William Parker: Double Sunrise Over Neptune

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By: Trevor Pour

“We don’t invent sounds, we are allowed to encounter them; we don’t own them, they existed before we were born and will be here after we are gone.”

These are the words of William Parker, bassist, composer and jazz freethinker. As part of the 12th annual Vision Festival in June 2007, Parker conducted a performance expressly commissioned by Art for Art Inc. and subsequently titled Double Sunrise Over Neptune (AUM Fidelity). “[This album] was borne of a concept I call universal tonality,” explains Parker, “which is based on the idea that all sounds, like human beings, come from the same place. All sound has a heartbeat and breathes the same as each human being.” Sixteen musicians gathered to create this unique work, which includes styles ranging from the omnipresent Indian-themed vocals of Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay to the wandering alto sax of Rob Brown.

Interestingly, and to the benefit of the listener, Double Sunrise is extended past the original timeframe due to a technical error on opening night. The album was originally intended to contain two movements performed live during the premiere on June 19th, but due to mechanical errors only the latter movement, “Neptune’s Mirror,” was recorded. As a result, the band reconvened at the same location the next day to re-record the two movements, subsequently titled “Morning Mantra” and “Lights of Lake George.” Of note, the tracks were named in post-production to reflect their individually realized spirit.

Since “Morning Mantra” and “Neptune’s Mirror” are the same movement performed in different settings, I listened to them in succession as something of an exercise, identifying instances of resemblance and discordance or recognizing critical moments that would prove to define the performances. Strikingly, the string section (violins, viola and cello) on the latter track once or twice sounded so similarly to Bandyopadhyay’s vocal performance that they were, for an instant, virtually inseparable – a beautiful demonstration of Parker’s concept of universal tonality. “Lights of Lake George” contrasts these performances both in length (27 minutes) and in content. The vocals are a recited mantra, Surya Pranam, followed by an improvised composition of Persian devotional syllables. Fortunately for the uninitiated listener, the liner notes explain the theory behind these lyrics. “Lake George” is significantly more ambitious than the rest of the album, and will prove to be more challenging to the average jazz fan. While “Morning Mantra” and “Neptune’s Mirror” have a distinctly orchestral and natural feel, “Lake George” delves deeply into free sound and creates an intensely complex creature. For myself, it took time to reconcile the occasionally overwhelming vocals with the subtleties of the entire ensemble. It is though, despite my warnings, a wonderful and memorable piece.

This album is the third in a series of commissioned works from the 12th Vision Festival, and it represents the real core inspiration of the event. Parker stands out amongst his peers as a fantastically talented musician, composer, and conductor, and his work on Double Sunrise Over Neptune only proves to bolster that image.

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