Mayan Space Station – Painter’s Winter
This likely introduces some of our readers to William Parker for the first time. Parker is an edgy, free jazz, avant-garde composer, multi-instrumentalist, poet, griot, shaman, and community leader. His major instrument is the bass, but he plays such instruments as the trombonium and shakuhachi too. Parker has been on the scene since the ‘70s with practically unmatched prolific output. This writer’s quick count, including these two, is 90 albums over that period but that is severely underrepresented given that Migration of Science Into an Out of the Tone World: Volumes 1-10 (Centering Records) and likely others are not included in that total. Let’s just say he is mega prolific. The aforementioned garnered attention from the NY Times and multiple global outlets. So, we best catch up with this ‘buzz’, at least for the music omnivores among us.
These two trio albums couldn’t be more different, indicating Parker’s vast well of expression. Mayan Space Station presents an electric guitar-bass-drums trio rendering psych rock, spiritual jazz, and African flavorings as a kind of power trio on steroids. Painters Winter features a trio of Parker on the three instruments mentioned above, Daniel Carter (trumpet, alto & tenor saxophones, clarinet, flute) and Hamid Drake (drums) with deep grooves, melodies, and contemplative aspects. Let’s take them one at a time.
Mayan Space Station has Ava Mendoza on electric guitar and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Parker and Cleaver lay down a formidable, unshakable rhythmic foundation for Mendoza to soar, squeal, cry, blare or basically do whatever she needs to do to reach the outer limits. If you thought Hendrix went places with the guitar, Mendoza goes further. The music takes us just shy of hour in just six compositions so the improvisations at times seem endless. Parker first worked with Mendoza on a project entitled Thunder and Flowers for his July 2019 residency at The Stone in NYC. She is also a band leader and frequent collaborator with the free jazz community. Cleaver is even a longer frequent collaborator, most notably in the trio Farmers By Nature, with Craig Taborn. Cleaver has appeared on numerous Parker projects, including the notable 16-piece live album, Double Sunrise Over Neptune where he and Drake were twin drummers.
Parker both plucks the double bass, often as a lead-in to the piece and uses the bow creatively to support Mendoza’s feedback drenched excursions while Cleaver is ever present, busily banging the kit and steering them in various directions in these seemingly directionless journeys that are grounded in some fascinating interplay. Here’s the imaginative, well-spoken Parker on the album – “Mayan Space Station is a conduit for peace and inspiration. It is an oasis where sound and silence navigators stop for sustenance to replenish their imaginations. It is fictional reality that is important to the myth structure of the Tone World chronicle. In a way, musicians, and definitely these particular musicians, Ava Mendoza and Gerald Cleaver, belong to the blood line of sonic travelers who, as Sun Ra described it, ‘travel the space ways.’ Creating and re-inventing the process, allowing music to flow through their instruments.”
Painters Winter is obviously completely different given the instrumentation; nine instruments shared by three musicians. First, as you’re likely wondering – a trombonium is a compact version of the trombone with similar timbre while the shakuhachi is an end-blown Japanese flute. Drake commented that Parker could pick up a brand new instrument and make it sound beautiful immediately which he does here with the trombonium. You’ll immediately notice that Drake is an amazing drummer, notably present as he holds these five long pieces together. He and Parker share a long history, having begun a “two-man big band” partnership in 2000. In trio with Carter, they issued this album’s companion, Painters Spring, that same year.
Carter’s performances and sounds for that matter, as he switches from instrument to instrument, are never the same. He has worked with Parker since the ‘70s and recently played with Parker on Seraphic Light (2018) on this same label. Some have described this music as classical jazz but in effect, Parker’s music doesn’t easily lend itself to any pigeonholing. It’s best to hear him describe it. Regarding the album title he says, “It speaks to those who pint with sound, in different landscapes, to celebrate the coming of the seasons: winter spring summer and autumn. Acknowledging the entire universe of world jazz music. Discovering the undiscovered.” The inside jackets of both CDs display Parker’s poetry and prose which is quite good. For this one, we excerpt this passage – “The music on this album is a tribute to the flow of rhythm as melody and pulsation. Laced with the joy and the bounce, the dance and the heart beat. Maybe giving a nod to all the music that has ever passed through us. Sounds we both listened to while breezes and big green kites we called leaves sailed above the trees.’’
Are you ready to discover the undiscovered? Parker has a wealth of music waiting.
- Jim Hynes