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Jazz - Released April 15, 2016 | Stunt Records

Distinctions Indispensable JAZZ NEWS
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Jazz - Released October 4, 2013 | ECM

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Jazz - Released May 8, 2020 | Ropeadope

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Jazz history romanticizes the 1950s and '60s as a time when bands – as distinct from ad-hoc assemblages of hired sidemen – were everywhere, evolving distinct conceptual ideas over months (years!) of performances and recording. Bands still exist, of course, but given economic realities, they're a more exotic species on the 21st century landscape. And they don't always last long enough for consequential year-to-year development, the furthering of an initial vision, to take root. Which makes keyboardist Aaron Parks' quartet Little Big a minor miracle. The band surfaced in 2018 in New York with a book of tunes defined by a simple, declarative lyricism; its first album, issued late in the year, emphasized crisp polyrhythmic grooves and crystalline textures over the frothy gyrations of fusion. Then the group, which features tone-obsessed guitarist Greg Tuohey, hit the road, where it had to balance the subtleties of the compositions against the demands of a "show." The results of that calibration are evident on the invitingly spacious second effort Dreams of a Mechanical Man. As before, the writing revolves around earnest, easily-sung themes, like the loose, slippery riff "Here." Now, though, new atmospheres – and often, new compositional ideas – appear along the way, rising up between solo statements. Parks uses these secondary themes as threads, gently connecting strands of melody to dazzling eruptions ("Friendo") or contemplative suite-like constructs ("The Shadow & The Self"). Parks' music has a spiraling intricacy, but his band never calls attention to that: Its cool-handed authority masks the internal-combustion complexities, throwing light on the beauty of the writing and the subsequent beauties they encountered while exploring. Only a band could do that. © Tom Moon/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released April 21, 2017 | ECM

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Jazz - Released October 4, 2013 | ECM

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There is no shortage of fine solo piano offerings on ECM, going all the way back to Paul Bley's classic 1973 Open, To Love. Twenty-nine-year-old pianist Aaron Parks is notable in jazz circles for the skill he displayed in bands led by Terence Blanchard and Kurt Rosenwinkel, as well as on his own wonderful Invisible Cinema for Blue Note in 2008. Arborescence, his first solo recording for ECM, marks his second appearance on the label. His first was backing South Korean vocalist Yeahwon Shin on her lovely collection of ballads and lullabies, Lua Ya, recorded in 2012 and released in September 2013. Arborescence is a collection of 11 improvised pieces recorded at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts. Though two works, "Elsewhere" and "Homestead," were taken from previously composed works, here mere elements and themes were used as jumping-off points into exploration. This set is very much in the moment, though its atmosphere is more internal and restrained. A listen to its mysterious opener, "Asleep in the Forest," evidences this. The piano's sounds and harmonies are investigated not as process, but as a deeply connected emotional dialogic relationship between instrument and music, to reveal a "voice." The use of repetition in many of these pieces isthe polar opposite, with the much more dynamic "In Pursuit" as an example, revealing the sound of the pianist digging inside the emotional and sonic geography where harmony, space, tone, and silence commingle. "Toward Awakening" commences haltingly, one carefully placed note and chord at a time, but gradually develops movement as its timbral palette expands, never losing its intuitive elegance. "River Ways" comes from several directions at once, as the left hand articulates a repetitive sequence, the right hand conjures it further in another register, both of them meeting on a seam where dissonance, multiple tonalities, and several voices are articulated invidiously in directions that diverge after their initial meeting. Arborescence is as mercurial after ten listenings as it is after one. The only "strategy" that these pieces seem to share is Parks' determination to remain open as improviser and listener. This requires discipline. He never runs off with his discoveries, but remains present to them as they whisper, move, and slowly dance, seemingly never imposing his will against the suggestion of the music itself. The innate, quiet grace displayed on Arborescence is far from static, but an intricate, ever-evolving labyrinth of sonic communication and elocution. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released October 19, 2018 | Ropeadope

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In the decade between Invisible Cinema, his 2008 Blue Note debut, and Little Big, an intentional sequel, pianist and composer Aaron Parks has covered a lot of ground. He cut two leader dates for ECM (one solo, one trio), and two as a member of the active James Farm collective on Nonesuch. In addition, Parks has worked as a sideman too, playing live and on recordings with more than a dozen artists including Kurt Rosenwinkel, Yeahwon Shin, and Gilad Heckselman. Little Big is the self-titled debut from his electric quartet with guitarist Greg Tuohey, bassist David Ginyard, and drummer Tommy Crane. The album shares its title with the 1981 award-winning fantasy novel by John Crowley. This 15-song set is the proper sequel to Invisible Cinema. Few artists in 2008 were bridging the aesthetics of post-bop jazz, hip-hop, and indie rock, let alone articulating them in a single compositional voice. Here Parks continues to create episodic, accessible, yet mysterious melodies, framed by layered textures, rock dynamics, and electro-acoustic atmospherics amid shifting harmonic narratives and solos. On opener "Kid," a relentless piano figure contrasts with Tuohey's (Parks' foil throughout) electric guitar in direct tension. He follows the motif with a melody of his own. Driving it all is a skeletal but propulsive bassline and a series of tight, fleshy hi-hat and snare flourishes that push at the seams in roiling tension. There are subtle electronics hovering about the backdrop as various players solo, but Parks' pattern never relents, keeping the listener in circular time. On "Trickster," the pace is slower, and Parks' melody is at the fore as Tuohey's extends his vamp in jagged fragments as Crane's kit flits between rock timekeeping, elegantly funky breaks and jazz syncopations. In other tunes, such as "Professor Strangeweather" and "Digital Society," one can hear Herbie Hancock's pioneering keyboard-driven fusion ring about amid interplay between Ginyard's funky bubbling bass and Crane's drums ring canny and streetwise under Parks' layers of electric and acoustic keyboards in an exchange of edgy ideas with Tuohey. "Siren," "Mandala," "Hearth," and "The Fool," from the center section of the set, offer four takes on ballad forms; they echo everything from gentle fusion to a taut atmospheric dimension akin to Radiohead's Kid A without sacrificing Parks' inherent compositional lyricism. "Rising Mind," with its undulating hip-hop rhythm, allows the other players to build on a post-bop foundation while Parks' solo engages knotty Latin jazz, even as guitar rock chord changes add drama. Closers "Good Morning" and "Doors Open" begin mantra-like on the same note. The former amid a slow shuffle as a near euphoric melody revels in songlike interplay between guitar and piano, while the latter offers a near telegraphic drone that unfolds to reveal a crystalline, processional harmonic conversation from the ensemble. Though Little Big emerges from the aesthetic Parks employed on Invisible Cinema, it travels deeper and wider, forming a new intersection between song, inquiry, and improvisation. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2008 | Blue Note Records

Pianist and composer Aaron Parks is best known as a member of trumpeter Terence Blanchard's excellent sextet that recorded Bounce (2003) and Flow (2005). In addition, he worked with Blanchard on the soundtrack to Spike Lee's Inside Man and score for Lee's Katrina: A Tale of God's Will. Invisible Cinema is his debut on Blue Note Records. Parks teams with Eric Harland, the brilliant drummer from Charles Lloyd's group, as well as bassist Matt Penman and guitarist Mike Moreno. This is an interesting group with interlocking histories, creating a sense of familiarity with one another that all comes together here. Parks and Moreno played together on former Blanchard alum Kendrick Scott's album The Source, as well as Moreno's own Between the Lines. Penman and Harland are members of the SF Jazz Collective, and Harland and Parks backed Penman on Catch of the Day. The name of the game here is in the title; this is imagistic music that is big on nuance, space, and beautifully constructed melodies made up of equal parts piano and guitar, underscored and articulately dramatized by Penman's pristine sense of time and pulse and Harland's dancing movement but yet very physical manner of inhabiting his drum kit. Melodic improvisation is the key in Parks' mysterious, strangely beautiful compositions, such as the elliptical, shapeshifting "Peaceful Warrior." Parks employs his elegant style to full effect, allowing his sense of restraint and economy to create tension and drama, which is pointedly accented by Moreno. The dialogue between them is uncanny even in sparser moments -- one can think of only two other piano/guitar pairings like this one, Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays and Ketil Bjørnstad/Terje Rypdal. Here the structured euphoric feel of the former and the spaciousness and haunting melodic sense of the latter are combined. The sheer physicality of Harland's kit work asserts itself on "Nemesis," a track that, while not completely unhinged, is nonetheless more insistent and driving -- made more so by Penman's inventive stretching of the time signature while maintaining a rapid yet enveloping pulse. The repetitive single-chord piano theme (which changes abruptly in places) allows for Moreno to enter quickly and solo on the melody as Parks lets his piano engage his lines a few minutes in, with an ornamental but far from florid solo. Harland's addition of skeletal, expertly articulated breaks in between the two creates part of the tune's real escalation. Parks brings back "Harvesting Dance," originally on Blanchard's Flow album, with gorgeous work from Penman and Harland, while allowing his own gently ringing pianism a more speechlike articulation than it had in its earlier incarnation. The sense of movement, flight, and return on "Karma" is a real watermark that establishes an identity for this entire band. Harland and Penman almost steal the show, but that would have been OK with Parks. He and Moreno aren't about showcasing individual athletic abilities on their front-line instruments, but are indeed committed to their roles in the ensemble as they create space and angles and suggest shapes that play off one another as well as this smoking rhythm section. Invisible Cinema is as fine a debut as one is likely to hear in 2008. It has plenty of sparks in its communication; it establishes the leader not only as an excellent soloist, but as a fine composer and arranger who understands his strengths as well as those of his bandmates. This is the sound of an improvising artist that has arrived fully formed. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 21, 2017 | Deutsche Grammophon ECM

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Jazz - Released March 20, 2020 | Ropeadope

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Jazz - Released June 1, 2013 | Criss Cross

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Jazz - Released March 15, 2016 | Fresh Sound New Talent

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Jazz - Released April 10, 2020 | Ropeadope

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