Monday, August 7, 2017

Aaron Parks, an APA Cole Porter Fellow with a solid career, issues a new CD

"Find the Way" is an apt title (after an Ian Bernard song influenced, in the performance here, by Shirley Horn) for Aaron Parks' new trio recording. It's got an exploratory feel, with ample confirmation that the exploration has yielded genuine satisfaction.

Aaron Parks has delivered on the promise that marked his Cole Porter Fellowship.
Parks, a Seattle-raised pianist who first came to national attention as a precocious teenager via an NPR feature, will be familiar to Indianapolis jazz fans as the 2001 Cole Porter Fellow of the American Pianists Association. Among his accomplishments since then, he was a Terence Blanchard sideman for several years, contributing much to the trumpeter's band through his composing and keyboard skills.

On "Find the Way" (ECM), he works with bassist Ben Street and drummer Billy Hart, recorded in Pernes-les-Fontaines, France,  in October 2015. The mood is relaxed and thoughtful, but avoids dawdling, daydreaming or tempting the listener to turn its eight originals (plus "Find the Way") into background music.

The disc opens with the brooding "Adrift," a more focused piece of music than its title indicates. The theme features rising phrases that repeat an ascending pattern, which seems to keep the music afloat as well as adrift. It's quickly apparent that the imaginative drumming of Hart is a major sustaining factor.  There's an integrated feeling to the soloing that makes this trio feel like a gentler version of the Bad Plus. No one spoils the mood of the program with a display of chops.

A drum feature, "Hold Music," allows well-managed focus on the veteran Hart.  His adeptness on brushes superbly complements the tasty phrasing of Parks' piano on "Song for Sashou."   Adventurousness gets under this trio's elegant skin subtly: "The Storyteller" is a particularly winning example. "Alice," titled in tribute to Alice Coltrane, is both gritty and tinged with avant-garde suggestions in a school-of-hard-knocks manner.

"Find the Way" exhibits an original sense of melodic freshness and a keen awareness from all three players of how to make their evident rapport fascinating for listeners.

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