A Fireside Chat with Jeff Parker

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[This interview updates last year's Fireside Chat with Chicago guitarist Jeff Parker.]

All About Jazz: You reunited with Scott Fields for Song Songs Song.

Jeff Parker: I first played with him on this double trio project that he had called Dénouement that came out on his label, Geode, in 1998. It was with myself and him on guitars, Jason Roebke and Hans Sturm on string basses, and Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang on drums. That was pretty cool. He has a way of composing where it is subjective in terms of the way that the performers can interpret it. It creates a really organic feeling for the listener so they can't tell whether parts are composed or improvised. I think it's a real startling effect that he's come up with.

We have a little bit of working history in between '98, when we did the first project, and last year, when we recorded Song Songs Song. We had done quite a few duo gigs, where it is mostly just free improvised stuff. We have a similar conception as to the way that we approach playing the guitar. We both have our own different styles of playing, but the way that we view the guitar in terms of how we approach playing it and making music with it, is really similar and that makes it really easy for us to play together.

Coupled with our working history, we're familiar with each other and know what to expect. It is real easy. But on a technical level, the music is really challenging. I had to shed it for hours and hours daily just to be able to play that stuff. It really pushes me. I love playing with him. It pushes me in a lot of different directions.

AAJ: But opinions are fragmented—from minimalist to melodic to harsh. Does that critical confusion wear thin?

JP: It doesn't really bother me. There was a point in time when it did, but now you put the music out there and how anybody interprets it is their own thing. There isn't anything I can say about that. I don't expect anybody to get where we're coming from with it. The more that I think about it and the more I live, it doesn't matter anyway. You put it out there and people are just going to get whatever they want out of it. It is all good as long as they come away with something.

AAJ: And a familiar Chad Taylor is on your latest, The Relatives.

JP: The way that I try and make music when I collaborate with other people, you deal with everyone's sensibilities. I certainly had a direction that I wanted to go in with The Relatives, but that is a record that is more about the songs. That album is not really about improvisation. It's the way that the songs are conveyed to the listener. It is more of a song-based album and not necessarily about group improvisation or documenting a specific moment in time. It was trying to get a really concise version of the compositions.

Chad is a real good friend. I've known him since he was right out of high school and had only been playing the drums for maybe three or four years. I met him shortly after I moved to Chicago and we've both grown musically over the years. We talk a lot about music and what we want to do and have developed a similar concept and aesthetic. He is a musician who is interactive and sensitive, but never really intrusive. He never forces things. He interacts with whatever you're doing musically in a really complimentary way. He spurs the music along in a non-intrusive way.

AAJ: Are you still experimenting with the synth?

JP: It's more of a hobby. I'm not a keyboardist in any sense of the word. But I love electronic music. I grew up with it and have studied it to certain degrees. It is more of me trying to add certain elements to the music, more than trying to come across as a virtuoso. It is more about putting the music in a different space.

AAJ: And the future?

JP: I probably won't tour for the new release. I will play a few isolated shows, but nothing extensive. I am actually working on a new project with this group I play with that has Jason Ajemian on bass and a drummer named Nori Tanaka and a woman named Selina Trepp, who does visuals. We are recording something that is coming out later in the year on Dave Douglas' new label, Greenleaf. Hopefully, it will be an interactive CD and you can watch and listen to the whole thing. That is what I've been focusing on now.

We've been doing a steady gig at this place in Chicago called Rodan (Wicker Park) every Thursday for the last two years. We improvise and she improvises with her visuals along with us. Part of it is us interacting together. We will watch what she does and play off of that. She will listen to what we do and play off of that. It is ultimately interpretive.


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