While he only just passed his 24th birthday in October 2008, the gifted Aaron Parks has been appreciated by New Yorkers for quite some time. He's been paying his dues in local clubs for years and has distinguished himself furtherenhancing his reputation as a pianist of excellenceas a former member of Terence Blanchard's notable Flow sextet, touring and playing on three Blanchard recordings for Blue Note, including the Grammy-winning A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina) (2007). He's also been heard on soundtracks of Spike Lee movies and tours with Kurt Rosenwinkel.
Now, with Invisible Cinema, his first offering in a Blue Note deal of his own, this Seattle-born self-starter who entered the University of Washington at 14 with a fast-track transfer to Manhattan School of Music two years later is broadening his scope as a bandleader and composer. It's easy to see why he has received Blue Note's vote of confidence. This fellow can play. And he's about more than technique. Whether performing live or on record, as a sideman, soloist or leader, he does so with taste and sensitivity. How he will develop as a bandleader and composer remains to be played out over time. How he will be perceived in his expanding role as a composer right now will depend on the listener's expectations and orientation. Favor compositions that register a bit free-form? If so, this could be your cuppa java. Those who prefer to witness how musicians reinterpret and improvise standards won't get that this time out, though Parks has proven that he can handle those well in performance and on earlier recordings.
Those open to inventiveness incorporating different types of music such as rock and pop into a contemporary, still developing strain of forward-thinking jazz will find much worth sampling here. Varying in mood and scope, these likeable pieces offer restraint, thoughtfulness and versatility, and parts actually sound like they could be segments of a bona fide movie score. (At times, though, ears that crave more traditional structure may experience some things as seeming a little like incidental film music, or even random musings of a talented pianist noodling on the keys as a passing fancy of the moment evolves). But nothing feels lackluster or inappropriate and Parks is never self-indulgent. Whatever he chooses to do, he does it well. The support he receives from a committed and able band of collaboratorsthe accomplished guitarist Mike Moreno, very capable bassist Matt Penman and drummer Eric Harlandis fully effective.
Track Listing: Travelers; Peaceful Warrior; Nemesis; Riddle me This; Into the Labyrinth; Karma; Roadside Distraction; Harvesting Dance; Praise; Afterglow.
Personnel: Aaron Parks: piano, mellotron (3), glockenspiel (3), keyboards (3, 5, 6, 8); Mike Moreno: guitar (2-4, 6-9), Matt Penman: bass (1-4, 6-9); Eric Harland: drums (1-4, 6-9).