I may never understand the power that creative improvised music but its existence is undeniable. Leading up to a concert by Jemeel Moondoc and William Parker I was not having a good day. It wasn't that everything was going wrong so much as nothing seemed to be going right. I was rushing around all day without much purpose or focus. The concert was set to begin at 8 p.m. and by 7 p.m. I was seriously considering the possibility of not going. Yes I had been looking forward to the concert for a couple of weeks. Yes I had made an extra effort to ensure that my work schedule did not conflict with the performance. Yes I wanted to hear the music. Yet I was full of rage and also wanted to be all by myself and allow my emotions to consume me. Yeah I knew that it wasn't the right thing to do and that I would regret not going but the urge to stay put felt so great that I was susceptible to the idea that I did not have the strength to overcome it.
Yet I decided to go. The impetus was partially a mixture of guilt and pride. I had reserved a high priced seat with the Kerrytown Concert House two weeks ago but the venue only takes money at the door. If I hadn't gone the folks who have done so much to bring great avant-garde music to Ann Arbor would be out a few bucks and might be less willing to take reservations from me in the future. But more importantly or perhaps just more selfishly- I knew that if I got myself together enough to go to the concert that I would be glad I'd done so. William Parker is as far as I'm concerned the most creative jazz musician playing today. He can pluck, tap, and strum the upright in ways that make it seem less like a specific instrument and more like a passport into the world of what Parker calls "Universal Music." Whether he is by himself, with a group that he leads, or working as a sideman, the recordings of Parker give me the impression that I am not wrong to feel whatever emotions even if they are very negative or destructive- that I have going through me at the time. At the same time I come away from the music with a different perspective. The anger turns to calm and unease becomes acceptance. The process isn't always pleasant or smooth. Oftentimes just getting up the strength to begin the process of healing is a fight I hope most people don't experience with any regularity. It might take only a few minutes of listening or it might last for hours or even days. But in the end it works every time. Life is worth living for many reasons but few things make this as clearly as Parker’s music.
Attendance for the duo of Moondoc and Parker was actually quite disappointing. The Kerrytown Concert House can seat somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 people and in the last year has been packed for performances from the likes of Peter Brotzmann and Ken Vandermark. Probably less than half that many saw this concert.
Still the music was great. This was the first time that I have seen Parker perform without drummer Hamid Drake and that had a notable effect on the music. The lack of a drummer meant that this performance was a bit less entrancing and hard edged. Moondoc's restrained and often calm playing also furthered this effect. Dressed in a flannel shirt, Moondoc appeared like a sage dispensing wisdom from his saxophone. He moved his feet back and forth as if he was dancing to the music. In contrast, Parker's feet remained firmly planted for long periods of time. Since it appeared that Moondoc was the leader and Parker was responding to him, it might be fair to say that the saxophonist was chasing musical ideas while the bassist was waiting for them to come his way and wouldn't let any get past him. Parker seemed content to just play around the edges of what Moondoc was doing. His noodling and occasional arco playing were restrained and full of great thought.
The duo performed two sets of music plus an encore totaling a little less than 2 hours and using a pre-written compositions, including Parker¹s own neo-standard "Theme For Pelikan." Generally the music was low key -Moondoc's slow blues growl provided plenty of food for thought- but there were some moments of dissonance such as the opening of the second set when both players projected anguish from their not quite matching screaming horns.
After the end of the second set, the two introduced each other and appeared to have genuine smiles on their face as the audience gave them a standing ovation. Parker then asked "One more?"
Moondoc nodded and added "it was 1972 and I had just gotten off a Greyhound bus in New York City. I was looking for some musicians to play with and one of the first I found was William Parker. Here you go again William."
The two friends then closed with a short piece involving furious blasts from Moondoc and the most forceful playing from Parker this night. It was a great ending to a great night.