Duncan Parsons 2023
Sheffield polymath takes stock of his last decade’s meandering between styles to reveal a secret path to its flaming method.
Being simultaneously self-effacing and assertive is an art that Duncan Parsons mastered well enough to add humor to his personal assessment and his oeuvre and get away with it – and also well enough to attract fellow musicians to his cause. Ten years after “Abandoned Buildings” saw the British multi-instrumentalist debut as a solo performer, his virtual premises still teem with friends who help him realize quite a singular vision in which prog, fusion and symphonic music create an incendiary mélange of melodies and take the listener on a trip beyond the expected. So whatever front the pieces gathered on “I’m Here, All Weak” pretend to present, the results of marrying previously released material to alternative variants of such and to yet-unheard numbers are anything but feeble, and anything but stating he’s here to stay. Tying it all up in a new context has a lot of advantages, too.
On their own, the organ-driven, frivolous “Furry Leaves” with its Beethoven base or a new, close-to-concert, raga-scented reading of the gossamer, folk-informed “Wond’ring A’lowed” where Parsons is channeling his inner Ian Anderson – as well as one of Duncan’s pun-ridden tracks, the angry “F: Lower” that’s augmented by his bandmate, axeman Nick Fletcher – could be dismissed as light-hearted pastiches yet, accessed together with other cuts, the tunes on display become necessary part of overall magic, destined to contrast more serious songs. Known first and foremost as a drummer, this player can wrap his robust grooves in vibrant arrangements, all licks on the ever-shifting likes of the light “Lavender Rose” – in which punchy bass and cosmic synthesizer feed Parsons’ soft voice and lead to a chamber coda – delivered strictly by himself, while the radio edits of deceptively rustic, if vigorously cosmic, “This Day” and “Lead Us Not” find Duncan’s exquisite six-string lace and ethereal ivories and, respectively, John Helliwell and John Hackett‘s reeds emboss the solid bedrock laid by Leland Sklar. And though the cinematic “Shuffling Penguins” explores stereo reaches of new-age-esque but very much tangible aural space, the trumpet-encrusted “Gonville” offers a scintillating disco jive before the freshly unveiled ballads “Queenie And Elmo At The Museum” and “Dr W (Pt. III)” – the former familiar to those following the ensemble the Sheffield artist’s in and possessing the collective’s live recordings, the latter a riffs-infused wordless wonder – show the extent of his studio mastery.
As do the romantic “The Last Mango In Powys” that’s weaving a thread from acoustic to electric texture for the dynamic tapestry to fathom the composer’s emotional spectrum, and the violin-flaunting “Long Summer Days” that’s painting a pastoral picture which the elegiac “Embers” will deepen and the epic “J: Oi!” – that features Steve Hackett on blues harmonica, Gary Boyle on steel-strung guitar, and Ton Scherpenzeel on piano – will elevate to vertiginous heights, with Parsons’ lines soaring towards the sun… Or towards the nocturnal adventure as the final lullaby “Take Me By The Hand” suggests via its magnificent choir and surface polyphony.
This is why “I’m Here, All Weak” is more than a roundup of Duncan’s works; it’s his claim to projecting an imposing presence – and smiling as not to look too important.