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Review of Aaron Parks' 'Invisible Cinema'

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Review of Aaron Parks' 'Invisible Cinema'
© Mamoru Kobayakawa
Aaron Parks' Invisible Cinema shows that the 24-year-old pianist has the maturity to lead. His résumé as a sideman boasts a long stint with Terence Blanchard and tours with Kurt Rosenwinkel, and his Blue Note debut as a leader demonstrates his broad experience and fresh approach.

Jazz With a Pop-Inflection

There are certain parallels between the music on Invisible Cinema and the recent music of Rosenwinkel, especially The Remedy: Live at the Village Vanguard. Both artists display flawless technique and fertile melodic imaginations, and lead listeners through dramatic extended compositions. Both are especially adept at combining simple, pop-inflected elements with the prickly devices common to modern jazz, namely odd-metered compositions, sometimes-dissonant extended harmonies, quirky, angular melodies, and off-kilt rhythmic improvisations.

Parks’ compositions are saturated in popular music influences including rock, hip-hop, and electronic music. Drummer Eric Harland is key to the success of this fusion of styles, his grooves propelling the group through the peaks and valleys of the song forms, with inventive and surprising fills throughout. Mike Moreno’s guitar effects vary in accordance with the mood of each tune, his sound crisp and glassy on “Peaceful Warrior,” and distorted and shrill on the frenzied folk melody vamp towards the end of “Harvesting Dance.”

Musical Maturity

The most striking thing about Invisible Cinema is not the unbridled ferocity of Parks’ keyboard skills, nor is it his youthful ability to tap directly into what’s hip in today’s jazz scene. He is a fierce technician, and his post-modernistic approach to composition does reflect a greater trend, but neither skill is being brazenly advertised. Instead the focus is on Parks’ confidence and grace at presenting scenic shifts. His music lulls the listener into a melancholic trance, only to build into episodes ranging from high anxiety to soaring bliss.

Focus on Composition

Interestingly, the measure of spontaneity in Invisible Cinema is almost completely bound within the compositions. While Parks’ solos are impressive and beautiful, they often lack the sort of electrifying moments that arise in solos by Brad Mehldau and other contemporary piano wizards. This is not necessarily a drawback, as it may signify a removal of the spotlight from soloist to ensemble and composition, perhaps a welcome change in today’s jazz.

Highlight Tracks:

“Travelers” – the opening track is immediately electrifying, with Parks improvising scampering, rhythmically-toying lines over an agitated groove laid down by bassist Matt Penman and Eric Harland. Harland’s cymbal sounds are distinct and hair-raising. The song fades into a somber, classically influenced section as the bass and drums drop out.

"Karma” – the angst-ridden feel of this piece picks up where “Travelers” left off, but filtered through a bass solo, piano solo, and then guitar solo, it becomes airy and somewhat optimistic.

"Harvesting Dance” – The lilting bass line, along with the mode around which the melody is based, give this tune its Eastern European folk song characteristic. The piece features an ominous Stravinsky-like rumbling over which Harland solos, and ends with a demented dance.

Release Date:

August 19, 2008 on Blue Note

Track List:

  1. Travelers
  2. Peaceful Warrior
  3. Nemesis
  4. Riddle Me This
  5. Into the Labyrinth
  6. Karma
  7. Roadside Distraction
  8. Harvesting Dance
  9. Praise
  10. Afterglow

Personnel:

  • Mike Moreno – guitar
  • Matt Penman - bass
  • Eric Harland - drums
  • Aaron Parks - piano, mellotron, keyboards, glockenspiel
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