Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Jeff Parker – The Relatives (Thrill Jockey, 2005)

Jeff Parker is a mover and shaker on the Chicago improvised music scene, best known for his role as the guitarist in the post-rock ensemble Tortoise. This is his second solo album and he’s joined by Sam Barsheshet on electric piano, Chris Lopes on bass and other sundry instruments and Chad Taylor on drums. The music has a mellow and enjoyable vibe anchored by Barsheshet’s electric piano which gets a starring role on most of the tunes.

“Istanbul” begins the album with something of a Tortoise like feel that is a slinky groove which Parker is able to improvise over with a nice clean Grant Green-ish tone on his guitar. “Mannerisms” bumps things up to a funky groove with some fine Fender Rhodes piano accents and a steady pulse from Taylor. There is a little more life on songs like this then there is on most Tortoise records, which while always good sort of become aural wallpaper after a while. The improvisation on this record keeps it from receding into the background. “Sea Change” has a more rapid guitar figure to open and with time being kept on the cymbals. Parker gets a bit of a flamenco feel on his solo, especially on the strummed sections.

The only cover on the disc is a funky one of Marvin Gaye’s “When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You.” The electric piano gets things moving with a groovy 70’s like feel which Parker joins with a mix of strumming and single line playing over a straight-ahead bass and drums pocket. Barsheshet really shines on this song with some excellent soloing. Chris Lopes picks up the flute on “Beanstalk” to add a bit of a different flavor to the proceedings. The mix of electric piano and flute gives things a Return to Forever feel.

“The Relative” gets a little more abstract with some rumbling bass and subtle electronics which Parker lets simmer for a while before he joins on guitar over some hand percussion and electric piano. This song moves into a couple of different sections with a suite-like effect. “Toy Boat” brings things back to the funky realm with some Grant Green inspired electric guitar, very patient and well paced over a shimmering electric piano backdrop. The disc ends with “Rang,” beginning with a drum and electric piano duo – the piano plays repeating notes while Taylor improvises below it gradually building tension. Parker finally joins the fray and leads the band into a group improvisation.

This was a successful CD, although it may be a little brief clocking in at a vinyl-length 40 minutes, the music never outstays its welcome and the songs are well thought out and pithy. The quartet plays well as a whole, but special kudos must go out to Barsheshet’s superb electric piano and Parker’s clean Grant Green inspired guitar. If you are a fan of Green or Tortoise or of well played Fender Rhodes piano, this CD is recommended.

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