Debut from Chicago guitarist Jeff Parker (also of Tortoise, Chicago Underground...
Peter Marsh 2003-03-17
Guitarist Jeff Parker's best known as a member of several Chicago based bands skirting the boundaries of rock, jazz, improv and electronica; Tortoise, Chicago Underground Trio/Orchestra and Isotope 217. Brought up on Ornette Coleman, Paul Bley and Don Cherry, Parker cut his teeth with post boppers like Ted Sirota and Ernest Dawkins before moving into more eclectic territory.
This album teams him up with old colleagues bassist Chris Lopes (Isotope 217) and drummer Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a quietly individual take on the jazz guitar trio. Parker's deliberate, precise playing has the same resonance and weight as Jim Hall's, with a simple, unadorned approach to melody that seems to come from Ornette Coleman. In fact, much of this record comes on like one of Pat Metheny's straightahead jazz dates with half the notes removed. Similarly, Parker' s chords are stripped down, with every note made to count (as on Taylor's lovely "Miriam" or the minimal, longform "Onyx").
Parker's apparent reluctance to adopt the conventional leader role makes this very much a group record, with Lopes and Taylor providing many of the compositions, plus extra textures from flute, vibes and classical guitar. More importantly their fluid, supple support ranges from skittering, restless swing figures to soft, muted ballad propulsion. They frame and comment while never dominating. Parker's description of Taylor as a 'young master' in the sleevenotes is spot on; his approach is as individual as Paul Motian or Ed Blackwell.
Two free improvisations provide contrast to the careful logic of the compositions; unfortunately Parker's scratch 'n' scrape guitar seems a bit half-hearted and the rhythm section fail to provoke him or themselves into anything much. By contrast, the carefully wrought dynamics of the closing "Roundabout" (with languorous flute and circling vibes patterns) are intoxicatingly lovely, as is much of the rest of this quietly inventive record. If you're after an alternative to the Frisells and Scofields of this world, look no further.