William Parker / Todd Nicholson / Isaiah Parker / Dave Sewelson

November 27, 2006

Long Hidden: The Olmec Series

AUM Fidelity AUM 036

As much World Music as Free Improv, Long Hidden features William Parker, Free Jazz’s most accomplished master bassist, exploring a couple of novel musical paths.

Besides four expected solo bass extravaganzas – three of which were recorded in the 1990s – there are also three, inter-related, but out-of-order tracks which showcase his skills on the specially-designed eight-string doson ngoni, or banjo-guitar. Plus there are three more songs when he takes his place as sideman with a merengue tipico music group.

Playing traditional and original tunes honoring the Olmec people of Central America, this band is a mixture of veterans and tyros. Besides Parker, who plays six-string Malian doson ngoni, the experienced musicians are alto and baritone saxophonist Dave Sewelson, of the Microscopic Septet and bassist Todd Nicholson, a frequent sideman with violinist Billy Bang. The others – all less than 23 years old – are

Isaiah Parker on alto saxophone, Luis Ramirez on accordion, Omar Payano on conga, güiro and vocal plus Gabriel Nunez on timbale and bongos.

Remarkably the currents from the three subsets appear to mesh.

As might be termed pro forma at this juncture, the solo bass excursions are appropriately breathtaking. Especially on “Compassion Seize Bed-Stuy”, recorded in Berkeley, Calif. In 1997 and “In Case of Accident”, which dates back to Montreal in 1993, the bassist alternates sawing arco lines with gentling pizzicato overtones. On the later, the sul ponticello thrusts eventually trigger reverberating waterfalls of notes that splatter faster and faster. Featuring col legno interface, high-pitched plucks, sul tasto shuffle bowing and narrow string pinches beneath the bridge, the impression is of more than one bass playing at a time.

“Compassion Seize Bed-Stuy”, on the other hand, extend Parker’s mournful pitches into tremolo multiphonics, put into bolder relief with the addition of pressure from what seems to be not one, but two additional bows. Midway it appears as if Parker is duetting with himself, passing tones back and forth, stroking and strumming.

Instructively, like his frequent associate multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore, Parker uses the timbres of the specially constructed 8-string Malian doson ngoni to get closer to American roots music. The passing tones ratcheted on “Long Hidden Part One” could come from a couple of geezers sitting on their rural porch at nightfall and serenading the lonesome mountains with six-string guitar and four-string banjo clanking and chromatic plucks.

Most distinctive are the four sextet pieces, which once they gain a head of steam move pass the rhythmic background textures to full group situations. Sewelson’s versatility stands out here, since he’s able to squeak an abstract saxophone solo on top of the tipico rhythm produced by scratching the gourd and pummeling the accordion bellows without making the result seems any less than organic.

Putting aside call-and-response vocals, ground bass reverberation and contrapuntal reed lines, the definitive group statement comes on “Pok-a-Tok”, a fanciful name for a piece of musical anthropology. Linking the indigenous American people, with African ancestors and jazzers like Thelonious Monk, Parker propels musical intellect along with emotion. More than jollity is expressed through the cross-fed beats from junkeroo percussion, scraping guiro and skittering accordion bellows. Although the infectious beat sometimes suggest an old-time field recording, the ghostly accordion line and dance-step-like funk horns vamps extend into different directions before reaching the same end.

Although some may prefer Parker’s cerebral large band orchestrations or intense small-group interface, Long Hidden exposes another facet of his talent.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. There is a Balm in Gilead 2. Long Hidden Part Two* 3. Codex# 4. El Puente Seco# 5. Long Hidden Part Three* 6. Cathedral of Light 7. Compassion Seize Bed-Stuy 8. Pok-a-Tok# 9. Esprito#+ 10. Long Hidden Part One* 11. In Case of Accident

Personnel: William Parker (bass, 8-string doson ngoni*) or the Olmec Group# featuring Isaiah Parker (alto saxophone); Dave Sewelson (alto and baritone saxophones); Luis Ramirez (accordion); Todd Nicholson (bass); William Parker (percussion and 6-string doson ngoni); Omar Payano (conga, güiro and vocal+); Gabriel Nunez (timbale and bongos)