Jeff Parker’s take on music is most succinctly articulated by the artist himself on the landing page of his website – “I’m mainly a guitar player. I like to make music in many different ways”. This pick and mix approach took hold early on. As a kid he played in jazz and rock bands and whilst fellow Berklee graduates Kurt Rosenwinkel and Mark Turner took the well trodden route to New York, Parker decided to go in the opposite direction, to Chicago. Here he found himself actively involved in a number of different scenes, loosely connected by their experimental nature. Parker’s resumé to date encompasses improvised jazz with fellow AACM members Fred Anderson, Nicole Mitchell and Ernest Dawkins, avant-garde sounds with the Chicago Underground Collective, as well as post-rock, with bands like Tortoise and Isotope 217°. Most recently Parker featured heavily on label mate, Makaya McCraven 2015 release, “In the Moment”.
“New Breed” is Parker’s fifth album as a leader. The compositional process started out as a series of beats and loops that Parker has been working on whilst he was learning how to edit and sample like his hip-hop heroes Dilla, Premier and RZA. He moved to Los Angeles in 2013/14, in part because he needed new musical challenges, and revisited these projects, building the compositional ideas and sharing them with his collaborators, bassist Paul Bryan, drummers Jamire Williams and Jay Bellerose (who appears on one track, a cover of the late Bobby Hutcherson’s “Visions”), saxophonist Josh Johnson. Parker enlisted his daughter Ruby to sing on the only vocal track, “Cliche”.
Overall the sound has a low tech, DIY feel to it, looped samples embellished with a mixture of composed and improvised playing. Tracks like “Here Comes Ezra” and the aforementioned “Cliche” retain that art-pop/post-rock vibe Parker has picked up during his time with Tortoise. Elsewhere the tone is funkier, with emphatic drumming underpinning Parker’s jazzy, lyrical stylings (think Grant Green or early George Benson) on “Get Dressed” and “How Fun it is to Year Whip”.
I have to admit that having read generally good media reviews before listening to the album I was somewhat underwhelmed by the results. The tone is a little too low-key, and as a whole isn’t really expansive or colourful enough to elevate any of the tracks beyond a fairly half-hearted OK. “Jrifted” is a good case in point. It samples a personal favourite, Aretha Franklin’s “Day Dreaming”, and therefore could easily have been the track to turn round my apathy, but it seems to run out of ideas towards the end looping into a repetitive round of drums and guitar licks. A sure sign that my attention was not being held was that after a while I found myself getting slightly distracted by the heavy, metronomic drumming on this and other tracks.
For me this album throws out some interesting ideas without blowing me away in their execution. The search for the perfect cross of jazz with hip-hop continues..