Saturday, May 17, 2008
FIRST, THE HISTORY ....
(with 15 album blog links)
Most of the musicians who gathered to record this lovely spiritual jazz record for the Strata-East label on May 24th, 1974 had crossed each other's paths in various musical pairings over the preceding few years.
Husband and wife team Dee Dee Bridgewater (vocals) and Cecil Bridgewater (trumpet) had been working together on albums like Frank Foster's "Loud Minority", and Roy Ayers' "Coffy" and "Virgo Red".
Dee Dee was a vocalist much in demand. In the year preceding this session,she'd appeared on Carlos Garnett's funky "Black Love", Norman Connors' beautiful "Love From the Sun" and had shared memorable duet vocals with Andy Bey on Stanley Clarke's "Children of Forever" - just to name a few absolute classics!
Ten weeks before the "Freedom Of Speech" session, the couple had been joined in Tokyo by Cecil's brother Ronald Bridgewater (tenor saxaphone) to record Dee Dee's debut album, the beautiful "Afro Blue", on which the brothers had added african percussion instruments to their arsenal.
Also in the studio on May 24th, 1974 was Donald Smith, (piano, vocals), fresh from recording on his older brother Lonnie Liston Smith's "Cosmic Funk" - on which Ronald Bridgewater had also played percussion.
Cecil McBee (bass) was also there - just two weeks before, he'd completed his own Strata East date "Mutima", and in February he'd played on Mtume's "Rebirth Cycle" - with both albums also featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater on vocals. He'd also played on Lonnie Liston Smith's "Astral Travelling".
So 1974 was a huge year for all five of these people (and, seemingly, for great jazz music). Within a month of this album, the Bridgewaters would be back in the studio to take part in Thad Jones & Mel Lewis' big-band "Potpourri", before working on two McCoy Tyner albums, two O'Donel Levy albums and a couple for Roy Ayers. Donald Smith and Cecil McBee were six months away from recording on Lonnie Liston Smith's massive "Expansions", with McBee fitting in a few Pharoah Sanders albums in between.
Billy Parker - from the cover of "Freedom Of Speech"
AND THEN, THE MYSTERY ...
So with all this fervent activity, the question has to be asked ...
** Who was Billy Earl Parker Jr (drums), the leader of this session ??
Billy Parker remains unlisted as a musician on all major jazz sites. Hours of Google revealed little, and the only known photos are above. Even in the cover pic at the top of this post, his name seems to be fading into the ringwear ...
His only other recording appears to be as a percussionist on Charles Tolliver's "Impact" in 1975. Then there's nothing.
For a moment, I worried that he might be this killer, but then worked out that he would have been nine years old when he'd recorded this album.
Finally, by backtracking one of those Zoom info pages, I found a summary of a "SUNY Rockland Community College" 2002 press release that no longer exists :
"Billy Parker's Fourth World Legacy Concert ... The concert, Billy Parker's Fourth World Legacy, is the eighth annual tribute honoring the late percussionist and RCC educator, Billy Parker. A long-time Rockland County resident, Parker began his affiliation with RCC in 1987, building its jazz program and maintaining his life-long tradition of teaching and inspiring others. A lifelong student himself, Parker was near completion of his doctorate in music education at New York University when he died in 1996. Billy was among those rare individuals equally gifted as artist and educator and the concert series pays homage to his legacy."
Nothing on him at the actual Rockland Community College website, but a little more digging through back issues of their pdf newsletters revealed that the tenth annual "Fourth World Legacy Concert series" took place in 2005, as part of "Black History Awareness Month", but then it stopped.
So perhaps Parker was one of those musicians who shift their creative skills to teaching ? Whatever the case, his one date as leader was a special one, and he managed to bring together all these people at the peak of their powers. He's also a great drummer.
The standouts on this album are the two joyous vocal tracks that start each side.
Donald Smith and Ron Bridgewater's "Dance of the Little Children" begins with a call to children to embrace their ancestry and find peace and happiness in the everyday, in order to find a future (yes, it's 1974!). Smith's vocal and piano embrace a harder, faster swing than the mellower tones of his brother's band at that time. The Bridgewater brothers move in and out of a synchronised melody, adding improvised tones around the vocal, and McBee holds a walking beat while Parker is all shimmering cymbals and offbeat snare.
The other vocal track is Ron Bridgewater's "Get With It", featuring a killer vocal by Dee Dee Bridgewater. Cecil McBee's memorable bassline does call-and-answer with the Bridgewater brothers' sax and trumpet. Parker zooms around the kit with constantly changing patterns while Smith holds the fort with simple chord patterns.
Cecil McBee's "Home" allows all of the musicians to stretch out in considered solos, while "Gemini's Lullaby" is a more straight-ahead affair.
Finally, there's Parker's sixteen-minute "Freedom Of Speech". After a three-minute drum solo - which I have to admit I always skip over - we move into a complex series of interlocking rhythms, with the brass and sax heading off into fairly free territory. Now on Rhodes, Donald Smith seems in close communication with McBee's fast, arpeggiated basslines. The two of them would come together again the next year with drummer Jack dejohnette for the album "Luv", Smith's only date as leader.
Final words from Billy Parker, from the cover notes :
"The Fourth World was born out of the need to preserve and develop on a tradition brought to these shores from Africa centuries ago."
BILLY PARKER"S FOURTH WORLD
"FREEDOM OF SPEECH"
Strata-East, Catalogue #SES-19754.
Recorded May 24th, 1974. Released 1975
01 DANCE OF THE LITTLE CHILDREN (4:56)
Arranged by - Cecil Bridgewater
Composed - Donald Smith
Lyrics By - Ronald Bridgewater
02 GEMINI'S LULLABY (6:58)
Composed By - Cecil Bridgewater
03 HOME (8:17)
Composed By, Arranged By - Cecil McBee
04 GET WITH IT (4:03)
Arranged By - Cecil Bridgewater
Composed By - Ronald Bridgewater
05 FREEDOM OF SPEECH (16:00)
Composed By - Billy Parker
Piano, Vocals - Donald Smith
Bass - Cecil McBee
Drums, Producer - Billy Parker
Saxophone [Tenor] - Ronald Bridgewater
Trumpet - Cecil Bridgewater
Vocals - Dee Dee Bridgewater
Artwork By [Inside Cover Design] - Vernon Grant
Engineer [Recording] - Ron Carran
Mixed By - Randy Adler
Liner Notes - Billy Earl Parker Jr.
Photography - Darnell C. Mitchell
Thanks to all the bloggers who i've linked to in this post, hope you enjoy some traffic :)
BIG thanks to Reza for the nice new vinyl rip, replacing the crap one I've had up at Ish's wants list for a few months ..
LINK IN THE COMMENTS!
also separate link for the COVERS
... and don't forget the Strata-East Fan Club for more albums from this great catalogue.