September 2007


William Parker Ensemble The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield
at the Guelph Jazz Festival
September 7, 2007 River Run Centre Guelph
Move up a little higher, don't let go
by David Fujino with photo by Roger Humbert
On this summery fall evening — with a driving and funky call-to-arms — William Parker, Amiri Baraka, and the ensemble, 'got political' with Curtis Mayfield's songs.

Amiri Baraka

Mayfield's "People Get Ready", "Freddie's Dead", and "We People Who Are Darker Than Blue" got fully re-imagined this night in the form of seriously deep bass/drum grooves and dynamic solos, as well as singing, dancing, and the words of Amiri Baraka.

When Leena Conquest sang, chant-like, "Say What? ... What/Who/How It Is ... Where It Is", Baraka shouted out, "Guiliani! Bloomberg!"

Quickly, the bass and drums responded. Sabir Mateen's tenor screeled. Trumpeter Lewis Barnes focused his runs. Darryl Foster's tenor phrased symmetrical. Parker's bass was hurtling. And over it all, Baraka is declaiming and Mateen, now on alto, is positively ululating.

But when singer Leena Conquest danced out, in a red dress, with arms outspread, we were hugely impressed.

She mostly danced in reaction to Baraka's speechifying text — which was, unfortunately, hard-to-hear — but in her interpretive movements she remained relaxed, excellent, and controlled.

Then pianist Dave Burrell quietly announced his presence with carefully placed tone clusters. It's too bad he was restricted to a background role, for he's an undersung and, I feel, important pianist.

Drummer Hamid Drake was amazing and so creative on jazz kit. When he slowed down his cymbal beats in the second piece, he created an artful slow-motion link between Leena Conquest's sung, "Move up a little higher, don't let go", and Amiri Baraka's declamations of "People Get Ready". It was so good.

The music was played with feeling; most of the sentiments I agreed with; and the solos were truthful and urgent.

So, I'm extremely pleased to report that the evening — for me — never did fall into that drab category of, "finger-pointing music".
William Parker Ensemble
William Parker — bass
Amiri Baraka — poetry
Leena Conquest — voice and dance
Dave Burrell — piano
Lewis Barnes — trumpet
Darryl Foster — tenor saxophone
Sabir Mateen — tenor saxophone
Hamid Drake — drums
We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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Roger Humbert
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