William Parker – Luc’s Lantern (2005)

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by Mark Saleski

Digital. It’s just got to be digital — ones ‘n zeros. Forget that old-fashioned analog stuff. That’s for old fogies. If you want to be with it, current, where it’s at, up to date, in the know, down with it … your activity must be presented in bits (for those who are suffering from extreme curiosity and/or insomnia, a bit is a contraction of the words binary digit. That is, a one or a zero.)

The following are modern ‘improvements’ to their ancient, analog counterparts: digital clocks, digital radio tuners, televisions, cameras, movies (vs. film), thermometers, computers (OK, you got me there), books (don’t get me started!) Heck, what with advances made in both the power and size of the microchip, there will surely come a time when just about every natural phenomenon will be replaced and/or simulated by a computer.

One thing that’ll be tough to replace (at least to these ears) will be acoustic musical instruments. Sure, there are digital pianos and sampled playback synthesizers, but none of those devices do proper justice to their analog counterparts. Software can do many things but something is lost in the leap from the digital realm back to the analog. This is particularly true of stringed, wood instruments. The nuances that can be drawn from fingers-on-strings, strings-on-neck (and even bow-on-strings) are just too complex and multi-faceted.

Ten seconds into the bass-only intro of “Adena,” the opening track from William Parker’s Luc’s Lantern, and the idea of replacing this woody, earthy bass with software becomes almost comical. Parker lays down a thick groove that not only provides a guiding structure for his trio but also reacts to their accents.

Oh, yeah … and it swings. Hard.

“Mourning Sunset” takes a similar approach with a solo bass ostinato (Parker’s tone lies somewhere between Mingus and Chick Corea/A.R.C-era Dave Holland) that pianist Eri Yamamoto and drummer Michael Thompson use to weave an increasingly complex sonic web. Yamamoto in particular pushes her bandmates with a long series of shifty chords and unpredictable single-note chromatic runs.

Things heat up to a searing level on the title track as Parker flies a furious bassline closely followed by drummer Thompson. The piano mixes in a long series of angular sorta-phrases (this is the kind of music that can get you worried that the band has lost the pulse … until you realize that their concept of the pulse is nowhere near yours. Oops.)

Skipping forward to “Bud in Alphaville,” the trio starts an uptempo, bluesy vamp that sounds like an update to “Blue Monk.” That is, until the chaos takes over (and I mean that in the best possible way!) Park’s bass takes center stage on the sensitive “Charcoal Flowers.” The initial plaintive piano chords are supported by deep bass notes before Parker shifts over to the bow. The variety of sounds produced a bowed bass is amazing: whispers, growls, whimpers, cries. So much emotion.

My opening rant on the hegemony of modern electronics shouldn’t be taken as an indictment of their use in music. Let’s face it, Parker himself has made some fine music that is absolutely chocked full of wiggling electrons (especially with cohort Matthew Shipp.) It’s just that sometimes it feels right to go back to the source. It’s the place where communication via music remains unmediated.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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