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The Simple Life – Leon Parker

Label M 495730

I can't fault Leon Parker for his desire to expand his creative horizons.
And
when given the opportunity on an independent label, rather than a major one,
he probably encounters the type of encouragement that allows him to travel
among any new musical paths.

But, ultimately, that's the problem with Parker's "The Simple Life": it contains three different personalities within one disc. While each may sound fine on its own, together it is like a group of people that have next to no business being with each other. For visualization purposes, think of it as a concert venue filled with Phish fans, Celine Dion fans. and Blue Oyster Cult fans. Yeah, everyone is there for the purpose of a musical event but there's extremely little in common as far as musical interests from one person to the next.

Parker starts off with a burst of inspiration by treating Duke Ellington's
Caravan to a minimalist arrangement. On it he steps away from his
drum kit
in order to play body rhythm. It is what it sounds like, a matter of tapping
out rhythms on his body. Vocal and soprano saxophone accompaniment dress up
the track.

Still, Caravan as well as the next track, Everyday, are
hampered by the
sense that these are NPR-inspired numbers; jazz with a worldbeat influence
done in by a hermetically-sealed production that could be heard in the
background at some coffeehouse or used bookstore that also sells a lot of
incense and candles. On the first three tunes, Parker also uses vocalist
Elizabeth Kontomanou. Her
crystalline sound embellishes the Afrobeat textures he creates.

By track five, "The Simple Life" moves on to its next phase. A live version of Belief finds Parker and his multi-cultural unit knocking out standard jazz fare. On it, Parker lays low, providing an efficient foundation while pianist Xavier Davis and alto saxophonist Steve Wilson make their mark. Even though it's a Parker original, its influence echoes past Blue Note performances, giving it a contemporary yet classic feel. Parker then strays towards Afrobeat territory with the djembe and bells instrumentation on Peace (Interlude). It gives the sensation of a small drum circle, but once again, its placement makes little sense. This becomes even more apparent when Thelonious Monk's playful Green Chimneys follows in sonic step with Belief. One of the connections between the tunes is the work of sax player Wilson. His teaming with Parker becomes the album's more successful meetings.

At this point, I'm at seven of the album's 15 tracks. From there, the
stylistic tendencies just repeat themselves until Parker departs for another
musical world.

Fast Life attempts to raise the spirit of the swinging party jazz of
the
early '60s but loses steam through its timidness to let the groove take
control as well as by a scat vocal section. Evy’s Samba does a better
job
of reflecting this style and time period.

So, a compact disc that's barely 50 minutes in length uncomfortably strays
within three different musical worlds. Something more cohesive next time out
could make Parker's work more worthwhile.

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