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William Parker & Patricia Nicholson - No Joke! (ESP-Disk’)

30 November 2021

Bassist/composer William Parker has been particularly prolific of late, with two leader albums and four collaborative albums this year alone, and his stream of releases continues with No Joke! Joined as headliner by his poet/dancer spouse Patricia Nicholson, Parker enters an explicitly political arena here – unsurprisingly for artists of color. Over music that alternates betwixt bluesy, melodic riffs and frenetic free jazz, Nicholson keeps up an improvised commentary on the suffering of folks who don’t fit a certain segment of this population’s fantasy of what American citizens should look like and how they should act. The poet keeps up her patter with a mix of straight reportage and tentative hope for the most part, but occasionally can’t keep a sense of disdain out of her voice – not for the people of whom she speaks, but for those who don’t believe the truths she’s telling. She’s supported by the intertwined saxophones of James Brandon Lewis (tenor) and Devin Brahja Waldman (alto), the shifting drums of Francesco Mela and Gerald Cleaver, and the scraping viola of Melanie Dyer, all of whom sound keenly aware of when to pull back and when to express the same anger. Parker’s framework supports both players and speaker, giving them a platform to express the “Flare Up” and the “Struggle” with as much intensity or sensitivity as they need.