Oblique Portrait: William Parker

Legendary bassist William Parker is the common denominator for this mix that spans 40+ years and includes the biggest names of the jazz avant garde. If you would like to keep up on future episodes, subscribe to sndlgc podcasts in iTunes or copy this link to subscribe manually.

You don't know the name, William Parker, if you're just starting to dig into jazz, but if you've listen to any free jazz from the last 40 years, you're likely to have heard him. You'll may start to notice how he keeps popping up, over and over in different contexts. Parker is a advanced, modern jazz: a leader, mentor, organizer, writer and a tireless player who has appeared on hundreds of records.

How many artists have sat in with both Derek Bailey and Yo la Tengo? Or Peter Brötzmann and DJ Spooky?

In his now 40+ year career, Parker's not only played with an impressive list of avant garde luminaries, he's is a fixture among their working groups. He played with Cecil Taylor for decades. He and Matthew Shipp were the anchors of David S. Ware's long-running quartet. 

Yet William Parker remains under the radar for many listeners. Maybe it's his instrument. The bass doesn't hog the spotlight like any horn, or even a guitar. Or, perhaps he was just too late: all the biggest names in jazz made their mark in the heydays of the 50s and 60s. Parker came up in the 70s, frequenting the much-discussed-but-rarely-heard loft jazz scene.

It's why I wanted to weave this particular sonic portrait. If you gathered a broad swath of William Parker's work—as a leader, collaborator or sideman—was there a common thread, an overarching theme? Was his presence a defining factor?

To that end, I didn't want to present this mix chronologically. William Parker's palette has expanded with time, so later experiments with vocals, electronics are  interspersed throughout the mix (rather than piling up at the end). I also wanted to Parker's frequent collaborators, making multiple appearances here, from appearing clusters.

Sound-wise, this was a massive undertaking. The 20 tracks included here made up a 5-hour playlist. Despite making drastic cuts to each song, I tried to make each one flow organically, to feel like a complete unit within the mix (while still, of course, showcasing Parker's contributions). Rather than excerpts, these are like 7-inch edits; readers' digest versions.

Maybe, after listening to this mix, you'll see the narrative, the outline of William Parker in all these disparate paths. If so, I hope you check out more of his work. There is a mountain of it to climb, but I would hold out one record in particular. I didn't include it in this mix because, by rights, you ought to own I Plan to Stay a Believer: the Inside Music of Curits Mayfield. It's a raucous free jazz soul party of a double album that never forgets the political edge at the heart of Mayfield's tunes.

Ensemble Muntu: Flight
Billy Bang: Summer Night
William Parker & Hamid Drake: Faces
Wayne Horvitz: Psalm
Frank Lowe: In Trane's Name
William Parker / Raining on the Moon: James Baldwin to the Rescue
Cecil Taylor: Calling it the 8th
Matthew Shipp String Trio: Whole Movement
Bill Dixon: Brothers
Free Zen Society: Majestical
David S. Ware Quartet: Infi-Rhythms
Derek Bailey / John Zorn / William Parker: Noon Harras
Toxic: This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People
Charles Gayle: Touchin' on Trane
Brötzmann / Parker / Drake: Shake-a-Tear
DJ Spooky: Absentia, Absentia
Yo la Tengo: Let's Be Still
William Parker / In Order to Survive: The Square Sun
Anthony Braxton / William Parker / Milford Graves: Third Meeting
William Parker: Crumbling in the Shadows Is Fraulein Miller's Stale Cake

playing favorites

Since my podcast just crossed the 10-year mark and has stacked up 100 episodes, I thought I would publish a primer, of sorts—bringing together some of the best episodes, so far.

Admittedly, all my picks are latter day missives. My tools and methods evolved as the sndlgc series went on, so the earlier episodes feel more exploratory to me. There's still plenty of nuggets back there, though, if you care to dig. To get at the older episodes—as well as keep up with the continuing adventures—use this feed link to subscribe to the series in the player of your choosing.

no.1, Punks in the Post: End of Service Area
Hands down, this is the best mix I have ever made, in any format. I am well and truly obsessed with the post-punk era, and this is (in my humble opinion) one of the best collections of that music I've ever heard. It's deep, dense and thorough. I set up so so many rules as to how this would come together, but I navigated them all. It felt like ages, fiddling with the edits and levels. It digs deep into songs and bands you may not know yet, but when it turns to the familiar touchstones, it serves up obscure gems that still dazzle. Quite literally, I almost shuttered this podcast after I finished this mix.
(further listening: If I Had Only Known)

no.2, 2013 Recap
My year-end round-ups are fun as hell to make. Since the only theme is what's flipped my lid in the last 12 months, they span the breadth of my interests. I try to instill some semblance of a cohesive narrative from that smorgasbord of sound. This particular year, it flowed like all hell. There are leaps in audio-logic that shouldn't work, but fabulously do (Mary Halvorson into Melt-Banana?). I also just think 2013 ended up being a goddamn banner year for new music—all these songs still thrill me.
(further listening: 2011 Recap)

no.3, Pation Stations 4
This series, since it's inception, has been near and dear to my heart. Released as an annual Memorial Day BBQ mix, it's the soundtrack to the opening salvo of summer. My ideal here is a sort of gentle rocker: good time music that is not slamming or insistent, but never too melancholy or lethargic. This mix always displays a strong vein of 90s indie-rock that belies my age a little. I think of this as the music I put on to hang out with old friends—our shared nostalgia. Plus, there's just something about a track that nails that sweet spot of mellow cool that makes me think music is just supposed to sound like that.
(further listening: Patio Stations 8)

no.4, Oblique Portraits: Andrew Weatherall
This is a veritable techno and electro-pop thesaurus. My original idea was to feature legendary producer, Andrew Weatherall's career solely through his remix work for other artists, The resulting mix is eclectic and wide-ranging—yet entirely cohesive. This includes a slew of rare tracks, with a focus on the master transmorgifying rock bands into mutant-dance hybrids. Along the way, it ends up charting a chronological map through the first 20 years of what we now call electronica.
(further listening: Biscuits for… Dog Days)

no.5, Freeform Freakout
This one is not for the faint-of-heart. It's hard to find a place in the average podcast for my love of full-bore free jazz, so instead, I made an episode of only that. I selected songs that were (at least, at the time) rare or hard-to-find. Additionally, each of the seven tracks is presented in a readers-digest version (the originals ranged from 20 minutes to 2.5 hours). I tried to capture small portions from across the entirety of each song yet still retain a sense you were listening to a a complete work. This meant making more edits for 7 songs than I've done for mixes with 30 tracks or more. The end result is utterly insane.
(further listening: a forthcoming episode, Oblique Portraits: William Parker)