3 October 2009

Green honey

Green honey was an allusion from one of the poems that William Parker read as he started his solo bass concert in Rome. Solo double bass needs to be leavened with other forms, and the introduction with poetry and bamboo flute was gentle and personal, and seemed to set a scene that was beyond just music and sound, entering into myth and spirit. I wondered if these may be American native myths, talking of sun and animals and death, because the concerns sounded somewhat like our own Australian indigenous dreamtime. One poem explained why the eagle has black tips to its feathers (it had given a tail feather to the sun, and so it was scorched). William also spoke of many fellow musicians, many now passed away, and of a particular debt to “my teacher, Philly Joe Jones”.

But to the playing. Just four tunes, I think, over about 100 minutes. Mostly with German bow on a Czech-Ease double bass. There was a studio condenser mic and a Realist pickup and a very impressive PA, but the tone was acoustic and clear and volume was delightfully restrained and the PA unnoticed. His sound with the bow was short on fundamentals and rich on harmonics, so somewhat thin. On the other hand, his pizzicato was firm and rounded. I often heard fourths in the movements, but then the bass in built on fourths. I also heard easy and fast but searching improvisations on scales rich in alterations and dissonance, plays on dissonant double stops, simple searches for the right interval. As for the tunes, he seemed to have charts. I didn’t so much hear structure, as passages that would reappear, that perhaps paralleled a head or a bridge. There were also some unconventional techniques, like rolling the hand to form the note with the back of the fingers or palm.

But these are all technical matters, and do little justice to a performance like this. The audience was sometimes fidgety, and this was not for the fainthearted. But close your eyes, and there were florid waves of notes or searching melodies, sometimes simple but seldom obviously repeated. There was a richness of ideas seeking expression. Free of obvious structure, but not lost or bereft; more distant and mysterious. Towards the end, we came back to earth. Firstly with a bluesy riff with some singing (“Ï go down to the river…but I don’t know how to swim”). Then William joked of using your bootie and of Beyoncé and of his iPhone. Then he started on a simple repetitive riff (I-bVI-V-V in triple time) and had the audience clapping. It was a pleasant breaking of the ice. I don’t actually like the clapping thing, and this clapping was desperately inexact (to William’s obvious, although friendly, frustration) but it lightened the mood, and I went out humming the tune, which was the essence of his last “music as health” message.

Rome is a place of architecture rather than music for me. To find a renowned free jazz bassist playing a solo set in Renzo Piano’s Auditorium Parco della Musica was a pleasure on multiple fronts. It was not an easy concert but it was one to treasure: a gentle man playing musical myths and realities for a fairly intimate audience. William Parker played a solo double bass concert at Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome.

BTW, this is CJBlog post no. 400.

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naveed ahmad khan said...
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