If I had to name just one album from this past year that I'd consider essential listening, this would likely be it. Invisible Cinema is a beautiful representation of Aaron Parks's talents both as a composer and pianist. I noted in an earlier gig review that his most laudable trait isn't just his technique but also the wisdom to know precisely when to withhold and unleash it. This album has an extremely rewarding balance of virtuosity and restraint. From the opener, "Travelers," he weaves dazzling, lithe lines over elegant chords with a skittering drum pattern and driving ostinatos, and you can tell he's right at home.
Of course, his bandmates -- guitarist Mike Moreno, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Eric Harland -- are equally formidable. Harland is in constant, complex dialogue with the group and enhances everyone's performance. His crafty, nimble playing is truly the propulsive force behind "Travelers," "Peaceful Warrior" and "Karma." Meanwhile, more overtly "indie rock meets jazz" tunes like "Nemesis" and "Riddle Me This" benefit from his understated yet funky backbeats. Moreno is one of my favorite guitarists, and other fans of his fluent, melodic, other-worldly tones should expect to be "typically" enthralled by his playing here. "Nemesis" surprised me at first, though, where he opts for a dry, buzzy, grungy sound that I grew to enjoy, and it suits the song's "evil" atmosphere.
The quartet's interplay is naturally the main ingredient for Cinema's success. Penman's chemistry with the whole group is remarkable. He anchors their sound in the right places but also injects tons of rhythmic gusto, especially on the aforementioned "Warrior" and "Karma." Parks's compositions clearly have written bass lines in some areas, and Penman's own embellishments in freer sections add a lot of flavor while staying true to Parks's musical world. Moreno's voice is such a trademark one might think it hard to incorporate into an "ensemble sound," but the leader and he have an obvious mutual affinity, and sometimes I actually find it difficult to tell where one stops and the other begins. I thought Harland and Parks connected well on Terence Blanchard's 2003 album Bounce, but this album evinces an even deeper musical kinship. And Parks's subtle chording throughout lets the group straddle between darkness and light.
I'm woefully late in writing about this April 2008 release. In all honesty, I hesitated for so long because I wasn't sure I could write anything convincing or eloquent enough for this album. I try never to resort to clichés like this, but this is one of those special cases where the music has to speak for itself. For my other thoughts, you can check out this previous post on Parks's debut at L.A.'s Jazz Bakery, but I'll leave you with the advice that this album is not to be passed up.
Invisible Cinema (Blue Note)
Aaron Parks (piano, keyboards)
Mike Moreno (guitar)
Matt Penman (bass)
Eric Harland (drums)
A cool EPK-style look into the album:
[photo from bluenote.com]