Thursday, April 06, 2006

William Parker - Long Hidden: The Olmec Series (AUM Fidelity, 2006)

Bassist and composer William Parker has his hand in many musical pies and the world is better for it. On his most recent album, he mixes tracks from a variety of sources to come up with an interesting cohesive musical whole. Parker also writes stories and poems about the characters in his music and looks for the spiritual path in all things musical. He dedicates this album to the Olmec people who lived in the area that is today Mexico before the era of the Maya and the Aztecs.

The album begins with a lengthy bass solo - Parker improvising alone on the spiritual "There is a Balm in Gilead" with a deep and resonant feeling. Also included as solo bass performances on this disc are "Cathedral of Light" and "Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy" which demonstrate Parker's prodigious bass playing talent, both with speedy abstract bow playing, hypnotic and trance inducing, like a Native-American ritual in its own right, prompting a quizzical "what is that?" from the person I share my office with while I was listening to this one afternoon at work. There are also full band tracks, where Parker's bass anchors The Olmec Group, made up of saxophonist Dave Swanson and a group of young meringue musicians in their early 20's (no, I am not making this up!)

The Olmec Group has a very interesting sound, using a lot of percussion and accordion to lay down a groove for Swanson to improvise over on "Pok-a-Tok" which develops a great world music meets jazz feel, somewhat akin to the music on the records that trumpeter Don Cherry released in the mid-70's. Cherry was a big influence for this recording as he gave Parker his first Doson Ngoni, a beautiful Malian stringed instrument that he plays unaccompanied on three tracks. The music is a light, gentle sound, somewhere between a banjo and a kora, reminiscent of the music Praker performed on his wonderful Eloping With the Sun CD, which made my top 10 in 2003. Parker fans and world music buffs should get a lot of enjoyment out of this mix of the cultural and the spiritual.

Send comments to: Tim