Midweek Jazz — William Parker & Josh Johnson

On what would have been John Coltrane's 94th birthday, some jazz releases to consider for this midweek entry…

First, a 10-LP box set titled Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World by bassist William Parker will be released on January 29th, 2021 via Centering Records and AUM Fidelity

As a primer for this collection, a compilation of material extracted from the box set is available called Trencadís. Immediately evidentiary is that Parker's creative and compositional reach is excitingly vast. You can listen to that here:


Via Fully Altered Media:

“The music in this boxed set is dedicated to all people in the world who are searching for freedom – those who want to eliminate hate, racism, sexism, greed and lies in their lifetime.” — William Parker

That William Parker is a bassist, composer and bandleader of extraordinary spirit and imaginative drive is common knowledge among any with an interest in the progressive jazz scene of the past 25 years or more. What’s become increasingly apparent, though, is Parker’s stature as a visionary of sound and song – an artist of melody and poetry who works beyond category, to use the Ellingtonian phrase. The latest multi-disc boxed set from Centering Records/AUM Fidelity devoted to Parker’s expansive creativity underscores his virtually peerless achievement in recent years. Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World – to be released on January 29, 2021 – is a 10-album collection of vocal and instrumental suites all recorded expressly for this set between late 2018 and early 2020, with women’s voices at its core. This is music as empathetic as it is intrepid, as philosophical as it is visceral, as resolutely modernist as it is attuned to tradition. Parker’s art not only draws from the deepest well of African-American culture; it breathes in inspiration from across the globe, with sounds drawn from Africa, Asia and Indonesia as well as Europe and the Americas; there is free improvisation and re-imagined sonic collage; there are album-length explorations of solo piano and solo voice, along with string ensembles and ancient wind instruments. There are dedications to jazz heroes, Native Americans and Mexican migrants, plus tributes to the great African-American culture of Harlem and the mix of passion and compassion Parker found in vintage Italian cinema. Parker draws on close relationships with such performers as kindred-spirit drummer Hamid Drake, pianist Eri Yamamoto and vocalist Fay Victor, who figure prominently in the set’s international, intergenerational cast of musicians. Migration of Silence… conjures a wide world of music and feeling; it’s a feat that ranks with that of the most ambitious talents in any genre.

Photo: Jimmy Katz

In the notes to Migration of Silence…, Parker – a lifelong New Yorker born in 1952 – says: “All the Bronx mystery masters I studied were street people who made and discovered their own rules and laws of sound. Their music was multiphonic, polyrhythmic; it was music with a cry! I was someone who looked out of the window of the housing projects and dreamed… Even though I was inspired by all kinds of sounds, if I were going to describe myself, I would say that I’m a melody person, one who paints with sound, color and space. I am also a sound poet, a futurist romantic revolutionary who is not afraid to use the terms prayer or ritual.”

Parker was famously described by The Village Voice in the mid-’90s as “the most consistently brilliant free-jazz bassist of all time,” for his decades of work in bands led by the likes of Cecil Taylor and David S. Ware, among others. But in a more up-to-date encapsulation, Time Out New York ranked Parker No. 2 in its list of New York City’s Top 25 Jazz Icons in 2013, noting not only his ever-remarkable achievements as a bandleader but also his co-founding of the annual, essential Vision Festival in 1996, “one of the city’s most important and inclusive celebrations of artistic cross-pollination and spiritual unity.” As part of its extensive catalog devoted to the icon, AUM Fidelity has released several Parker boxed sets in recent years, including Voices Fall From the Sky (2018), For Those Who Are, Still (2015) and Wood Flute Songs (2013). For those who want a taste of the epochal Migration of Silence…, AUM Fidelity has previewed this boxed set with the release via Bandcamp of Trencadís, a 10-track digital sampler that includes one piece from each of the set’s 10 albums. Below is a quick run-down of each album, followed by a brief William Parker biography.

A brief William Parker biography
Along with being an instrumentalist, improviser, composer and leader of multiple bands, William Parker is an organizer, educator and author. He plays the bass, tuba, ngoni, shakuhachi, double-reeds, guembri; and is renowned worldwide as an improviser of great invention and sensitivity. Parker’s ever-expanding books of composition for all manner of ensemble contain many works that have yet to be recorded. During Parker’s ever-prolific career, he has recorded some 150 albums (more than 40 as a leader since 1995) and performed around the world, along with helping shape the New York jazz scene for both his peers and the next generations – including co-founding the annual Vision Festival in 1996. In 2013, Parker received the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award in recognition of his influence and impact.

A passionate educator, William Parker has taught at Bennington College, New York University, New England Conservatory of Music, Cal Arts, New School University and Rotterdam Conservatory of Music. He has also taught music workshops from Paris, Berlin and Tokyo to New York City’s Lower East Side, his home neighborhood since the mid-1970s. Parker is a theorist, interviewer and author of several books, including Who Owns Music?, Conversations I & II, Voices in the First Person, Scrapbook: Notes and Blueprints, Sound Journal and The Mayor of Punkville. He has also published three volumes of poetry and a theater piece titled Music and the Shadow People.

The first book-length biography of William Parker, Universal Tonality: The Life and Music of William Parker will be published by Duke University Press in February 2021.



Second, Josh Johnson premiered a new track from his upcoming album, Freedom Exercise. The track is "Nerf Day" and it has a deceptively tropical quality to it that immediately drew me in. It's a finely-tuned arrangement and Johnson playfully screws with the pace toward the end. 

Freedom Exercise is due to release October 9th via Northern Spy Records, who have been knocking it out of the park with albums in 2020. 

You can listen to that here:

Via Northern Spy:

Photo: Robbie Jeffers
Josh Johnson—the Los Angeles via Chicago multi instrumentalist and composer who has toured and recorded with Jeff Parker, Makaya McCraven, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and Leon Bridges—is sharing his new single “Nerf Day” from his debut album, Freedom Exercise, releasing October 9th, 2020 via Northern Spy Records. 

With its unusual tempo changes, Josh Johnson’s “Nerf Day” is an auditory illusion. The surreal, vivid dream world begins with Gregory Uhlmann’s off kilter guitar and Aaron Sttele’s breezy drumming before Anna Butterss’ sparse but sparkling bass and Josh’s unclouded, blossoming horn lines materialize. The perfect piece of music to soundtrack a late summer hang.

When Chicago-area native Josh Johnson moved to Los Angeles eight years ago, he thought his stay would be temporary. The saxophonist and keyboardist would spend a year or two there: enough time to learn from two of his heroes, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, but not a complete geographic pivot. After all, for musicians — especially those making improvised, collective music — where you live and what scene you’re part of can have a monumental effect on the kind of art you make. His hometown had a vibrant musical community in which he was already immersed; there was no immediate reason to seek out something new.

But eight years later, Johnson is still in L.A., where he recorded his debut album
Freedom Exercise with three of his closest friends that he describes as “musically omnivorous” — the same quality that inspired him to stay on the West Coast.

“A lot of people I've connected with here have opened me up to a lot of things I hadn't imagined,” he says. Johnson’s corner of the L.A. improvised music scene has its epicenter at a long-running Monday night gig helmed by his friend and frequent collaborator (and fellow former Chicagoan) guitarist Jeff Parker at a bar called ETA in Highland Park. There, when he’s not experimenting with Parker — on whose latest album, the critically-acclaimed Suite for Max Brown, he’s featured — Johnson has gotten to know musicians and artists of all stripes. The vibe is intimate and expansive at the same time, much like the album itself: as numerous as Johnson’s influences are, on Freedom Exercise they’re showcased in a way that feels organic, straightforward and unpretentious. Even at its most surprising and complex, the project is ultimately still inviting.

“It brings in a lot of people who don't go to jazz clubs,” he says. “It's a thing that's been very stimulating for me, because it doesn't feel insular.” That diverse community helped him remember that music-making was most fun for him when he resisted genre orthodoxy — like when he was in high school, learning saxophone and jazz while playing keyboards in church, making minimalist electronic music on his parents’ computer, playing in indie bands and listening to hip-hop and Chicago post-rock. Through friends he met at ETA, he became the touring musical director for crooner Leon Bridges; an unlikely assignment as his reputation has grown rapidly in the jazz world thanks to his work alongside Makaya McCraven and Jeremy Cunningham, but one he says has been transformative. “It’s helped me be a better listener in improvised settings,” he says. “Not just playing to play, but really thinking about why, and what something is for.”

That intentionality is self-evident on Freedom Exercise, a collection of songs tied to that same idea of genreless exploration — jazz, post-rock and electronic music are certainly all inspirations, but none reigns exclusively. The stripped-down, urgent album is built on layers of intertwined, distinct melodies occasionally softened by distortion, delay and reverb. Asymmetrical but still inviting, Johnson’s compositions spotlight his sensitivity and restraint; the synth seamlessly interspersed throughout adds an unexpected dimension. The result is concise — 10 songs, most under five minutes — but still expansive, like an intimate gathering in a sprawling city.


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