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William Parker - Long Hidden: The Olmec Series

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Artist: William Parker

Album: Long Hidden: The Olmec Series

Label: AUM Fidelity

Review date: Feb. 5, 2006

Few musicians possess as imaginative and inclusive a cosmology as William Parker. In Parker’s pantheon Sitting Bull and Harriet Tubman ride a soaring sun chariot with the Incan king Pachacuti, musical tones correspond to rainbow colors and the pinions of time and space are regularly subverted by sound. The origins of his belief system lie in the far-flung thoughts of a lonely black boy reading voraciously in a Brooklyn public library. Kaleidoscopic and tenaciously optimistic, it’s sometimes difficult for the agnostic outsider to take it all seriously. But Parker seems both sincere and devout in the face of doubt, an anchor to a musico-cultural community that continues to flourish in Manhattan.

Long Hidden: The Olmec Sessions honors a specific branch of Parker’s mythos that encompasses the indigenous forefathers of Middle America. The first ten tracks alternate improvisations for solo bass and doson ngoni (a harp-like instrument) with ensemble performances that find Parker, bassist Todd Nicholson and saxophonist Dave Sewelson in the company of a merengue quartet made up of two percussionists, accordion and alto sax. On these latter numbers, Parker bequeaths bass-playing duties to Nicholson and turns his attention to other instruments.

The stark contrasts of Parker alone on pieces like the improvisatory rendering of “There is a Balm in Gilead,” where bulbous bass notes float and reverberate in somber sound space, with more brightly-hued and busy band numbers like the percolating percussion carnival “Pok-a-Tok,” gives the album a large emotional range. The spirits of Wilbur Ware and Jimmy Garrison weigh prominently in his pulsating and suspirating bass lines, while doson ngoni pieces like “Long Hidden, Part Three” are well-designed to dissolve listener stress. And for the arco lovers there’s the stunning concert-culled “Cathedral of Light” rife with resplendent harmonics, and a solo bowed version of his venerable “Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy.”

For their parts, the merengue musicians are uncommonly sympathetic. Whirring and wheezing in Tango-tinged loops on the bustling “Codex,” accordionist Luis Ramirez creates a güiro and bongo topiary pruned beautifully by Omar Payano and Gabriel Nunez. Sewelson’s alto sputters and whinnies against the robustly breathing rhythm, flanked by the alto of Isaiah Parker and the keening strains of the leader’s overdubbed bombard. The disc concludes with a solo live bonus cut, the epic hornet’s nest “In Case of Accident” borrowed from the cassette-released Painter’s Autumn on Parker’s own Centering imprint. Parker’s written musings offer revelations right alongside the music and are packed with numerous anecdotes that clearly delineate the history and intentions of the project. They leave but one burning question: how long will the wait be for the next Olmec installment?

By Derek Taylor

Other Reviews of William Parker

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Sound Unity

Double Sunrise Over Neptune

At Somewhere There

I Plan to Stay a Believer: The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield

Crumbling in the Shadows is Fraulein Miller’s Stale Cake

Centering: Unreleased Early Recordings 1976-1987

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