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Album Review

Aaron Parks: Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man

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Aaron Parks: Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man
Back with his second effort under the Little Big moniker, Aaron Parks stretches out the concepts that had been established on the group's debut recording and presents an even tighter display of original jazz meets pop blended instrumentals. As on predecessor Little Big (Ropeadope Records, 2018), each bar and every measure of each track have been carefully conceived, logically constructed and unwound to form a complete picture. The foundations are through-composed, the band's interplay however is as dynamic and lively as any bebop context could suggest, and the result all the more emotionally engaging for it.

Unchanged since its conception, Little Big remains Aaron Parks on piano, Tommy Crane on drums, Greg Tuohey on guitar and David Ginyard on electric bass guitar. But the band's sound amounts to more than the sum of its individual parts. A holistic energy emanates from the generous space each member creates for the other, and the humbly minimalist approach with which the respective voice then fills that gap. Ergo, a true collective effort. But the comfort and kindness of space and prudence is not to be mistaken for simplicity. Even within the steadily grooving and ear-catching opener "Attention, Earthlings" a tricky 11/8 is hidden, forcing the musicians to bear special attentiveness for each other. This way of dealing with trickery exactly is one of Little Big's main goals, according to the band, who refer to the following words by Charles Mingus, in regard to the band's core mission: "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity."

In balanced alternation between and layering of piano and synthesizer, Aaron Parks carries his singingly melodic material to the band, who's art-rock approach to the music searches for the same amount of continuity and variety between the bars. Syncopations and triplets in musical themes only serve to enhance the motifs' emotional effect rather than distract from the main message and give the sometimes mesmerizing, sometimes contemplative set of compositions another, more profound layer of depth. "Here"'s dichotomous structure of a groovy chorus and investigative modal verses recalls some of Keith Jarrett's work. Not in sound, but in its whimsically ambitious attitude. Further melancholy is found around every other bend. "Solace," like many cuts, builds on the unison introduction of the melody by piano and guitar, before going on a spree through changes that are both pop-flavored and obscurely penetrating.

"Storyteller" highlights some of Parks' most impressive acoustic piano playing on the record and might arouse interest for hearing him play his original music in a strictly acoustic jazz environment again. His trio stint with Billy Hart and Ben Street on Find The Way (2017, ECM) was, after all, the pianist's last outing of that nature.

Little Big continuous down the eclectic path Parks introduced with his successful Blue Note debut outing Invisible Cinema in 2008. With one foot in the pop-friendly world and the other in the boundless sphere of improvisation, Parks and his group create a unique world of their own, in which every sound counts. The track "The Ongoing Pulse of Isness" proves that these musicians know how to build up a unique groove but further emphasizes the timeless aura in which this music resonates.

Track Listing

Attention, Earthlings; Here; Solace; Friends; Is Anything Okay?; The Shadow and The Self; The Storyteller; My Mistake; The Ongoing Pulse of Isness; Where Now; Unknown.

Personnel

Aaron Parks: piano; Greg Touhey: guitar; David Ginyard: bass; Tommy Crane: drums.

Album information

Title: Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Ropeadope


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