Montreal Jazz Festival: Days 1-3 July 1-3, 2009
Since emerging in his late teens with mentor Terence Blanchard, appearing on the trumpeter's outstanding Flow (Blue Note, 2005) ambitious A Tale of God's Will (Requiem for Katrina) (Blue Note, 2007) , as well as live shows including a powerful performance at the 2005 Ottawa Jazz Festival, pianist Aaron Parks' star has been on the rise. His debut as a leader, Invisible Cinema (Blue Note, 2008), deservingly hit many reviewers' "best of" lists for the year, proving that mentoring works. Parks, now in his mid-twenties, has rapidly evolved a personal voice that references the abstract impressionism of Herbie Hancockwith whom he worked on Flowwhile never losing sight of individualism and identity.
Parks' 70-minute set at the new L'Astral, a roughly 350-seat concert venue in the new Maison du Festival Rio Tinto Alcan, only included two tracks from Invisible Cinema, the subtly propulsive "Travelers" and softer "Afterglow," both providing further evidence of the pianist's continuing and rapid evolution, as he and his triobassist Matt Brewer and drummer Ted Poorstretched it into something considerably more open than the studio version. Poor, in particularwho seems to be popping up everywhere these days, playing with everyone from guitarist Ben Monder and his outrageously inventive Oceana (Sunnyside, 2005) and equally fearless trumpeter Cuong Vu and the highly eclectic Vu-Tet (ArtistShare, 2008) was an outstanding accompanist, demonstrating a broad palette and open ears that lent even a well-heeled standard like Miles Davis' "Solar" a fresh perspective that swung in its own distinct way.
Brewer, another increasingly ubiquitous player, acted as the grounding force between Parks' often ethereal approach and Poor's equally searching method of interaction. He was also a fluid soloist and fine composer, whose "Lunar Incandescence" was an early high point of the set.
Parks was impeccable, constantly on the lookout for new ways to express a clear as disposition towards the lyrical. Even on the Midwestern-tinged set close, "In a Garden," the pianist found ways to reference folkloric ideation with a more modernistic bent. As a leader, he quickly engaged the audience with a dryly absurd sense of self-deprecating humor, describing his longtime relationship with Brewer as one where they each know "some deep, dark secrets," and apologizing for a bad hair day.
l:r Matt Brewer, Ted Poor
A poetic player who has surrounded himself with others who can either provide a more earthy balance or match his more impressionistic approach, Parks is a remarkably mature player for his agethough, at this point, it's really unfair to use the age card. As he demonstrated during his interview clip on the recent four-part television series Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense (Paradigm Studio, 2009), he's a deep thinker with very specific ideas about his direction, one that he's honing at an almost unprecedented rate, and resulted in a fine FIJM performance that will go down as one of the sleeper hits of 2009.
All Photos: John Kelman
Days 1-3 | Days 4-6 | Days 7-9