Jeff Parker Trio

Bright Light in Winter
Delmark DE-2015

By Ken Waxman

Primarily known for his yeoman work in any number of Chicago-based groups from saxophonist Ernest Dawkins’ New Horizons Ensemble to Tortoise, guitarist Jeff Parker is the most accommodating of sidemen and leaders. Bright Light in Winter, one of his infrequent solo dates, demonstrates why.

Nowhere on this agreeable, nine-track trio session does Parker pull rank or try to overshadow stalwart bassist/flutist Chris Lopez or adaptable drummer Chad Taylor, both of whom performed with him in Rob Mazurek’s Chicago Underground combos. Tellingly as well, although both Parker and Lopes use monophonic synthesizer attachments, the organ-like quivers and tremolo echoes never surpass the live musicians’ contributions. Want another example of his collegial spirit? The writing chores are divided, with the bassist contributing three compositions, the drummer two and Parker four.

That said, with the date dependent on Taylor’s light, almost Latinesque skin-patting, Lopes’ moderato plucks and Parker’s clean finger-picking and melodic runs, often only technical finesse prevents some tunes from becoming enervating rather than merely relaxed. That nadir is reached on Lopes’ “The Morning of the 5th”, which is all puckered flute lines and guitar strums.

Happily even if some of the other pieces have lines closer to jazz samba than jazz soul, rhythmic smarts make them balladic rather than bathetic. On Taylor’s “Istvan”, for example, the quivering delicacy of Parker’s exposition is muted by sequences of sound delays and reverb plus the bassist’s straight-ahead walking. Rim shot clips and a chromatic bass line provide additional ballast for Parker’s graceful spidery licks on his own “Bright Light Black Site” making the piece flow chromatically. Meanwhile “Swept Out to Sea”, written by Lopes, is warm and precise, but still maintains its composure due to the guitarist’s circular comping and Taylor’s percussion kicks. Most impressively the leader’s “Freakadelic” is no George Clinton cop, but a way to highlight Parker’s ability to spin out seemingly endless dextrous theme variations while maintaining the tune’s melodic content.

Overall, Bright Light in Winter has enough of a romantic overlay to please jazz dilettantes, but with equivalent skillful, yet understated tonal wizardry to appeal to more sophisticated listeners.

Tracks: Mainz; Swept Out to Sea; Change; Freakadelic; The Morning of the 5th; Occidental Tourist; Bright Light Black Site; Istvan; Good Days

Personnel: Jeff Parker (guitar, effects and synthesizer); Chris Lopes (bass, flute and synthesizer) and Chad Taylor (drums and cymbals)

—For New York City Jazz Record June 2012