Live review

William Parker Quartet at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn NYC

William Parker Quartet

(Green-Wood Cemetery. Concerts in the Catacombs series. 22 September 2022. Live review by Dan Bergsagel)

William Parker Quartet. Photo by Dan Bergsagel

There was no extended chat from the concert hosts at Green-Wood Cemetery to introduce this concert, just a cursory introduction to the William Parker Quartet. For some musicians this might be seen as a slight, but in his home town of New York City, this is testament to Parker’s standing in the improvisational scene: the usual hyperbole is unnecessary. 

There was no chat from the quartet, either. Parker begins with the textured, birdlike whistles of an overtone flute, accompanied by Cooper-Moore striking a yard-long mouth bow. This is ethereal music for cemeteries, for playing outside, for mixing with the sounds of wildlife. The atmosphere grows urgent as DoYeon Kim strikes a gong, and then spiritual as she sings, developing into almost anguished tones.

Throughout the set, instruments shift, and the opening array of woodwind and percussion switches to a more string-focused ensemble – Parker now with his double bass, Cooper-Moore a large horizontal harp with a triangular resonator, and Kim a gayageum plucked zither. On bass, Parker settles into a groove with Hamid Drake beating with brushes. Here, Parker fills so much space with unhurried seemingly-simple lines. The two harps, flanking the rhythm section pluck sharp chords or strum with both hands creating rolling washes. The music morphs, individual moments merging into one another as Cooper-Moore pulls out instrument after home-made instrument – a bamboo piccolo, an ocarina, a lap xylophone – and Kim hitting an unexpected bluesy solo on her wide ranging zither. The eclectic set closes with Parker on a Kora-esque instrument, charmingly singing a rhyme Don Cherry wrote for his son Eagle-Eye in the 1970s, about pies in the sky and crusts made of clouds.

The music finishes, and there is hardly a moment for applause before the audience finds itself immediately immersed in a sort of Storytime with William and Friends. Without the support of microphones and with the wind occasionally whipping away their words, the crowd find themselves leaning in for an intimate moment as the band speak. Parker introduces his instruments and praises his band, who he clearly values deeply. He is full of reminisces about band members past and present, as well as practical descriptions of the array of instruments he has played – thankfully revealing that the unusually natural-wood bass clarinet that he played through a hose is a traditional Slovak instrument, the Fujara. Drake explains that he only played with Kim for the first time the previous evening, but now considers the Heart Trio – normally formed of Parker, Cooper-Moore and himself – to be a Heart Quartet. The space overflows with warmth.

However, it is Cooper-Moore who steals the show with his humour and tales of how he acquired his homemade instruments – from his broken garden hoe handle harp, to the xylophone borne from a bundle of wood found in the trash on the corner of Canal and Green St in Manhattan in 1973. It is this Bundle of Wood which brought me the highlight of the concert, as Cooper-Moore proceeds to introduce and perform Emancipation, a solo piece beaten out with a resonant, hollow, heavily damped air on this instrument formed of scrap, where each bar represents a friend. Emancipation is busy, layered, joyous, exhausting, and concise, all at once.

The whole event was concise, and captured a sense of fleeting change. This quartet is new, and may be short-lived in this format. We sit in the dark outside with the warm glow of battery candles on the last day of summer, and the first day in months that anyone has worn more than one layer in Brooklyn after a sticky summer. We are outside as, while billed as a Concert in the Catacombs, the resting dead clearly demanded to be left in peace and we didn’t make it inside (there appears to have been a snafu with a key). Instead, we were set up outside the front doors, with the wind, rustling leaves, chirping insects. The slight downside to this was the very regular planes shuttling directly overhead on the flight path into La Guardia airport in Queens. Luckily, Parker – as the improvisational king – was able to still create a sense of space and musical enclosure outside in an all-acoustic set up and overcome any interference.

The concert by the entrance to the Catacombs, built in the 1850s.

LINK: Future events at Green-WoodThe series is curated by Gelsey Bell

LJN’s previous coverage of William Parker

Leave a Reply Cancel reply