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Dopolarians

Dopolarians is an American vanguard jazz collective whose members are almost exclusively from the Deep South. Their roots lie in the Memphis free jazz scene of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The group's meld of free improvisation, harmonic exploration, funky swing, blues, and soul is steeped in Southern musical traditions. Their core members -- Chad Fowler (alto saxophone), Christopher Parker (piano), vocalist Kelley Hurt, and bassist William Parker (the only non-Southerner in the outfit) -- cut Garden Party, their widely acclaimed 2019 debut album, in New Orleans with veteran Mississippi-born avant-jazz drummer Alvin Fielder and NOLA-based saxophonist Kidd Jordan. Fielder died just months after its completion. Their second album, 2021's The Bond, featured veteran Memphis-based trumpeter and arranger Marc Franklin and prolific Louisiana-born drummer Brian Blade. Fowler and Christopher Parker, both originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, hung out and played in the orbit of the famed University of Memphis jazz department during the flowering of the city's free jazz scene in the late 1990s. They became friends and shared a house in nearby Bluff City, where they jammed and played one-off gigs with a variety of musicians that included saxophonists Frank Lowe and George Cartwright. Fowler introduced Parker to Memphis singer Kelley Hurt. Parker and Hurt eventually married, and they lost touch with Fowler for two decades. All three would end up in Arkansas and resumed contact. They bonded over their continued deep commitment to the development and expression of jazz. Parker and Hurt had been commissioned to compose original music in honor of the anniversary of the Little Rock Nine. In 1957, these students defied segregationists by marching into the then-all-white Central High School and became an indelible living symbol of the Civil Rights Movement. They recruited Fowler and trumpeter Marc Franklin -- another friend and colleague from the Memphis scene who had made his mark playing with and arranging for numerous jazz, soul, and rock performers including Aretha Franklin, Gregg Allman, and Don Bryant. He, in turn, recruited drummer and colleague Brian Blade. This quintet performed their No Tears Suite at Central High School itself. They eventually recorded and released the album in 2020. While Blade and Franklin would circle back into the trio's orbit, they remained very busy men. Parker, Hurt, and Fowler were so inspired by the work they had just completed, they committed to do more. During the spring of 2018, they recruited drummer/percussionist Alvin Fielder, a Mississippian, a charter member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), and a former member of the Sun Ra Arkestra. After returning to Mississippi in 1969, he continued to work with AACM and other vanguard musicians, bringing many of them to tour the South. He co-founded the Improvisational Arts Quintet with saxophonist Kidd Jordan in 1975, who existed through 2008. Through Fielder they were able to enlist ubiquitous bassist, composer, writer, and visual artist William Parker. While preparing for their first recording session, Fielder reached out to Jordan, with whom he hadn't worked for a decade. Jordan readily agreed to participate, but had just undergone a medical procedure that prevented him from traveling. The group traveled to him in New Orleans as Dopolarians, rehearsed at Marigny Recording Studio, and cut the album that became the widely celebrated Garden Party as the debut long-player for Mahakala Music. Fielder would not live to see its release; he passed in January 2019. Deeply inspired by Fielder's mentorship, musical abilities, and life example, Dopolarians decided to carry on. While composing additional music, the band reached out to old friends Blade and Franklin, who jumped aboard. Jordan, extremely busy himself, politely declined. In November 2020, the group re-entered NOLA's Marigny Recording Studio and cut three long-form compositions -- "The Bond," "The Emergence," and "The Release" -- ranging in length from nine-and-a-half minutes to more than a half-hour. The sextet's set utilized stridently resonant harmonies, resulting in a much airier and dreamier affair with loping, sometimes intense solos and intricate arrangements, while carving a pathway for bold exploratory vistas for group interplay. Titled The Bond, it appeared from Mahakala Music in March 2021.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo
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