William Parker brought “Criminals in the White House” to LPR (review, pics, setlist)
The legendary bassist, composer and multiple band leader William Parker, a major force in free jazz, brought a politically charged concept performance to Le Poisson Rouge on September 20. Called In Order to Survive: “Criminals in the White House,” it was conceived as a vehicle to shine further light on the current state of the United States.
When Parker and band took the stage, he told the crowd that he felt sad that beautiful music had to be destroyed by such ugliness and that the problems really ramped up during George Bush’s tenure but have been prevalent since 1776. He hoped that the beauty of the music would bring out the inner beauty in others and help put an end to racism and discrimination. He introduced the opening track referring to the nation’s corrupt leadership and made his feelings known quite bluntly by its title alone, “They’re All Scumbags”.
In addition to Parker on double bass, the band was beyond formidable: Hamid Drake, widely recognized as one of the best percussionists in improvised music, on drums; Cooper-Moore, recipient of the 2017 Lifetime Achievement award at Vision Festival 22, on piano; and exceptional alto saxophonist Rob Brown. This is a serious group of musicians and when you combine a rhythm section like Parker, Drake and Cooper-Moore you have an unstoppable force that can create more sounds than imaginable, allowing Brown to soar freely and, at times wildly, over the top.
This was certainly the case at LPR. The small but highly appreciative audience was into it, and for good reason — it was mind melting. Cooper-Moore’s aggressive attack and stabs of flourishes were almost inhuman and certainly otherworldly. I had never gotten to see Cooper-Moore play live before, and not since I first saw Cecil Taylor in the ‘70s have I been so absolutely floored by a pianist. Wildly physical and percussive and, at times, very dissonant, he could still make it swing too. Hamid Drake was a similar experience. An absolute master of the drums, he incorporates many world styles into his high energy, outside drumming but he too could briefly reel it in for a swinging section allowing the band to regroup and lift off again. Parker’s bass was stellar, as always. No one can touch his arco playing and the way he creates tsunamis of dense atonal, harmonic textures that take the bass into areas few can enter. And Brown was more than up to the task of being the lone reed and non-rhythm player of the group. His solos were bright, aggressive, detailed, and nuanced. This was one of the best jazz quartets I’ve had the pleasure to see.
The band only played four songs in their 90-minute-plus set including a wonderful version of Don Cherry’s “March of the Hobbits” which included a staggering drum solo by Drake. For the last song of the set, Parker brought out several guests to add further textures to the already dense music: Dave Sewelson on baritone sax, Dave Hofstra on tuba, Abraham Mennen on tenor sax, Morley on vocals and Parker’s wife, dancer Patricia Nicholson, helped to ramp up the performance to the point of it being a celebration of life and what is good in the world and what brings it together — the beauty of music.
Rob Brown-alto sax
Dave Sewelson-baritone sax
Abraham Mennen-tenor sax
They’re all Scumbags
Criminals in the White House
March of the Hobbits (Don Cherry cover)
In Order to Survive
Words and photos by Greg Cristman