More and more these days it seems that William Parker has been drawing from the wellspring of African American roots music. That may sound like a strange idea, considering that the bassist has long been floating on the fringes outside mainstream jazz, hardly an icon of accessibility. Some of his best work has been in settings where the wildest ideas of collective improvisation fall together with pulse-raising intensity. Parker's respect for the groove may have dropped a couple layers below the crest on these occasions, but it rarely leaves the room. On recent recordings as a leader and with Matthew Shipp, that fact has been made abundantly clear.
That brings us to Scrapbook, which combines the raw sounds of the blues, spirituals, and funk with a keen sense of adventurous experimentation. Credit violinist Billy Bang for leading the charge on many of the fruitful excursions on this record. He represents the front linesuch as it is among three players who trade roles like they change socksand when the melody takes a turn to the left, Bang usually surfaces to ride the cusp.
The tone of the record emerges seconds after it starts. "Scrapbook" launches with an infectious funk groove, laid out with abandon by drummer Hamid Drake while Parker riffs away. Bang immediately settles into a six-note rising melody, restating it with due simplicity and restraint before the group drifts out of orbit. This theme will recur throughout the piece at irregular intervals as a reference point.
Plenty of double-stopped shuffling and scratching announces a change in tone, along with a shift in rhythm to a fast-paced, off-kilter out swing. Soon we're into the zone between a running bass line and the sort of root-centered enunciation that Parker employs to emphasize the groundbefore jumping back into high-energy abandon. No matter where the group stands with respect to a relative order or disorder, the groove essence never falls out of arm's reach.
Later points along the journey include soulful blues; deep reverent soul; a brief touchdown into rural hillbilly territory; some swinging balladeering; and plenty of just plain unclassifiable energy music scattered everywhere in between. A Scrapbook indeed. To his credit, Parker ably recognizes the connections between these styles, which represent the musical diaspora he's always claimed as a (usually) abiding citizen of American music.
Listeners who have had a chance to appreciate the incredibly intuitive connections between William Parker and Hamid Drake will find absolutely no disappointment here. If anything, Scrapbook offers a welcome glimpse into their relationship under conditions of flux. Flexibility is the operative word. And Billy Bang's playing here, more than on any record in recent memory, maintains an articulate, soulful, and coherent mometum.
Personnel: William Parker: bass; Billy Bang: violin; Hamid Drake: drums.