The sounds and styles of the great tenor masters are echoed within the music of saxophonist Matt Parker. On “Noah’s Arc”, the opening track of his new album “Present Time”, he evokes the loose swing of early-1960s Sonny Rollins, but just as the listener gets comfortable, Parker morphs into araunchy tenor style reminiscent of both Jr. Parker and Albert Ayler. And while the influences of John Coltrane, Roland Kirk, Don Byas, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker and Lester Young all appear through this album, Parker maintains his own identity through gradations of tone and his personal improvisational style. He has learned well from the masters: his compositions are concisely written and offer plenty of flexibility for solos; his improvisations embrace complexity without alienating the listener; and he knows how to play behind a singer—in this case the supremely talented Emily Braden, who guests on three tracks. Parker’s band mates, bassist Alan Hampton and drummerReggie Quinerly display the same broad knowledge of jazz history as the leader, providing a funky down-home feeling for Braden’s feature on “I’m Confessin’ That I Love You”, a Coltrane-inspired free groove on “New Horizons”, as well as the necessary mixture of straight-ahead and free required for the previously unrecorded Charles Mingus composition “Song to Keki”. The most unusual track is “The Gong”, a solo piece that Parker created on the spot after finding a large gong hanging in the recording studio. Parker plays both tenor and soprano (separately and together) between deep hits on the gong. The album concludes with a romping Second Line strut, “Sixteen”, a piece that Parker wrote shortly after a summer gig he played as a teenager with a New Orleans café band. The infectious joy that comes through every beat of this track makes it a perfect ending for the album, which amply showcases its abundantly talented musicians without taking itself too seriously.
by Thomas Cunniffe