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William Parker: Long Hidden: The Olmec Series

The new album from avant-garde bassist extraordinaire William Parker features him in three settings, which unfortunately for the discriminating record buyer vary in quality. His efforts with the Olmec Group find Parker playing percussion and six-string n’goni. In entertaining liner notes, he describes the instrument as a “hunter’s guitar from the Mande (Mali).” A quartet of merengue musicians lays down steady beats; soloists add melodic motives and rhythmic cells that wash over the beats like waves on the beach, overlapping, vaguely cyclic, loosely linked. Some will find it hypnotic music that never seems to begin or end; some will find it tedious for the same reason.

Parker describes his solo turns on the eight-string n’goni as “music that is listened to as we go about our daily chores,” and it creates a delicate, outside-of-time feeling. But Parker’s solo-bass tracks shoot for the moon and get there: A complex, heartfelt take on “There Is a Balm in Gilead” with eloquent silences; aspirated, wiry tone and ecstatic energy in “Cathedral of Light”; searing anguish that never becomes ugly on “Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy” and a mind-blowing 14-minute bonus track (from a now-out-of-print, self-released album) called “In Case of Accident.” Hey, if one third of the album is amazing, that’s still pretty good.

Originally Published