Friday, January 31, 2020

Jeff Parker - Suite for Max Brown (International Anthem, 2020)

Guitarist Jeff Parker is known for his playing in the wonderful band Tortoise among many other musical contexts, and on this album he gave himself a new challenge: combing samples and improvisation to create new musical performances. Parker created series of samples of his own guitar, keyboards, bass, percussion, and then asked musicians to improvise over his creations, which he then used to layer and assemble into his final tracks. This method works quite well and sounds very organic, and the layering and placing of individual tracks within a performance is done seamlessly. “Fusion Swirl” has a complex beat with thick bass pulsing through the track and complex drumming. There's a drone tone at the center of the track and vocal exhortations urging the music on. The track achieves a hypnotic groove that is very impressive with extra percussion shaken around the unstoppable focus of the bass, drums and central drone. This tone is the focal point, demanding attention and pushing other instruments to the periphery whether they be guitar, percussion or what have you. It's a novel and experimental approach an one that makes for bold results. John Coltrane's “After the Rain” is beautifully performed, with Parker taking the melody on guitar while being framed by tasteful electric piano and cymbals. His tone is subtle and perfect for a ballad such as this, paying homage to a classic while still using a modern approach to the guitar, and and showing the way that it can mesh with electronic keyboards to build varied textures and colors. “Metamorphoses” is a short electronic track, with oscillating tones creating a varied and evolving form, which moves into “Gnarciss” which is based on the Joe Henderson tune "Black Narcissus," and comes off sounding like a humid summer day with dense electronics wafting around a crisp drumbeat, vibes and short bursts of saxophone and guitar shining through. “Go Away” sets a fierce groove with cool toned percussion, guitar and keyboards, really pushing forward with thick toned bass holding it all together. The band is really tight and Parker builds a Grant Green like tone to solo over around the boiling bass and drums, creating a past to the future link that anchors so much of this album. Makaya McCraven's drumming is excellent, really fast and fluid and keeps the music moving along at a very fast pace. Playing together they are a tightly interwoven unit that adds some vocal chants to the music. The closing track “Max Brown” is the longest at over ten minutes, and unfolds very well, beginning with flowing guitar soling over a basic beat, and then getting more involved as horns and bass enter, allowing the music to stretch out organically as players take short solos and develop intricate full group embellishments, particularly on alto saxophone and trumpet. This album worked very well and really fits into the aesthetic that the International Anthem label has developed, one of postmodern jazz where musicians are free to combine source material where they find it, be it live performance, a studio setting or sampled from a previous source, and sculpt it as they see fit into a artistic statement that fits their vision. Suite For Max Brown -

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