4 Songs, 37 Minutes


Ratings and Reviews

A terrific record from a guy who plays the enigmatic backstop even when out on his own

fire music archive inc

At first hearing, Jeff Parker’s solo record doesn’t take much from the recent revival of Tortoise on The Catastrophist, or from his work on Rob Mazurek’s remarkable Some Jellyfish Live Forever, or even from the sunkissed soul of his own The New Breed, but it’s clear after a while that there’s a common energy behind all of these. It will be hard for a while to think of Parker as a Californian musician, so thoroughly did he seem embedded in Chicago’s new music, but things haven’t changed that much with the move to Los Angeles, and Parker’s extraordinary ability to glue a group together and provide a foundational authority to each track is precisely what makes this beautiful LP so compelling.

Whatever precisely is meant by the album title, it seems to signal that the move west isn’t some grand unshackling but simply a new address and maybe the start of a spell in which Parker has to fall back on his own resources a little: namely his Gibson ES335, his ZT amps and a Boomerang Phrase Sampler. The title track sets a mood for the album as a whole: thoughtful, inward, but highly disciplined and contained. The rhythmic energies Parker draws on are always deceptive: 12/8 figures that feel like stretched out three-quarter, regular fours that turn out to have no discernible count whatsoever.

On “Slight Freedom” and even more obviously on the second side opener [percussionist] Chad Taylor’s “Mainz”, he plays with time, creating a sense that a musical structure is being revealed in stop-action photography, but very slowly and amid real-world goings-on rather than the sterile anticipation of a studio. One of the best things about Slight Freedom is the feeling that the whole thing is being busked somewhere in public.

Something similar happens on a deadened, hungover, utterly bereft cover of “Lush Life”, which seems to reveal close familiarity with John Coltrane’s but which dispenses pretty much completely with the Billy Strayhorn melody. Parker’s on his own, but observed, like the guy mumbling at the end of the bar who might be dangerous or who might just be very, very sad.

Something similar on a super-clever deconstruction of Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids” – these kids have “nuthin’”, remember – which might just be a sly commentary on the Instagrammed emptiness of moneyed life on the far Western littoral. Parker never shows his hand completely so you can’t be sure.

There are long passages of drone or dissonant hum through the set. Rhythms emerge which don’t seem to have a functional role. Thinly sketched lines turn out to have the strength of hawsers. Nothing quite as you expect. A terrific record from a guy who plays the enigmatic backstop even when out on his own. -- Brian Morton, The Wire

About Jeff Parker

Known to many as a guitarist for Chicago post-rock innovators Tortoise, Jeff Parker is a highly versatile musician, arranger, composer, and producer who has been a cornerstone of the city's jazz and experimental music scenes since the early '90s. His relaxed yet precise guitar playing easily adapts to numerous styles of music and configurations of musicians, ranging from post-bop improvisations to experimental electronic music to indie rock.

A guitarist since youth, he studied at the Berklee College of Music before relocating to Chicago in 1991. He became an associate member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in 1995 and played guitar with jazz artists such as Ernest Dawkins, Ted Sirota, and Pat Mallinger. Later in the decade, he co-founded electro-jazz fusion group Isotope 217 and Chicago Underground Orchestra, both including Rob Mazurek. Parker joined Tortoise in time for their acclaimed 1998 album TNT, which was one of their most jazz-oriented releases.

From there, he became in demand in several genres of music, working with musicians ranging from Smog (Bill Callahan) to Fred Anderson, and forming additional ensembles such as Aesop Quartet, Tricolor, and Vega. In 2003, Delmark Records released Parker's debut album as a leader, Like-Coping, which also featured Chris Lopes and Chad Taylor. He also recorded a more abrasive improvisational album, Out Trios, Vol. 2, with Kevin Drumm and Michael Zerang. The following year, he released solo album The Relatives on Thrill Jockey and Song Songs Song (with Scott Fields) on Delmark. His next recording as a leader was Bright Light in Winter, also featuring Lopes and Taylor, and credited to Jeff Parker Trio, which arrived on Delmark in 2011.

Parker relocated to Los Angeles in 2013. In 2015, he and Mazurek recorded Some Jellyfish Live Forever, which was issued by French label Rogue Art. The label also released Gain, the debut album by hip-hop/jazz group Illtet, which featured Parker along with Mike Ladd, High Priest (Antipop Consortium), and Tyshawn Sorey. Parker expanded on his hip-hop influence and interest in sampling techniques with his 2016 solo album The New Breed, released by International Anthem. Later in the year, Parker released solo LP Slight Freedom on the Eremite label; the album included a cover of Frank Ocean's "Super Rich Kids." In 2018, he paired with saxophonist Kjetil Møster, bassist Joshua Abrams, and drummer John Herndon for Ran Do. ~ Paul Simpson

Bridgeport, CT
April 4, 1967



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