On his latest album,
the virtuoso jazz bassist brings canny craft and otherworldly inspiration to
BY JIM ALLEN
While William Parker’s been making a name for himself since
the ’70s as one of the finest bassists in free/avant-jazz, laying down the
bottom line for everyone from Cecil Taylor to David S. Ware, in more recent
years it’s become clear that the occupation closest to his heart of hearts is
that of bandleader. Much in the manner of his forebear Alan Silva (who played
bass with Taylor in the ’60s, and with whom Parker has also worked), the
Bronx-born bass man eventually expanded beyond the role of workmanlike
instrumentalist to become a conceptual-minded leader of ensembles where the
open systems of free jazz are adapted to more organized sonic scenarios for a
happy meeting of exploration and articulation.
That’s exactly what he achieves on Double Sunrise Over
Neptune, issued recently by the esteemed Aum Fidelity label (www.aumfidelity.com).
In fact, Parker doesn’t even play bass on the album (that
task falls to the talented young Shayna Dulberger), instead playing double
reeds and doson’ngoni (a West African lute), in addition to his primary role of
conductor. A piece created to realize Parker’s theory of “universal tonality,”
which holds that all sounds predate the sound-makers and come from the same
spiritual source, Double Sunrise was debuted in 2007 in New York City,
at the 12th annual Vision Festival (which Parker helps organize).
Owing to technical problems with the live recording, only the second half of
that 40 minutes-plus performance made it to the album; the musicians gathered
again the next day to record it again, and the second performance is also featured
here, in its entirety.
A freewheeling, mood-shifting piece that nevertheless moves
with an insistent sense of momentum, Double Sunrise mixes African,
Eastern, and American flavors in a musical river that is constantly moving,
never allowing the listener to step into the same place twice. Vamps that stir
Afro-funk with blues and jazz undulate beneath a whirring hornet’s nest of
reeds and strings, and Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay’s keening vocals inject a
transcendent spiritual feeling. Joe Morris’s guitar and banjo add angular,
almost percussive motifs, while the drums of Hamid Drake and Gerald Cleaver
seem to work inside and outside the time simultaneously, driving the whole
thing with a winning blend of color and propulsion.
While Parker takes a relatively low-profile instrumental
role, not a note played by the 16-strong ensemble would have the same meaning –
much less exist in the first place – without the canny craft and otherworldly
inspiration created by his carefully wrought context.