Conceptual journeyman William Parker is not content to merely excel at that of which he is already a proven master; a bass virtuoso, ensemble leader and multi-disciplinary collaborator, Parker is more than just one of today's finest jazz musicians, he truly embodies the term artist.
Long Hidden: The Olmec Series finds Parker in three new settings. He goes solo for half the record with a series of unaccompanied bass pieces and a set of doson ngoni meditations. This African instrument, otherwise known as a Malian hunter's lute, carries with it a shimmering resonant timbre akin to that of a mbira, invoking a sense of primal ritual. The third scenario features Parker as the member of a new collective.
With the recently formed Olmec Group, Parker collaborates with a quartet of young, unknown merengue musicians and a pair of scene luminaries. Saxophonist Dave Sewelson was a charter member of the Microscopic Septet, and bassist Todd Nicholson regularly gigs with violinist Billy Bang, a peer of Parker's. But do not be deceived: these seven musicians are not simply trafficking in conventional Latin music; theirs is a timeless, unusual hybrid.
With antecedents in traditional Latin rhythms, the group carries forth a polyrhythmic stew that is accessible but raw as the horns emote fervently over the beat. The multi-percussive rhythm section is exceptionally boisterous and spurs the saxophonists on to heights of spastic passion. The underused Sewelson is an absolute joy to hear in this context. The leader's presence in the group is less obvious than one might expect; bleating saxophones and stuttering accordion take center stage, while the driving rhythms pulse ever onward.
Although the Olmec Group's wooly improvisations make up the heart of the record, Parker's solo excursions are the most revealing. A soulfully deliberate take on the traditional hymn "There is a Balm in Gilead," which Parker has recorded solo before (on Painter's Spring, Thirsty Ear 2000), demonstrates that this is in part a meditative and reflective session. The solo doson ngoni pieces are delightfully harmonious, and Parker breaks out his bow for some impassioned arco harmonics on "Cathedral of Light." The most assertive solo performance arrives with a live recording from 1993, "In Case of Accident," a fourteen-minute whirling mountain of sound. But Parker's concepts of unity come to the fore most strongly with the collaborative efforts of the multi-generational Olmec Group.
On a par with the world music fusions of Parker's mentor Don Cherry, Long Hidden is an invigorating addition to a field of music easily bogged down with tepid crossover attempts. This is the real deal: raw, primal, soulful and expressive to the extreme. Parker, both solo and as a collaborator, makes a joyful noise that deserves to be heard by anyone with an ear for music in its most pluralistic sense.
Personnel: William Parker: bass (1,6,7,11), eight-string doson ngoni (2,5,10).
The Olmec Group (3,4,8,9): Dave Sewelson: baritone and alto saxophone; Isaiah Parker: alto
saxophone; Luis Ramirez: accordion; Todd Nicholson: bass; William Parker: 8-string doson
ngoni, percussion; Omar Payano: congo, guiro, voice; Gabriel Nunez: timbale, bongos.