Sunday, October 25, 2020

Jeff Cosgrove's "History Get's Ahead of The Story": The Music of William Parker


Jeff Cosgrove's History Gets Ahead of The Story Grizzley Music 

My familiarity with the work of the prolific free-jazz bassist and composer William Parker is admittedly limited. When I heard some of Parker’s compositions recently assembled and so enthusiastically played by drummer Jeff Cosgrove and his bandmates, organist John Medeski and saxophonist Jeff Lederer on his latest cd History Gets Ahead of the Story, I was both impressed and intrigued. I had to find out more about this bassist who The Village Voice once claimed as “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time.”

Double bassist William Parker is now sixty-eight years old and has had a career of many creatively inspired musical endeavors. The double bassist/composer has recorded over forty albums as a leader and a countless number of important collaborations with other artists. Parker’s fierce attack and unfailing pulse, whether using his arco or pizzicato technique, is a constant source of grounding stability. His exploratory expressiveness and willingness to promote a collaborative approach keeps his music both fresh and interesting.

Parker studied with such bass luminaries as Richard Davis, Jimmy Garrison and Wilbur Ware. Over his career, he has contributed his artistry to the music of pianists Cecil Taylor, Craig Taborn, and Mathew Shipp. He has worked with the trumpeter Don Cherry and saxophonists Dave S. Ware, Anthony Braxton and Peter Brotzmann to name a few. Parker created an impressive repertoire of original music and has penned several books. His artistic breadth is diverse and inclusive, utilizing crossbreeding aspects of spiritualism, world music, dance, opera, blues, gospel, soul, jazz, free jazz, and poetry as elements into some of his inventive musical creations.

Jeff Cosgrove (photo credit unknown)

The apt textualist, Jeff Cosgrove, a generational disciple of the Paul Motian’s school of percussion, has played with bassist Parker in a contemporary trio with the pianist Mathew Shipp. Their first album was Alternating Current from 2014 and the last album from the trio was Near Disaster from Feb 2019. With this history in mind, it was only fitting that Cosgrove would choose seven compositions from Parker’s repertoire to both pay homage to the bassist/composer’s influence and to use these songs as a vehicle to explore the possibilities.  To my delight, Parker’s music not only provides inspiration to these adventurous musicians, but the band skillfully manages to somewhat make it their own.

Jeff Lederer ( photo credit unknown)

The group is notably without a bass and the only bottom anchor here is provided sparingly by Medeski’s left foot on the B3.  Song’s like the bluesy opener “O’neals Porch” seems to be tailored to raise the spirits with Medeski’s probing organ,  Lederer’s frolicking saxophone, and Cosgrove’s delicate percussive pace.

The gospel-inspired “Corn Meal Dance” employs a churchly sound from Medeski’s organ and a roiling rhythmic treatment from Cosgrove. Lederer, whose saxophone prowess is a marvel, seems to wail like a possessed preacher wailing to the heavens from his pulpit.

John Medeski ( photo credit unknown)

"Gospel Flowers” is one of two Lederer compositions on the album. This blues-based song has a memorable, lightly swinging melody. Medeski always seems able to find a way to liberate his B3 playing from expected pathways, often bringing excitement to the musical journey. The music elevates you, as Cosgrove’s subtle and textured accompaniment maintains your altitude. Lederer rides the airways with a strong powerful tone and mellifluous sonority, as he also accents the music with more piercing dissonance that claws back to some of Parker’s free jazz roots.

“Little Bird” is a playful musical spar originally on William Parker’s Petit Oiseau from 2008, and here features Lederer on flute, Medeski on keys, and Cosgrove on drums. The music is joyous, invigorating and a testament to these three gentlemen's ability to create a musical conversation that just captivates the listener. Cosgrove offers a short solo that demonstrates his astute percussive inventiveness. There is a Dolphy like feel to Lederer’s flute work here that seems to be a tip of the hat to the music’s history.

 “Ghost,” the only composition on this album by Cosgrove, creates an otherworld-like mood. Here using a modulating organ, splashing cymbals, soft toms and a resonant clarinet, the band creatively conjures up the presence of a looming specter.

Parker’s “Moon” is just a delight. The music is jaunty and joyful. Lederer plays a soprano lead that grabs you with its prance-like feel and brash proclamations. Medeski’s organ lightly keeps the rhythmic drive going as Cosgrove lays down a roiling flow of percussive accents.

“Things Fall Apart” is a free-flowing exchange that has no perceivable melody and is an improvisational banter between the three musicians.

“Wood Flute Song” comes from Parker’s 2005 album Sound Unity and Cosgrove open with a short drum introduction. Lederer and Medeski enter in, one with a muted left-footed bass line and the other with a robust clarinet.  When Medeski takes a solo on the organ he is accompanied by circular drum work by Cosgrove giving the music a buoyant and enlivened flow.

Lederer’s gorgeous “Purcell’s Lament” opens with an impassioned Soprano intro that is accented by Cosgrove’s delicate cymbals and toms. Medeski’s swelling organ adds to the ballad’s moving feel. The music seems to bloom in front of you like a flower that opens on an inviting spring morning. Lederer can evoke spirituality in his playing that reminds me of some of Pharoah Sander’s work of time past.

The album ends with Parker’s jaunty “Harlem” from his 2005 Sound Unity. Medeski, Lederer and Cosgrove coordinate brilliantly, tracing each other’s lines -tenor, organ and drums-like a synchronized swim team’s motion at an Olympic competition. There is a beauty as to how well these three moves in each other’s space.  The three separate instruments are handily utilized to operate as one breathing entity, three minds meeting as one impressive expression of the music. Take the time to hear this work and to enjoy the inventive music of William Parker.

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