A groove experiment
In his latest album, Jeff Parker brings his signature jazz/rock guitar sound bursting through boundaries like a pack of dynamite. A bit more danceable than his last album, this vibrant offering is rife with instrumental jazz complexity and feel-good, soulful grooves. Suite for Max Brown does not disappoint.
“Build a Nest” is a fun piece, with a funky groove and some Bobby McFerrin-esque vocalizations. The only song on the album containing lyrics, the female singers proclaim, “there are no trap doors if you believe in fate.” This song boldly forges its own path, sending conventional song structure out the window with no apologies. After a quick soul/funk sound clip “C’mon now,” the listener wanders into “Fusion Swirl,” a complex jazz rhythm-based piece with a rotating bass line. This song is a heady exploration of rhythm with a hypnotic repetition of an arpeggio on guitar. “After the Rain” has wide-open chords flowing freely from an organ, a lead by an electric guitar with a slight tremolo. Happy, sunny drums kick in with a swirl of sixteenth-note rhythms. This sweet jazz tune in a major key sounds like the feeling one has after a fresh rain.
“Metamorphoses” has a real spacey quality, with bells traversing from one side to the other in stereo and synth sounds and tremolo effects of indiscernible instruments, disguised under electronic effects. “Gnarciss” jolts you from the formless soundscape into a fat bass and guitar groove, horns and guitar chords (electric), with some staccato synth symphonic strings. A lead horn repeats a line over a conglomeration of electronic and acoustic instruments. “Lydian, etc.” is a short, playful tune with hand percussion and a purposeful melody. “Del Rio” has a major-key pop quality but weird instruments and jazz offshoots create suspense. Parker’s jazz-rock guitar shines on this song.
“3 for L” has an infectious groove built with the potent simplicity of a Beatles rhythm but with a more complex tonal system-both melody and harmony native to the jazz realm. This easy-to-follow song has a meandering solo, but a groovy backbeat keeps one’s mind and soul interested in and engaged in the song even when the guitar trails off. The song decays into spacey sounds at the end. “Go Away” introduces authentic African sounding elements: a fun, high, fast guitar riff, a rich boisterous up-tempo rhythm on the drum kit, and a driving bouncy circular bass riff. There are even some handclaps and men chanting “go away” to add to the authenticity. Some chromatic scale soloing, spacey synth and intricate, syncopated rhythm guitar add to the richness of this piece. It is a truly good song.
The ten-minute title track and last song of the album may lose the listener. “Max Brown” starts strong with a groove, and vocal techniques. A flurry of horns in harmony over the groove and a somewhat suspenseful low bassy organ fill some time. At 1:36 minutes in, the song rips into a dance beat on the drum kit. The slow feel of the horn solo fights the fun groove at times. After a rhythm change at 2:51 mark, a meandering horn solo takes the lead. The bass and drum groove hearken back to works by Stevie Wonder. A little more fire appears in the horn solo at the 5:40 mark, but overall this song pretty much just one long solo. The organ groove, arpeggiated repetitive guitar and a few solo percussion hits barely hold interest.
Jeff Parker has again captivated listeners with his latest work. Suite for Max Brown is definitely worth checking out.