Tenor sax trios - Chris Maskell reviews Present Time

Present Time (Bynk Records)
Matt Parker Trio

Matt Parker’s second release sees the saxophonist from several different angles.

On one hand, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida native can solo as if from an earlier era – big scoops, stratospheric altissimo notes and a wide vibrato adorn wailing, bluesy lines. Parker’s tenor playing on the first track of the album certainly falls into that category.

But jump one more piece in, and another side of the musician is revealed entirely. This time on soprano, New Horizons joins Parker and drummer Reggie Quinerly, who attended the New School in New York with the saxophonist, in an intense duet. An interesting, through-composed piece whose themes develop over time, the song doesn’t introduce bassist and former fellow New School student Alan Hampton until more than halfway through.

Vocalist Emily Braden expands the ensemble on Winter’s Gone, where she initially sings a wordless rendition of the melody accompanied only by Parker’s tenor. Later, Braden delivers a soulful, bluesy take of I’m Confessing That I Love You and also adds her voice to the odd-metered title track near the record’s conclusion. These vocal excursions do wonders to break up the trio tunes and vary the pace.

Two other takes are of particular note, one for historical reasons and the other for its sheer energy. Previously unrecorded until now, Charles Mingus’ Song To Keki makes its first appearance on this record. Opening with a casually swinging melody, the tune builds momentum until Parker’s tenor seems like it will come apart in his hands.

On The Gong, the saxophonist is alone with only his saxophones and the titular percussion instrument. Parker goes about this (probably) free improvisation with a sense of drama and power, at one point breaking out a primal yell before unleashing a barrage of multiphonics on his tenor. In a nod to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the track ends with Parker playing both soprano and tenor simultaneously.

Of course, things ultimately aren’t as black-and-white as I’ve made them seem. The many sides of Parker pop up regardless of the piece, and his improvisations always draw from a large pool of influences. However, it’s this overall compositional and improvisational contrast that keeps catching the listener by surprise throughout the record. Combined with the album’s numerous fresh ideas and interesting takes on tested formulas, this is certainly one to check out.

published June 17th 2016