The shape-shifting veteran Jeff Parker crafts a beautiful soundscape pitched between tradition and futurism, modal jazz and digital glitch in new album Suite for Max Brown.
Over a fascinating, boundary-straddling career with the likes of post-rock gods Tortoise, Isotope 217, Tricolor, the Chicago Underground Quartet as well as countless dates as a sideman and collaborator, the Connecticut-born, LA-residing composer, bandleader and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Parker has occupied an enviable position in the firmament of alternative music; equally comfortable with cerebral improvisation, golden era bop and low-slung, Brainfeeder-styled, beat-driven R’n’B experiments.
On his latest recording, Suite For Max Brown, Parker reunites with and adds to the team responsible for his 2016 album, The New Breed. Assisted by Paul Bryan on bass, Josh Johnson on alto sax and piano, cellist Katinka Klejin, Jamire Williams on drums, trumpeters Nate Walcott and Rob Mazurek, percussionist Jay Bellerose and drummer Makaya McCraven, Parker effortlessly and seamlessly dips into chugging, J Dilla and Madlib-inspired sample sorcery and sun-baked angular jazz whilst employing electric guitar, electric piano, Mellotron, Korg synthesiser and samplers as well as drum programming. It’s a place where tradition rubs up against technology, improvisation is juxtaposed with composition and groove integrates with texture.
Whilst The New Breed tapped into this intriguing synthesis of past-meets-future, Suite For Max Brown not only consolidates but reframes the heady experimentation: the musical tapestry here is elegantly stitched together with a warm brio and an unflashy purpose, bristling with personality and shifting inconspicuously between tempos and styles.
Whilst his clean, precise and on-point guitar is prevalent and a distinct highlight (frequently treated as a shimmer of wind rather than a sheet of sound and never as an excuse to ‘peacock’), the bandleader and arranger plumps for a graceful, multi-generational and stereo-panning soundscape disparate in colour and infused with the soulful swing of jazz as well as the digital boom-bap of sequenced hip-hop and R’n’B.
Suite For Max Brown (the sepia-tinged cover photo pays homage to his titular mother) occupies an informal, relaxed position akin to a DJ mix, where touchstones like John Coltrane’s After The Rain and Joe Henderson’s Black Narcissus and formal jazz pieces like 3 For L share studio time with the IDM-indebted whoosh, clutter and whirl of Build A Nest, Fusion Swirl, Lydian and C’mon Now; each segment and experiment hangs together, is equally invigorating and meaningful.
The lengthy and affecting centrepiece, Max Brown, brings everything together in a bubbling cauldron of adventure and serenity; here the sweep of ideas and hand-crafted melancholy recall the impressionistic haze of Madlib’s Yesterday’s New Quintet project and the languid reveries of The Abstract Orchestra’s tribute to Dilla.
By woozily stretching the stylistic parameters and conventions of jazz, Parker’s evolving mastery of the form and his protean creativity continue to sprinkle magic dust and induce awe in the listener.