William Parker’s Curtis Mayfield Project

(bonus track not on CD; rec. Cormons, Italy, Oct. 2008)
William Parker
I Plan to Stay a Believer: The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield
AUM Fidelity : 2010

WP, bass; Hamid Drake, drums; Dave Burrell, piano; Lewis Barnes, trumpet; Darryl Foster, tenor sax; Sabir Mateen, tenor sax, flute; Leena Conquest, vocals; Amiri Baraka: voice, poetry.

Here, courtesy William Parker and AUM Fidelity, is an advance taste of a massive project we have been aware of — and salivating over — for years now: Parker’s take on the music of soul legend Curtis Mayfield. Recorded over a span of almost ten years, involving a key core of musicians outfitted at various times with choirs of up to 90 members, I Plan to Stay a Believer is at once a celebration of Mayfield’s music and legacy, and an extension of it.

The princely Steven Joerg at AUM Fi has graciously allowed D:O to host this non-CD track — Parker’s original take on the Mayfield sound — for two weeks leading up to the street date of 14 September. For you early adopters, starting today, 31 August, the record will be available exclusively at the AUM Fidelity site. Purchase there and you will get access to additional, non-CD tracks via download. Highly recommended.

For additional context on the spirit behind the project, we have enlisted Parker himself to provide some illuminating details:

This is the first project, in my 30-year career, that I have devoted to the music of someone else.  It grew out of “Sitting by the Window,” a homage to Curtis Mayfield that I wrote for my band In Order To Survive. The current project develops this inspiration while trying to call upon the spirit in which Curtis Mayfield wrote his songs. We are trying to let that spirit find its voice today through musicians who not only know Mayfield’s songs, but more importantly, know themselves. They are familiar with the language of a music that includes Curtis Mayfield as well as Sun Ra.

I grew up listening to Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Martha and The Vandellas, Gladys Knight and The Pips, and Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions. In my mind, their music was not separate from Marian Anderson, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Don Byas, Sarah Vaughn, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, and Louis Armstrong. All this music is part of an African American tradition that comes out of the blues. The roots of the jazz known as avant-garde are also in the blues, the field holler, and the church. Avoiding artificial separations is the key to understanding the true nature of the music. All these artists ultimately speak using this reservoir of  sounds and colors that we can use to paint our own music.

The music that passed through the life and work of Curtis Mayfield cannot be duplicated. The question becomes, how can it then continue? I also ask myself this question in connection to Duke Ellington or Thelonious Monk. It always seemed to me that when Ellington died, the music physically died with him. We were left orphaned, with just the recorded part of his work and all these notes on paper, but that is not the reality. Once you realize this truth, you can find a different way to proceed to re-create the songs. Paradoxically, you can only find a way to play the music by initially affirming that it cannot be done. Let us imagine the Creator: part of his voice was expressed through Duke Ellington, a part through Albert Ayler, another part through Curtis Mayfield. The method doesn’t consist in following or imitating anyone’s style; the method consists of plunging into the Tone World, which is the source of all music. You can’t counterfeit a music. One can only collect strands and begin to weave a new tapestry out of them.

Curtis Mayfield was a prophet, a preacher, a revolutionary, a humanist, and a griot. He took the music to its most essential level in the America of his day. If you had ears to hear, you knew that Curtis was a man with a positive message – a message that was going to help you to survive. He was in the foreground, always in the breach, both soft and powerful at the same time. For these reasons, his music still resounds in my heart.

So, people, get ready.

By the way, while you are over at the AUM Fi HQ, you will also discover news of another Davis S. Ware landmark slab, a new trio disc with Parker and Warren Smith. Also worth your time and money.

Category album preview, William Parker Tags , , , , , , , ,