepp is the thing this blog is all about: hard driving bop to avant garde, small ensemble, a fearless excavation of the heart of music.  Here is a sample:
Archie Shepp/The Girl from Ipanema/Fire Music
The title is almost a joke.  This Latin jazz number was a mega-hit when I was a kid.  My mom had it and I played it on our old wood-panel stereo over and over.  Shepp and company play the basic melody at the beginning and then digs down into the vein so deep that the surface is all but forgotten.  At that depth and pressure, Shepp discoveres such rich colors that you'd have to gaze at a Pre-Raphealite painting to get the visual equivalent.  Here's the band:
If you are collecting Shepp, get this one.  If you are interested in William Parker, you can get it cheap at eMusic.  


  1. William Parker is indeed a very fine bass player. I especially like his joint ventures with pianist Matthew Shipp. Shipp's album "Pastoral Composure" for the Thirsty Ear label is an absolute favorite of mine. You can just feel the storm approaching over the countryside when hearing the opening track "Gesture". Very much recommended!


  2. André:

    I love Shipp's 'Pastoral Composure'. For some reason it reminds me of my favorite William Parker document, 'Painter's Spring'. Maybe its the abstract art covers. Sometimes both artists tend a bit to the screechy, but there is a lot to love in what they do.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Personal taste...but I thought Girl From Ipanema sounded dreadful. I know a great musician can play anything, but that doesn't mean they should. Another exaple was the work Shepp did with Chet Baker....how did that happen (it shouldn't have)?


  4. Dan: Thanks for the comment. Your words reminded me of Mark Twain's comment about Wagner: "it's not as bad as it sounds." My tastes have broaden considerably in the last few years, as a result of listening to a lot of avant garde jazz. I like Shepp's work here, but it is a refined taste.