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Aaron Parks: Little Big

Mike Jurkovic By

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Pianist/composer Aaron Parks' recording career began when, at the impressionable age of eighteen, he signed on with Terrence Blanchard and recorded several noted albums with the trumpeter, most notably the soundtrack to Spike Lee's Invisible Man and Blanchard's own, Grammy winning A Tale of God's Will (Requiem for Katrina (Blue Note, 2007). In the creative interim there have been other recording ventures, including his highly regarded Blue Note Records debut, Invisible Cinema (2008), and his elemental solo excursion on ECM, Arboressence (2013).

Rock, hip-hop, fusion, and ambient/electronica all figure prominently in Parks' expansive jazz universe. And by opening with the heated, sinister, piano, push-and-pull polyrhythmic bass and drums, and scratchy, scrunchy guitar of "Kid," Parks immediately essays back to the multi-genre spark that powered Invisible Cinema. The visceral tension Parks and guitarist Greg Tuohey create remains fierce, mysterious and, very often, soothing throughout Little Big's eighty minutes-plus run. "Small Planet" takes the kinetic energy of the opener down several notches, with its atmospheric ballet of Park's melancholy and Tuohey's insistence on pirouetting around the motif.

The episodic adventures of "The Trickster" and "Professor Strangeweather" flirt, delve and revel in funk, rock, and fusion as Parks' swelling, ambient synths wash flow under drummer Tommy Crane's rock 'n roll persistence, bassist David Ginyard's funky, fluid leanings, and Tuohey's sonics-challenging leads. The demo/first take-feeling "Lilac" highlights Parks' intuitive gift for opulent melody, while "Hearth" brings a glorious gospel harmony that has you wanting more than its tender ninety seconds.

As a composer who fully enjoys employing the sounds his cohorts conjure seemingly at will, Parks gives Ginyard the opening percolating salvo to"Digital Society," a sweetly frenetic nod to mid-'70s Herbie Hancock. Here, Crane keeps coming and coming, and Tuohey forges on until Parks ends the tune as if keyboardist Lyle Mays suddenly entered the recording studio. A glimmering ballad, "Siren," is utterly exemplary of Parks' many moods and compositional prowess. Building from quiet, melodic grace to an over-driven thrum, a heartfelt bass solo and back again, it could well be the emotional core of Little Big.

The gently modulating mantra "Mandala" follows, serving as a lead-in to the final six tracks, each with their own bold flavor and lasting resonance (especially the rolling, ruminative "The Fool," the ascendant Return to Forever energy of "Rising Mind," and the above mentioned "Hearth"). It is this creative generosity that makes Little Big a "must hear."

Track Listing: Kid; Small Planet; The Trickster, Professor Strangeweather; Lilac; Aquarium; Digital Society; Siren; Mandala; Hearth; The Fool; Rising Mind; Good Morning; Doors Open.

Personnel: Aaron Parks: piano, keyboards; Greg Tuohey: guitar; David Ginyard: bass; Tommy Crane: drums.

Title: Little Big | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Ropeadope

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