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William Parker Quartet's 'Petit' New Album

TERRY GROSS, host:

Our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says bass player William Parker is the heartbeat of New York's downtown music scene as a guiding light behind the annual Vision Festival, a good judge of talent, and a much sought after bass player who lends gravitas to any band. Parker also leads his own groups, including the Little Huey Creative Orchestra and a quartet that debuted in 2000. Here's Kevin's review of the quartet's new CD.

(Soundbite of William Parker's music)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: William Parker has said he may look at his upright bass like a drum set. Each string has its role to play in creating a web of rhythm. His momentum is so powerful, a bad drummer can't trip him up. But with a great one, he sounds even better. 15 years ago, saxophonist Peter Brotzmann put him together with Chicago drummer Hamid Drake. He gave Parker's music a deeper, more reliable groove without getting in his way or undermining his authority. Hamid has played a lot of reggae and knows how to circle around a bass player.

(Soundbite of William Parker's music)

WHITEHEAD: Some years after that first meeting, William Parker formed his own quartet with Hamid Drake on drums plus trumpeter Lewis Barnes and alto-saxophonist Rob Brown. The horns work with and around each other as easily as the rhythm players do. So now, you've got four musicians jumping in between each other's beats like on the quartet's new album, "Petit Oiseau." Yeah, French for little bird.

(Soundbite of William Parker's music)

WHITEHEAD: One of the eternal miracles of jazz rhythm is how four grooves can have the power of one. William Parker's Quartet balances the imperatives of the individual and the collective in that good old jazz way. Everyone has a say in his own voice while they all pull together. At times, the music has the springy bounce of Ornette Coleman's classic jazz with one foot in the city and one in the country. Here's Rob Brown on alto-sax.

(Soundbite of Rob Brown's music)

WHITEHEAD: The spirit is strong in this music, not just because the grooves are killing but because the players are so well attuned to each other on multiple levels. That applies even when William Parker grabs in a jube-way (ph) wood flute, and Hamid Drake picks up a mid-eastern frame drum. They make their own music without disrespecting the cultures they borrow from. They make a case for improvising as a way to build bridges between peoples, if we would all just listen to each other.

(Soundbite of William Parker's music)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is currently on leave from teaching at the University of Kansas, and he is a jazz columnist for emusic.com. You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org.

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. We'll close with a track from another new CD our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead recommends, featuring Cuban pianist Bebo Valdez, recorded live at the Village Vanguard. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Whitehead
Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Currently he reviews for The Audio Beat and Point of Departure.