William Parker’s creativity shows no signs of diminishing. A quick glance at Discogs shows that during the last year he was involved in at least 11 projects as performer, composer or leader, including one of the year’s outstanding albums, “Great Spirit”. This year the releases continue to come thick and fast.
On “Stan’s Hat Flapping in the Wind” Parker foregoes playing to concentrate instead on songwriting and production. This album features a selection of 19 songs Parker has written for a work in progress, a musical that goes by the same name as the album.
This break from improvised jazz should not come as a surprise; Parker is quite the Renaissance man, with opera and ballets in his repertoire. This is not music performed on a grand scale however, rather in this iteration it is stripped to the bare essentials, featuring only singer Lisa Sokolov and pianist Cooper-Moore (the exception being Invocation which features Sokolov’s son, Jake, on cello). Both performers are long time collaborators with Parker, indeed Sokolov first recorded with him on a similar project, 2001’s Song Cycle on Boxholder Records.
Stylistically the duo forges a performance drawn from a number of traditions, from the spiritual/gospel world, blues as well as musical theatre. At first listen the intimacy of the recording is quite challenging, primarily because there is little to distract you – its just vocals and piano. Against such a blank canvas Sokolov has no place to hide so thank the Lord she is up to the task. Her vocals are expressive and delightfully varied in tonality, perfectly suiting the mood of the lyrics, controlled in strength and pitch, especially on the long, lingering notes. Songs like “Death of Death” burst forth with authoritative evangelicism. Elsewhere, “Soul in Heaven (for Butch Morris)” and the exquisite “Autumn Song” are sung at little more than a whisper.
There are a number of recurrent themes running through Parker’s lyrics – of life and death and spirituality; of the power of music to heal in lines such as “Peace is coming on this earth, as long as music never dies” from “Beloved Soul”, and evocations to great influences like Miguel Piñero, Ornette Coleman, Butch Morris, Mahalia Jackson, Jeanne Lee, June Jordan and David S. Ware. These concepts are often expressed within symbolic language applying human and spiritual qualities to trees and flowers.
Cooper-Moore’s contribution should not be overlooked. Whilst the focus is inevitably on Sokolov’s vocals, his accompaniment helps to convey and enhance the tone; his playing straight on tracks like “The End of the World” or out on others like “Eternal (for Ornette Coleman)” or “All Love”.
This album won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but there’s a beauty in the message and the delivery that is hard to ignore.