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Low-End Cyclone

William Parker

Jazz bassists are often described as anchors: steadfast in purpose, with the final word on tonality and time. But what about the function of a bass player in freeform settings, where foundations themselves are changeable? Here the better analogy might be the eye of a cyclone as it moves across the landscape. Encircled by monumental forces, it’s the imperturbable center, a locus of mysterious calm and unequivocal power.

There have been dozens of important bassists in free jazz and the related streams of avant-gardism; many are hard at work now. But when it comes to that radiant energy, you’d be hard-pressed to find one more tireless, or more significant, than William Parker. And as he approaches the lower threshold of elder-statesman stature, at 57, Parker warrants a fresh look even from those jazz listeners who tend to shy away from squalls.

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