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. Parker is highly regarded as an ensemble player, as evidenced by his 1990s sessions with Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble, his early membership in the Brian Blade Fellowship and Chicago Underground Duo with Rob Mazurek, to 21st century recordings with Makaya McCraven, Fred Anderson, Nicole Mitchell, Mike Reed, and Matana Roberts, to name a scant few. His own albums have been a diverse lot whether with his first avant trio, Vega, in 2002, with bassist Bernard Santacruz and drummer Michael Zerang, to his post-bop quartet on his 2004 set Relatives. Parker, a longtime lover and student of R&B, soul, and funk, issued The New Breed for International Anthem in 2016, a collection of jazz originals influenced by soul, old school R&B, and even hip-hop.
A guitarist since youth, Parker 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. Parker 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. Two years later, 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. Later that year, he issued the quintet offering The Diagonal Filter on Not Two Records. His sidemen included trombonist Jeb Bishop, pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, bassist Nate McBride, and drummer Luther Gray. Two years later, in January 2020, Parker issued Suite for Max Brown (titled for and dedicated to his mother, Maxine), the sophomore outing by his studio pickup group the New Breed. Along with Jamire Williams, who returned from the first incarnation, sidemen included McCraven, Mazurek, Paul Bryan, Jay Bellerose, and cellist Katinka Kleijn, though many of its pieces were performed completely solo. ~ Paul Simpson