Positively free-flowing

William Parker and Hamid Drake jazz it up at Levontin 7.

William Parker (photo credit: Courtesy)
William Parker
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Local music fans with tastes that tend towards the more adventurous side of the sonic sector are licking their lips with anticipation of the jazz gig at Levontin 7 in Tel Aviv, which will feature bassist William Parker and drummer-percussionist Hamid Drake from the US. They will join forces with equally creative Israeli reedman Assif Tsahar – who is one of the three proprietors of the Tel Aviv basement venue – for two sets on February 1 (at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.) in what promises to be an unforgettable experience for all concerned.
That may sound somewhat hyperbolic, but anyone who caught the Parker-Drake synergy, together with trumpeter Roy Campbell, at the 2005 Tel Aviv Jazz Festival has been hoping that the bassist and drummer would find their way back here, in tandem, sooner rather than later.
Parker is nothing short of an icon on the avant-garde jazz scene. Now 63, Parker has been a shining beacon of the free-flowing side of musical endeavor for more than four decades and is one of the founders of the annual New York-based Vision Festival, the world’s main vehicle for getting frontier-pushing sounds out there.
Tsahar was also involved in Vision’s conception when he was based in New York.
Parker delightedly informed me that his “baby” will celebrate its 20th anniversary in July. Considering that the festival does not by any means attempt to appeal to the mass market, that is close to miraculous and highly encouraging. The festival founder concurs that it is surprising that Vision has kept going for so long.
“I’d say it is a bit miraculous because we don’t have any corporate funding and we don’t really have a sponsor, so it is all from grants and donations,” he notes. “We still have to work hard at raising money the whole time. After 20 years, we’re still grassroots.”
The base line reference was, of course, noted in a financial support context, but in artistic terms Parker and his ilk certainly feed off the grassroots of the art form and take it to ever-increasing previously uncharted waters. But while financial reality may present Parker and his fellow Vision festival cohorts with some dome scratching, the artistic side of the venture is flourishing.
“The festival is still growing, and the music is progressing. That’s important,” states Parker.
Parker has been making significant progress himself since he first set his teenage fingers on a double bass around 45 years ago. He hungrily imbibed the intricacies of the bass playing from such masters as Richard Davis, Richard Garrison, Art Davis and Milt Hinton. He took his first step into the free jazz scene in 1971, playing at pioneering saxophonist Sam Rivers’s Studio Rivbea and other similarly inclined New York hot spots such as The Salt and Pepper Club and Hilly’s on the Bowery.
The list of Parker’s colleagues on the free-flowing jazz bandstand reads like a Who’s Who of jazz musicians who constantly push the envelope.
Consider the likes of trumpeter Don Cherry, drummer Billy Higgins and saxophonist Jimmy Lyons – all lions of the less structured side of the musical tracks. Parker also served a valuable apprenticeship playing in pianist Cecil Taylor’s the Cecil Taylor Unit, and there have been valuable synergies with various members of the Chicago-based AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), which began getting experimental work out there in 1965, including trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and saxophonists Henry Threadgill and Anthony Braxton, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Over the years, Parker has also collaborated with umpteen musicians on studio and live recordings, including a two-part project he recorded with Drake and Israeli free jazz saxophonist Albert Beger when the Americans were here for the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival a decade ago. The upcoming gigs at Levontin 7 with Tsahar may also spawn an album, so music lovers who can’t make it to the shows may still be able to catch the vibes, albeit secondhand. The bassist is also an acclaimed poet and has published several tomes on music as well.
For Parker, making music has a strong spiritual aspect to it, which offers far more than just the sounds involved, however attractive, challenging or tantalizing they may be.
“If you get up in the morning and you play a foot solo or a [instrumental] solo in your house, that solo is helping to keep the Earth down because it’s a vibration that’s going out, and if you didn’t do it you’d get negative vibrations,” he says.
Being creative, says the bassman, is the ultimate antidote to all the poisons and bad stuff out there.
“If you didn’t do that, you’d just have Wall Street and war and money, money, money. People have to help each other. People have to communicate,” he asserts.
The latter is a poignant case in point. By definition, when musicians get on a stage without too much idea about what they will be playing together but are spiritually and emotionally primed to go with the flow, communication and, of course, listening are the name of the game.
Parker says that the end product may not always seem like the finished article, but the voyage is just as valuable as the destination.
“I think that whether you see a result or not, you have to continue to do it. It is very important that these positive acts are being done,” he says.
You can bet your bottom shekel that Parker, Drake and Tsahar will engage in plenty of positive acts on February 1 and, hopefully, the Levontin 7 patrons will all go home with a spring in their step and a song in their heart.
For tickets and more information: (03) 560-5084 and www.levontin7.com