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Christopher Parker: Full Circle

Dan McClenaghan By

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Pianist Chris Parker's second CD release on OA2 Records, Full Circle, sounds like an exciting live set full of vigorous life, something that engages the crowd and gets them up out of their seat, dancing. It's a quintet—common enough in jazz—with the uncommon use of violin in the front line beside the saxophone, reeling out unison lines with the horn, or stepping out in sinuous solo slots.

John Nastos is the alto sax guy who breaks out the soprano horn here and there. Violinist Rob Thomas is his front line cohort. Their unison work makes for sonorities not often heard. Nastos on his a solo spots has a biting sharp edge, like a well-honed knife slicing through the ensemble sound; and Nastos brings in a gypsy atmosphere when he steps out.

But really this is about the ensemble sound and Parker's terrific compositions. The opens with the modern-leaning title tune, a burner with a glossy group sheen that gives way to alto saxophonist John Nastos, with his sharp, growly tone. "Step One" sounds like a soundtrack to a gypsy maiden dancing around a blazing camp fire. Pianist Parker takes his own keyboard dance step, ebullient and free-flowing, leading into a swinging solo by violinist Rob Thomas, who lays down a sensuous, stretched-out lines.

"Left at Bingen" begins with a quirky, stop time groove. Parker supplies a rollicking solo, and violin and sax trade statements in front of an insistent rhythm. "Stages," gives off an ominous vibe, with Nastos biting off his sharp edged notes over a funk-tinged momentum laid down by drummer Marko Marcinko and bassist Tony Marino. "Free" takes the mood in a reflective direction, with Nastos switching to the soprano saxophone, with the band providing a restrained and gorgeous backdrop. Add to the mix a particularly inspired violin solo from Thomas.

Lots of styles are offered up here, but Parker's vision keeps the whole cohesive on this stimulating set of sounds.

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