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"It Is What It Is" is the most conventional track on Awakening, although conventional is a relative term with Parker. Amazingly, it's the only song where the bass makes an appearance, in this case supplying an infectious groove laid down by Ugonna Okegwo, Parker's cohort in the Jacky Terrasson trio. But it's Mingus Big Band alum Adam Cruz who really spices things up, filling out the sound with dark steel drums. Cruz also shines on the aptly titled Afro-Cuban cut "Cruz." Parker shifts to piano on this one, which explodes midway through when Cruz moves from steel drums to cowbell, intensifying an already blistering pace.

The title track brings similar excitement, with Elisabeth Kontomanou's enchanting wordless vocals and Parker doing quintuple duty on piano, snare drum, conga, cowbell, and wood block. Your jaw will drop when you realize it's the only appearance of the usually ubiquitous snare on Awakening, and it will drop even lower when you realize that Parker didn't bother with a bass drum on any of the cuts.

Even with its crisp sound, Awakening demands a probing ear to be truly appreciated. Unusual soundscapes such as the song "Enlightenment," with no instrument but a cymbal, may not always make for good background music, but that's not the goal here. Parker's originality and rhythmic firepower spark a musical carnival. And there's definitely nothing wrong with that.

-- Chris Duffy

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