After an absence from activity as a leader, pianist and composer, Aaron Parks
reemerged in 2017 with a new trio formation, releasing the highly acclaimed Find The Way
(ECM), which carried on the unique harmonic language found four years prior, on the solo Arborescence
(ECM, 2013). Today's Little Big
, however, comes much more in the vein of his major label debut, Invisible Cinema
(Blue Note 2008). The modern approach of an electric band, slower harmonic progressions and more immediate melodic phrases, reveals the overall independent rock attitude that was prevalent on his debut, and sounds as enchanting as it did a decade ago.
Parks has never been one to rush things, but rather concentrates on savoring the changes to their fullest, embellishing the melodic ideas with a very minimalist yet distinctive approach. Much like the sweet and slightly nostalgic circle progression that is "Small Planet," the space-vibed "Aquarium" or the more melancholically sighing "Siren," a reductive and modest approach can be traced across the entire album and is only shaken up, in rare moments, by bumpier drum patterns and more eccentric runs on piano and guitar. Deceiving in expectation, the nature of the latter kicks off the record to a roaring start with the opening "Kid," which sounds like a modern take on '70s fusion. Here, Tommy Crane
's explosive drum blasts are met by distorted fret workouts on guitar and give way for striking synthesizer leads. For a moment, this sound becomes highly reminiscent of Gilad Hekselman
's recent endeavor, Ask For Chaos
(Motéma/Hexophonic Music, 2018), where Parks' piano and synthesizer contributions play an important part.
While the colorful approach in instrumentation and arrangement remains present throughout the album, the pulsating undercurrent to the compositions fades early on and makes room for contemplative melodies presented on piano, elegantly accompanied in atmospheric fashion by the band. At roughly 80 minutes, the faster pacedand, in contrast to most songs on the album, more hopeful sounding"Rising Mind" doesn't quite save the second half of the album from dragging, but introduces a more positive harmonic approach. This optimism is picked up by the final songs and is especially prominent on the folksy "Good Morning," bringing Little Big
to a reconciliatory end.
Aware of the significant amount of time that has passed since his 2008 debut, Parks doesn't hesitate to provide a profound look at all that has crossed his mind musically in the meantime. Sure, here or there a bit more trimming along the edges might have kept this record from feeling a tad too long towards the end. Still, why leave material on the cutting room floor if you have a sonic concept which is expressed through every tune, when each idea on Little Big
feels relevant and represents an anecdote worth telling?
Kid; Small Planet; The Trickster, Professor Strangeweather; Lilac; Aquarium; Digital Society; Siren; Mandala; Hearth; The Fool; Rising Mind; Good Morning; Doors Open.
Aaron Parks: piano, keyboards; Greg Tuohey: guitar; David Ginyard: bass; Tommy Crane: drums.