William Parker impishly continues to confound pigeonholing. The monster free jazz bassist and ex-Cecil Taylor sidekick has in the past three months released discs mixing meringue, accordions and African polyrhythms (The Olmec Series), deployed his 12-piece Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra for a tribute to the late bassist of the Modern Jazz Quartet (For Percy Heath), cut a live duet with drummer Hamid Drake (Volume Two: Summer Snow), and now resurrected his Raining On the Moon sextet for more vocal political poetry with gospel-blues underpinnings.
Raining On the Moon is comprised of Parker's ace quartet (Drake, Parker, trumpeter Lewis Barnes and alto saxophonist Rob Brown) plus two vital women, vocalist Leena Conquest and pianist Eri Yamamoto. Conquest is a bit of an acquired taste: She's neither a “pretty” nor a technically dazzling singer, but can deftly plumb the depth of Parker's poetry, unveiling its sweet and sour tang without the rote anger or bushy-tailed naivete a more overwrought interpretation could impart. That's a crucial skill when you're pleading for African unity on a song entitled “Tutsi Orphans.” Yamamoto likewise can smooth the mood without obscuring the vibrance. Her crisp intonation and serene command create a beautiful blossom on “Dr. Yesterday,” and invest the intro to “Land Song” with the sort of wide-angle vista reminiscent of Herbie Hancock's “Maiden Voyage.”
Despite occasional flares of dissonance, this is one of Parker's more accessible outings, grounded in patient blues and gospel rhythms and other standard forms — “Poem for June Jordan” wouldn't be out of place in a Broadway musical. All the better to hear and appreciate the history lesson of “Land Song,” or the literally wonderful wordplay and soaring sentiment of the title track. Its bucolic refrain serves as pretty fair description of Parker's restless muse and stentorian bass work: “Calling out to all painters of autumn/ The mountain is dancing.”