Parks, Luft, Norris
Aaron Parks – Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man (Ropeadope, 2020)
Beneath the surface of the polished and singing music of Aaron Parks there’s a sort of uncanny feeling, a veiled invite to go deep and deep, to delve into the underground of the apparently straightforward thematic development of the melodies. It’s a state of mind similar to magic realism; something happens, everybody sees that, but belief is suspended. Call it magic; maybe it’s connected with why Parks is highly revered among many of his colleagues.
Attention, Earthlings opens up the second chapter of his Little Big quartet, taking off exactly from the point he left off two years ago: a young prodigy musician who, having shaked the jazz world with his debut Invisible Cinema in 2008, then co-founded super-group James Farm with Redman, Harland and Penman and recorded albums on ECM and Blue-Note, was coming back to his roots. And under the sleek surface of the catchy glances at classic rock, like in the track that opened his 2018 release on Ropeadope, Kid, there was an inward look at a melodic awareness that had made the ultimate leap. That same look comes back on Attention, Earthligs: a few chords, rich of fourths and fifths, make up a Radiohead-like anthemic track, that rumbles and rolls over the thumping drumming by Tommy Crane.
Neverthless, let’s forget any further leaning in what Brad Mehldau exploited in the 90s with his adoration of the UK-brit band. Parks incorporates everything, bolting and chewing it at its essentials, and then rendering it with his own style. The intimate and brooding The Shadow and the Self is credited to have been inspired by the such of Blonde Redhead, Pat Metheny and Carl Jung, yet it is peering over at the unique syle of Parks. The initial spotlight is for the intense guitar solo by Tuohey, before the bridge takes over a chord progression in pure Pat Metheny Group style and Parks adds a spruce and plaintive synth improvisation.
Overlayered with whimsical, riveting, inward-looking, complex, yet simple melodies, Parks music shows its mystery in plain view in this album. The title track, creeping up on our minds like a carillion, evokes the tale of Pinocchio and the teachings of Gurdjieff. Creating a sly undercarriage of odd-meter moves, the theme grapples with a ballet-like structure that is deceiving. The intricate thematic development in Solace is paramount of his ability. Jagged and relieved, the listener spans multiple worlds of feelings through the elegant unison lines by piano and guitar. That song comes from a place of real tenderness and vulnerability -Parks elaborates. It’s intended as a small dose of heart-opening medicine.
5.Is Anything Okay?
6.The Shadow & The Self
8.Dreams of a Mechanical Man
10.The Ongoing Pulse of Isness
Aaron Parks – piano, synthesizers, Wurlitzer, Rhodes, celeste, vibraphone, glockenspiel, chimes, voice
Greg Tuohey – guitar
David Ginyard, Jr – bass
Tommy Crane – drums, percussion
Rob Luft – Life is the Dancer (Edition Records, 2020)
There’s an awesome and sincere use of an incredible array of techniques in the skittering phrasing of the guitar of Rob Luft, that is perfectly exploited in the most danceable tracks of his sophomore release, Life is a Dancer. Take the upbeat, dancefloor reverbs in One Day in Romentino: it is impossible to not feel the toe tapping and get involved in the frenzy of the froth of notes exuded by the Bristish jazz prodigy, in a solo that perfectly balances energy and grace. Life Is The Dancer and you are the Dance: I think that idea is a beautiful sentiment -explains Luft. I think the album title of ‘Life Is The Dancer’ suits my record, as the new compositions have something very bright, positive and dance-like in them. This warmth & energy is what I want people to feel when they listen to my music. The message is essentially: the past is in your head and the present is in your hands.
The opening track, Berlin, built over a compelling bass drum that imbues a very precise pop mood that goes back to either U2 or The Weeknd -depening on how boomer you feel, is the perfect rendition of this dancing feeling. Rob Luft embraces his destiny, clinging on paying any insicere homage to standard jazz, and fosters a pop mood that finds its highlight in the upward scale that opens the shred solo, made of a bold mixture of whammy bars and superfast licks worth of the latest Joe Satriani. The title track, built around a three bars in twelve eights and the last in seven eights, deftly crafts a best-in-class contemporary jazz tune, that allows every of the musicians of his quintet, here enlarged by trumpet and vocals as well, to add esuberance and personality.
Rob Luft, at the age of 23, is alreayd at his second release and is no suprise in the Brit jazz scene. After his debut released on Edition Records, like his sophomore release, he won the Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize and got included BBC New Generation scheme, garnering the highest attention. And now he is releasing a mature and aware album, leading with no hesitation a band that sides him confidently. Life is Dancer is a tribute to danceable rhythms, catchy hooks and singing melodies made in earnest by a young jazz lion.
Rob Luft – Life is the Dancer
ROB LUFT guitar
JOE WRIGHT tenor saxophone JOE WEBB hammond organ, piano TOM McCREDIE bass
CORRIE DICK drums
BYRON WALLEN tpt (tracks 2 & 10) LUNA COHEN voc (tracks 2 & 10)
Life Is The Dancer 7.34
All Ways Moving 2.31
One Day In Romentino 4.24
Other Wise 2.00
Snow Country 5.30
Sad Stars 2.53
Expect the Unexpected 7.17
Luke Norris – Northernsong (ears&eyes Records, 2020)
Northersong, the album released by young tenor and alto saxophonist Luke Norris and published on ears&eyes Records, is a land of contrasting figures, that fit each other like the pieces of a puzzle. Take the melodic ballad Bruising Stones, a piece built around a singing and catchy modern jazz theme that smartly interweaves a latin rhythm with odd-metered bars, and see where it goes. At around the four minute mark the quartet, built around double bassist Tyrone Allen and drummer Daniel Sunshine, goes wild trying to follow the no-frills detournament by guitarist Mike Baggetta. Under three minutes of firing and deconstructive improvisation, the four are able to seamlessly come back to the original polished theme, not letting the listener down.
The anthemic opening, Sketch In C, is potentially the best rendition of this contrasting -and lucky- encounter between the polished, shimmering playing by Luke Norris and the earthy, often scratchy sound of Mike Baggetta. The latter, one of the most unfairly overlooked guitarist you could find in jazz scene nowadays, a member of Tim Berne‘s Sun of Goldfinger, adds often a twangy, distorted sonic counterpoint that creates a lucky meeting of kindred souls with the younger cats. And the opening makes no exception. The pastoral theme, played in flexible tempo by guitar and tenor sax, is the ideal ground for Allen and Sunshine to add an heartfelt moment with just few pizzicato or brush hits. There’s a lot of Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, but also an hint to the Alice Coltrane and Albert Ayler‘s spiritual jazz.
The soulfoul leanings of Norris, who always chooses clarity over ebullience, are the perfect springboard for Baggetta‘s ripplings of effects, glitchy sounds or just for distorted power chords, like in Bluffs on Long Islands. The leader shows his mastery in managing those kind of opposites, under the wing of Baggetta. No news that he is an avid fan of metal music and the recording engineers are well into metal scene; something that fuels the notion that Northersong is a meeting of contrasting voices -and kindred souls.
Luke Norris – Northernsong
Luke Norris – soprano & tenor saxophones, compositions
Mike Baggetta – guitar
Tyrone Allen – bass
Daniel Sunshine – drums
Sketch In C 7:00
Bluffs, On Long Island 8:58
Bruising Stones 8:16
Strong Heritage 6:36
Loss of Color 6:21
Things, Ending, Begin Again 6:57