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In The Spirit of Max Roach

The second act of a double bill, having just returned to earth after witnessing an Anthony Braxton performance during the first act, featured William Parker Ensemble, who performed a one act suite on "The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield" that seemed like a throwback to another period of time. How fitting that the civil rights movement, free thinking and questioning the motives of the powers that be, can ring as true today as they did during the civil rights movement and the peace marches of the sixties, a time of civil disobedience that saw the songs of Curtis Mayfield taken up as an anthem, that provided hope and direction for the civil rights movement, songs like "People Get Ready," "We’re A Winner," "Freddie’s Dead" and "We People Who Are Darker Than Blue."

The poet Amiri Baraka announced to the audience that the performance was dedicated to the memory of Max Roach, and with a heart felt scream "Max" the concert began. Baraka, with fluid spoken word rhyming and near rapping, blending with the music’s pulse and giving it an outside hard edge, as compared to the sweet and soulful singing of Leena Conquest who sang the lyrics of Mayfield’s songs in a tasteful and pleasing manner, even if as back ground to the primary instrumental explorations of the two tenor saxophones and the trumpet that wailed and blew tastefully if at times somewhat un-connected.

The in-sync and at one rhythm section of bassist, Parker and drummer, Hamid Drake became the overriding focus. Parker at stage left, and Drake at centre stage were well connected, they produced a solid binding performance. The piano playing of Dave Burrell was at times intense; there were moments of depth and fire in his playing. Most of the fire for this performance came by way of Hamid Drake and Amiri Baraka. Baraka became emotionally charged while reading his controversial poem, Somebody Blew Up America, a tirade, in which he seems to blame corporate America for most of the injustices of the world. Hamid Drake produced thunder with an inspirational solo that was a tribute to the drumming of Max Roach, a thoughtful and dynamic performance of percussive authority that encompassed all manner of polyrhythmic drumming. When Drake wasn’t soloing he was still creating thunder on a consistent basis with creative accompaniment of rhythmic form.

The horn section, consisting of tenor saxophone players, Darryl Foster and Sabir Mateen and trumpeter Lewis Barnes had their moments of improvised glory. The horns became a backdrop during the transformation of Leena Conquest from singer to dancer, a moment that was magical. Her dancing resembled the dancing of the sixties; some of the dance choreography had been borrowed from that period of time. The movements were a well blended and crafted routine that matched the mood, a bright fiery red dress, high heels and striking, defiant poses as she gracefully strutted the stage in a manner that appeared effortless.

"People Get Ready," the time is now, Canadians and visitors to the Guelph Jazz Festival were ready, they were pumped by the dynamics, the revolutionary bent, and the ideals that were presented that had inspired a nation in the sixties. The audience had something to think about, a music that makes people question what is right and what is wrong, how times have changed and how they have remained the same. William Parker Ensemble had produced an evening of music for the new millennium and it fit.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: William Parker Ensemble
  • Concert Date: 9/7/2007
  • Subtitle: Guelph Jazz Festival
  • Venue: River Run Centre
  • City State Country: Guelph, Ontario
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