Aaron Parks: Invisible Cinema (2008)
Best known for his five-year tenure with trumpeter Terence Blanchard, pianist Aaron Parks is the second Blanchard graduate to debut under his own name on Blue Note in 2008. His disc follows percussionist Lionel Loueke's Karibu (Blue Note, 2008), a fitfully engaging album flawed by trying too hard. Invisible Cinema by contrast is a corker, a caveat-free fairground ride in forward-looking piano jazz winningly spiced with a little prog rock.
Parks played on three Blanchard albumsincluding the outstanding New Orleans lament A Tale Of God's Will (Blue Note, 2007)and shares Blanchard's cinematic approach to composing and arranging. The tunes, all of them originals, project vivid atmospheres and emotions, precisely but unfussily arranged, layered, and textured. With a couple of exceptions, Parks' template is a prettily melodic theme leisurely unfolding over the rapid-fire, funky-martial staccato of Eric Harland's snare drum. Bassist Matt Penman locks onto Harland, guitarist Mike Moreno onto Parks. Moreno and Parks generally play the themes in unison, at the treble ends of their instruments, before Parks, the chief soloist, buys into the rhythmic intensity of the bass and drums, rocketing joyously over the beat. Whatever the speed or temperature, lyricism is key.
Moreno solos on only four tracks, but at between 6:21 and 9:46 they're the longest on the disc and its centerpieces. "Peaceful Warrior" and "Karma" are the closest the album gets to straight-ahead jazz, with more or less conventional theme/solos/theme structures. Moreno, who made his own debut with Between The Lines (World Culture Music, 2007), with Parks in the line-up, is as ringingly lyrical an improviser as the pianist, and on both tracks turns out cascades of melody reminiscent of Pat Metheny at his most fleet-fingered and ecstatic.
On the multi-part "Nemesis" and "Harvesting Dance," two brilliantly successful flirtations with prog rock, Moreno reveals a different face, by turns blues-rocking and surf-twangy (on "Nemesis") and flamenco-esque and ethereal (on "Harvesting Dance"). Without over-egging the main event, Parks layers a host of keyboards, including mellotron and glockenspiel, on both tracks, which in further certified prog style also feature some unorthodox beats.
There are four shorter tracks, each lasting less than three minutes. "Riddle Me This" and "Roadside Distraction," the first quirky, the second funky, would stand up as instrumental singles if such things still existed; catchy group workouts staying close to the topline and foursquare on the groove. "Into The Labyrinth" and "Afterglow" are for solo piano, impressionistic little meditations.
Horticultural note: the shrub photographed on the back page of the liner pull-out looks at a glance like a cannabis plant, but on close inspection isn't. Everything else about Invisible Cinema is the real deal.
Track Listing: Travelers; Peaceful Warrior; Nemesis; Riddle Me This; Into The Labyrinth; Karma; Roadside Distraction; Harvesting Dance; Praise; Afterglow.
Personnel: Aaron Parks: piano, mellotron (3), glockenspiel (3), keyboards (3, 5, 6, 8); Mike Moreno: guitar (2-4, 6-9).