After a long absence, the Amherst Meetinghouse Music Series, put on by Michael Ehlers, resumed with a startling performance by The Clarinet Trio with Walter Perkins on drums & vocals, Perry Robinson on clarinets and William Parker on bass, flutes, vocals & reed instruments.
This group is not at all presumptuous. I could tell that they came together because they are dedicated to their music, they love making the music, their music is the extension of their inner selves to the outside world. Their history and their story is as simple as that.
The concert consisted of two hour long sets. Each set spoke its own language. The majority of the music took place in a mutiplicitous space of instrumental mid-range. Yet, within that mid-range was a continuity that could not be evaded and technical capacity for instrumentation that could not be ignored.
Perkins’ drumming spoke from an unadorned trap set. His playing was understated, straight out, honest, no fiddling around. If he felt the rhythm, which he set so well in exchange with Parker’s initiation of the pulse, Perkins would be vocal about it and sing, grunt, support the beat and fall into a call and response mode with Parker. Perkins’s playing vacillated from a drumstick driven steady snare roll to a steady hiss on the hi-hats, occasional ring on most central part of the large cymbal to (and this is the place where Perkins moved out of the mid-range) the deepest tympani-esque tone on the snare drum (really) made with speedily flicked mallets. This small, dark-clothed man gleamed with happiness throughout. At one point he was so incredibly thrilled that he drove himself off is stool to embrace the large cymbal on his left, his left arm encircling its edge, his head buried in the circle, his right hand striking the metal disc with a stick to extend the sound to a hush that resolved in resonance and the end of the first set.
Robinson’ s persistence of maintaining a line on his horn demonstrated his experience of the groove and openness to improvisation beyond the groove that is traditionally oriented to blues and swing, both of which took over during the sets. The clarity rising from his horn is reflected in the precision of his fingering and the ease with which he can move in the making of sound which can elicit visual approximations of its shape: he goes from lines that go up and down in a precipitous manner where screeches emanate from a squeezed reed to lines that flow like a current that carries calm water. Robinson has a penchant for detail in his playing as was exhibited when he played a tiny reed instrument similarly to the tweeting of birds. This man can walk the horn like no one I have heard: to establish a hard-driving swing tempo that truly reaches into the inherent sense of rhythm that can stir physical movement in the listener. His repetition of this drive along with the completely equivalent accompaniment of Perkins and Parker slammed the second set with bravado and aplomb as tight as are the words intended to describe it.
Parker became the spine and the appendage for this trio. His leadership was evident but also was his being an integral part of the group. This is a characteristic of Parker that makes him exceedingly respectable, charismatic, masterful and artful in the most extreme sense. His versatility can never be praised enough. Every time I hear him play, no matter what the context, I learn something new, hear something new. I am fascinated by whatever that is. It was Parker who performed the polyrhythms in this gig. This time, I witnessed and heard how he can structure a pizzicato form by establishing a pattern in his fingering and in the midst of all the other music can change the patterning in an instant and remarkably so when he only slightly shifts the fingering. This time, from my actual point of view, I watched Parker bow with two bows at the same time. I saw those bows coming at me and going away from me as they vibrated the strings near the bridge of the bass; I saw those bows split in one gesture so that one rode above the bridge and the other went below. I was in awe of the rate at which Parker can pluck and bow his instrument and, then, of how he can play the bass even in a situation when he needed to put it on its side on the floor so that he could adjust the foot on which the instrument stands.
When I get right down to the inelegant nitty-gritty, all I can say is that inspiration is the teacher of the soul. This music is inspiring. It never fails to enlighten me. This music is a pure form of creation. I am blessed to have heard it, once again, played by consummate musicians.
(This concert was a kickoff for the release on the eremite label of the 2 CD recording BOB’S PINK CADILLAC.)