Jazz music, news and views

Friday, October 24, 2008

Aaron Parks Quartet @ the Jazz Bakery

Pianist Aaron Parks's group hit the Jazz Bakery this past Tuesday in support of his new album Invisible Cinema, and they brought a crafty blend of jazz, classical, and indie rock atmosphere. Marcus Gilmore kept the quartet moving with some trashy, sure-footed backbeats on the groovier numbers. I'm used to hearing him in funkier settings (his work on Christian Scott's Anthem, also with Parks, and Parks's labelmate Gonzalo Rubalcaba's Avatar, in particular), but he was very comfortable playing it like more of a rocker. Thomas Morgan was in charge of "low end" duties that night. Guitarist Mike Moreno's crystalline tone couldn't fit more perfectly with Parks's bright touch on the keys. Their gorgeous lines were indistinguishable from each other during unison melodies.

The quartet avoided the pitfalls of jazz convention by shifting constantly and fluidly between the composition, soloing, and group interplay. (No "head-solos-head" arrangements here, thank you very much!) And it was easy to see how their individual performances were mutually supportive. Their sympathy was apparent from the opener, "Peaceful Warrior," which kept yielding surprises as new textures were explored.

Since I can't totally ignore the baggage I have as a listener, I'm initially inclined to compare Parks to Keith Jarrett -- his firm keyboard attack, thick chords, sparkling high-register lines, and a very intuitive, "letting the music happen" approach to solos. But naturally that's not the whole story. Parks is solidly in his own aesthetic, with his insistent ostinatos, pop-influenced harmonies, and deep vamps that burn into your brain. And he can take some startling departures when given the room. His playing serves not just the song itself but the compositional world he's created.

There were some killer solos, of course. Parks was excellent throughout, straddling several worlds on "Peaceful Warrior" or nodding at Bill Evans for a poignant rendition of "Blame It on My Youth." "Mirror, Mirror," a Moreno original that could easily belong on his leader debut Between the Lines, began with a characteristically intriguing, lyrical fingerstyle intro from its composer. Parks, who saw this tune for the first time that night, gave his solo a classical touch. "Con Alma" was done with such personal flair I might've thought they'd written it themselves. (That tune was only marred by a rude audience member who kept crackling something noisily during a solo from Morgan, who appeared undeterred.) Moments of rawer energy included Gilmore's explosive solo during "Harvesting Dance" and the lurching, sinister "Nemesis," for which Moreno dirtied up his usual milky tone. Apart from the solos, however, Parks's tunes are quite strong by themselves. The aforementioned "Nemesis" was very accessible to the young crowd (good live version here), and they kept everyone's head nodding along with the smart, ridiculously catchy, tango-gone-indie "Riddle Me This."

I mentioned earlier that I first heard Parks as youngster with Terence Blanchard. We often think of prodigies as conspicuously well-trained players with a precocious kind of virtuosity. Mature prodigies balance this with good taste -- they know they don't have to prove themselves. Parks and his cohorts have some obvious chops, and they use them only when necessary. Furthermore, they know how to blur the lines between composition and improvisation (a seemingly fundamental yet still-emerging characteristic of modern jazz). There are indeed spots to showcase each instrumentalist, but Parks's approach to sonics and structure revels in the mystery of avoiding the obvious. And the quartet kept the audience surprised with each turn.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Shows this week

It's a good week to be a modern jazz fan in LA. I'll be out and about more than I usually am, and if you're in the area, you should too for the following reasons:

Tues., 10.21: Aaron Parks Quartet with Mike Moreno @ the Jazz Bakery
I've mentioned both of these guys on this blog a few times. It'll be great to see that level of melodic guitar technique from Mike again. Aaron first floored me when I saw him perform with Terence Blanchard's sextet several years ago. The group got through a harrowing, powerful performance of Aaron's composition, "On the Verge," then Terence announced that Aaron was only 17, at which point the audience sucked most of the oxygen out of the room. (That tune can be found on Terence's album Bounce from 2003.) No doubt we'll be treated to tracks from Aaron's newest, Invisible Cinema. Check out some recent footage from a New York appearance.

Wed., 10.22 – Sat., 10/25: Larry Goldings Trio with Peter Bernstein & Bill Stewart @ the Jazz Bakery
I had the enormous pleasure of doing an extended interview with Larry a couple years ago. You'll find the audio files of the two parts here. This is the most modern organ trio around. Even after two decades together, they keep the format fresh with mindbending yet musical innovations.

Sat., 10.25: Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition @ UCLA's Schoenberg Hall
I'm expecting great things from two saxophonists I've interviewed before. Walter Smith III has had a pretty full gig calendar over the past couple years and some very hip associations (the aforementioned Parks, trumpeters Sean Jones and Christian Scott, drummer Kendrick Scott, vocalist Gretchen Parlato, guitarists Matt Stevens and Lage Lund, bassist Christian McBride, and pianist Jason Moran). One of his recent projects, Bronze, includes alto saxophonist Mark Small. Gian Tornatore is someone I'd been introduced to through a mutual friend. He's focused his career thusfar on music education as a high school teacher in New York (which I understand is an adventurous feat in itself), but he's also found enough time to progress as a player and composer.

More information about the competition (the semi-finals and finals are this weekend) is here.

To entice you to check out these two sax talents, I'm re-upping some mp3s I posted with earlier reviews of their albums. You can grab them from the earlier posts:

Walter Smith III: Casually Introducing Walter Smith III (Aaron Parks is on these tracks, as well)
Gian Tornatore: Sink or Swim and Blackout

Sat., 10.25: Kathleen Grace @ The Hotel Cafe
I thoroughly enjoyed Kathleen's albums Sunrise and Songbird and am eagerly anticipating her latest, Mirror. Whether it's a jazz standard, popular tune, or an original piece, she always treats it with the emotion and intelligence a jazz audience is accustomed to. The term "crossover" gets bandied about so much that it's become meaningless at best (pejorative at worst), but Kathleen expertly demonstrates that her various influences can be united earnestly with the right approach.

I suppose it's implied that an enthusiastic mention of any artists on this blog is a call to support them. All the same, I'll make it explicit: go.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Alberto Parmegiani and Gaetano Partipilo

While getting lost in YouTube, I came across a very cool taping of an Italian quintet gig. I'd heard of the saxophonist Gaetano Partipilo before (he's played with Mike Moreno), but the other names were new to me.

Partipilo has a lot of clear, fresh ideas here -- logical and accessible but also lively and new. What struck me most immediately, though, was guitarist Alberto Parmegiani. I'm hearing more and more chorus and reverb in the world of jazz guitar these days, so it was refreshing to hear other effects being used to great... well, effect. (Don't get me wrong: I love chorus and reverb and use plenty of both myself.)

I sent him a MySpace message asking him what he was using here to kick his guitar's register up an octave. He said it's a Boss PS-5 Super Shifter. The sound he gets is eerie and mesmerizing itself, but his melodic vocabulary is quite modern, too. Sadly, taping is cut off in the middle of his solo.

The rhythm section gets to shine in "Part 3." They're cohesive, and the drummer creates some great textures. See "Part 1" for a clean, straight-ahead burner. Parmegiani gets busy in a guitar/piano duet here.

Check him out on HisSpace, as well. He has quite the credentials!

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