William Parker founded In Order to Survive, his first functioning small group, in 1993. Apart from the drum chair -- held alternately by Denis Charles and Susie Ibarra before Hamid Drake came aboard in the 21st century -- the membership has included saxophonist Rob Brown, pianist Cooper-Moore. They released three acclaimed albums during the 1990s including the studio offering Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy, and live albums The Peach Orchard and Posium Pendasem, before going on hiatus until 2012 when they reconvened at the Vision Festival. The music they performed was included on Parker's Wood Flute Songs box set. In October 2016, they entered the studio for the first time since 1995, emerging with half of the exquisite double-set Meditation/Resurrection, issued in 2017. Subsequently two nights were booked at ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn to celebrate. Live/Shapeshifter presents the entirety of the music played on night two.
The first disc is comprised of the 50-plus-minute "Eternal Is the Voice of Love" suite in five movements. The music is beautifully structured, built around Parker's love of Japanese and Chinese folk music, Native American songs, Mingus, and of course, modernist avant-jazz. The 20-minute "Part I: Entrance to the Tone World" finds Drake rumbling on his tom-toms with Cooper-Moore's piano offering speculative, nearly classical phrases and accents. Brown moves between bluesy phasing and drones. "Part I" unfolds holistically as improvisation and composed sections are played simultaneously. As it unfolds, alternating sections of groove, post-bop blues, modal improvisation, and angular swing all move to the fore. "Part III: If Ever There Is a Chance" walks a tightrope between Cooper-Moore's balladic classicism, Parker's pizzicato lyricism, and Drake's cymbal flourishes and haunted wood flute. After a glorious modal intro by the pianist, "Part IV: A Situation" becomes an explosive interplay of ideas, with Brown's lyricism playing counter to the pianist's jumping chord voicings.
The second set/disc, commences with Brown offering a melody simultaneously worthy of Ornette Coleman and Paul Desmond, as the pianist comps on a set of dark, angular chords, Drake rolls and fills on the snare and Parker punctuates phrases, underscoring each line as it develops while guiding the piece forward. Scripted concepts and free playing alternate in its architecture. "Newark" composed for former member Grachan Moncur III, is introduced by a bass fugue, followed by percussion, sax, and finally, piano on a halved beat. Its thematic opening section diverges into call and response and becomes meditative at its nadir, with the piano languidly guiding Parker's bass. "In Order to Survive" is the band's go-to masterpiece; it's played with fervor and joy. The quartet's members alternate, leading and following with angular interruptions that surprise throughout. Live/Shapeshifter is not only a welcome addition to In Order to Survive's shelf, but a powerful document that reveals the intimate knowledge these players have of each other; they don't have to listen too closely to one another in order to respond or move the conversation deeper and wider -- respect, acumen, and emotion accomplish that.