Listening to…..Aaron Parks

Frankly, there is something vaguely frightening about  pianist Aaron Parks.  I have been listening to a couple of his solo albums, ‘The Wizard’ (2001)  and ‘Invisible Cinema’ (2008) plus a trio recording from this year’s Berlin Jazz Festival.  The first of these was probably recorded when Parks was 17 years of age.

Aaron Parks, aged 16,  from the cover of his first solo album; past his bedtime if you ask me…

Consider this: Aaron Parks was admitted to the University of Washington at the age of 14 to read Computer Science and Music.   At 16, he transferred to the Manhattan School of Music and during his final year there, joined Terence Blanchard’s band, making 3 albums with them.  He has since toured with Kurt Rosenwinkel’s band and is signed to Blue Note Records.  At the age of 26, his substantial discography already features 5 albums under his own name, as well as no less than 16 others where he features as a sideman.

What’s more, he’s really good as well.  2001’s ‘The Wizard’  features a whole host of young players from Parks’ native Pacific Northwest and is a bright and competent exercise in mainstream post-bop.  The playing -especially by Parks – is fluent and impressive, but the young band are making sure that they tick all the necessary boxes for a session like this.  It’s a careful kind of expertise on show here – Parks and his young crew want to show that they can play things straight before they go off on any tangents.

By 2008, Aaron Parks had matured and shown (with Rosenwinkel) that he was a force to be reckoned with. ‘Invisible Cinema‘ is his first album for Blue Note and is highly recommended.   Here, Parks is working with a seasoned quartet – Eric Harland on drums, Mike Moreno on guitar and Kiwi bassist Matt Penman.  Some of the numbers reveal Parks to have an affinity with Lyle Mays and Jon Cowherd from Brian Blade’s band, but his compositional voice seems to be all his own.  Particularly impressive here are the Spanish-tinged ‘Harvesting Dance’ and ‘Peaceful Warrior’.  Parks has added electric keyboards to his palette since his early days and whilst he uses them almost entirely for ‘colouring’ and broadening his arrangements, his music is all the better for it.

 Aaron Parks;  virtually a veteran at 26……

The final trio session was recorded last month with Matt Brewer on bass and Tommy Crane on drums at Berlin’s Jewish Museum during the city’s 2009 Jazz Festival.  Parks is in busy form on the opener, ‘Travellers’, ably supported by Crane’s busy drumming. ‘Unravel’ is more rhapsodic and is perhaps a bit more ‘un-Sibelius’ than ‘un-Ravel’ and the closing fragment, ‘Siren’ fades in atmospherically and ends too soon…that’s radio broadcasts for you.  Mind you, I probably shouldn’t complain as Aaron Parks probably wouldn’t get a smell of a BBC session;  although I was amazed to see that Joel Harrison’s recent gig at The Vortex did – so maybe there’s hope, yet!


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