Jazz drummer Leon Parker has made a trademark of the stripped-down kit--usually just a snare, cymbal, and bass drum and sometimes less. (When he played with pianist Kenny Barron in the early 90s he used only a cymbal.) While his setup on Alive (Blue Note), the most recent album by pianist Jacky Terrasson's unique trio, is relatively beefy--snare, cymbal, bass, and tom--Parker's playing is as spare and mind-bendingly resourceful as anything he's done. His carefully drawn rhythms delicately limn the fragile proceedings, and when things need a kick, one of his short ride patterns or a snare bomb is all it takes. On Parker's own most recent album, Awakening (Columbia), he's separated himself from the young-lion pack even more dramatically by ditching jazz altogether--a move his last album, Belief, foreshadowed. Saxophonists Sam Newsome and Steve Wilson do improvise, but Parker's tunes are not concerned with swinging madly or showcasing virtuosity; instead they embody the percussionist's search for the nexus between drift and groove. African, Brazilian, and Cuban rhythms overlap calmly and naturally under stately folk melodies, bits of whispered poetry, trilling flutes, and airy sax solos. It might sound like New Age glop on paper, but Parker's precision as a bandleader as well as a percussionist keeps drum-circle indulgence and meditational emptiness at bay. This is a solo gig--earlier this year Parker canceled all his group plans, including dates with Terrasson, to focus on solo percussion, explaining in the New York Times, "I have to withdraw from the world in order to get in touch with whatever this power is." There's a small danger of his turning this performance into a clinic, but when he last performed in town as a leader, in January 1997 at Orchestra Hall, Parker's solo pieces were among the most compelling of the evening. Wednesday, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by John Sann.