Hope Cries for Justice, Patricia Nicholson and William Parker
(Centering Records, 2018)
CD review by John Pietaro
Published in “The NYC Jazz Record”, May 2018
Patricia Nicholson- text, voice; William Parker- donso n’goni, bass
In times of political strife, musicians, poets, all cultural workers, have stood on the front lines of fight-back. Patricia Nicholson and William Parker, through the reach of their Vision Festival and community-building of Arts for Art, stand as leading radicals within jazz’s cutting edge.
With Hope Cries for Justice, the pair engage in an intimate portrait of “our present moment and the power of the spirit”. Parker, the noted bassist, is primarily heard on the West African dosno ngoni, a traditional harp. He uses the instrument’s modal stasis effectively, evoking the heat and breadth of sub-Saharan topography, peppering it with off-mic vocalization. Nicholson’s performances in contrast carry a strong theatrical component including an affected southern-like vernacular for some selections. And opening cut “Taken” finds the narrator bathed in numbing despair after witnessing a woman’s brutal abduction by authorities. There is something stunningly Kafkaesque about the piece, its dark imagery, its inward isolation, but the remainder of the album never quite matches this subtle urgency.
The album’s theme is the need for hope; in its absence, the pair remind us, “there can never be justice”, yet it also illustrates distance and aloneness (“My mother was standing there and we watched as her heart was breaking”). It’s unclear as to how many of these pieces are specific to contemporary Trumpian realities, but “The Wall Between” and “Wailing at the Lost Souls Department” offer strong responses to reactionary bravura. Mysteriously, within such vital messaging is “Granola”. Its stirring Orwellian refrain of “Words have gone missing” is affixed to a lengthy adoration of this breakfast condiment. Pondering symbolism, the confluence of the two remains unclear and unfortunately sounds trite.
As Nicholson and Parker’s festival hails improvisation, much of the work here makes fine use of the medium, yet some segments fall short. Nicholson often embellishes text with repetition, broken rhythms, diphthongs, plainsong and melisma, pertinent tools all. But such skills require nurturing, indeed a delicate rearing. When works appear strained by uncertainty in vocal expression--particularly when elongated by declarations of “You know. You know. You know-you know-you know-you know. You know”--the quality of dissent is endangered by its very liberation. James Baldwin, among the most revolutionary of writers, stated that a sentence should emerge ‘clean as a bone’ when edited. It’s easy to imagine the constituent strength that may grow of this project with multiple performances. As the battle rages.