William Parker

At Somewhere There
Barnyard Records BR 0313

An almost hour-long solo recital may seem daunting, but New York bassist William Parker easily impresses, as this bravura invention recorded at a local performance space attests. Cathedral Wisdom Light, this CD’s over-48-minute showpiece, is animated by his nearly limitless technique which prods, pulses, pummels and propels polyphonic tones and textures from the four-strings and resonating wood of the bull fiddle.

Resolutely arco – although sporadic plucks sometimes parallel the bow movement – the tempo is never less than andante and more than allegro. Within these parameters Parker layers phrases, note clusters and unexpected vamps, chafing wood and splitting string tones as well as agitato stops and chunky sul tasto expansions into the multiphonic narrative. As the shuffle-bowed fantasia evolves, taunt, creaking and swabbed timbres distend so that these pressured strokes shudder with affiliated partials as well as fundamental notes. Sometimes displaying portamento finesse, at points Parker mercurially showcases split-second variants on reveille, parallel bebop vamps and even a minor variant on legato chamber music.

With every part of the instrument in use, including the belly, waist and the strings beneath the bridge, the bassist is able to craftily shift the tonal centre throughout, introducing novel harmonies and rubato asides to the ongoing improvisation. A final variant drives the chromatic performance to a mellower low-pitched climax, before replicating the exposition with shrill sawing.

Short addenda on dousin’gouni and double flute complete the program, but after Parker’s exceptional bass solo, these are somewhat akin to hearing Glenn Gould’s harpsichord recording.

— Ken Waxman

— For Whole Note Vol. 15 #8