The 2020s are off to an exciting and eclectic start as far as records go. One such example is renowned jazz guitarist Jeff Parker’s LP Suite For Max Brown, another chapter in his experimental odyssey started long ago in his days with Tortoise, Isotope 217 and the Chicago Underground (Parker is still a member of Tortoise as of this writing). Building on the Madlib-influenced elements explored on 2016’s The New Breed, Parker ventures wholly into the land of hip-hop beats and samples splashed up against live and creative instrumentation; a formula by no means groundbreaking by this stage in the game but certainly taken into provocative new territory by an artist of this caliber of creativity.
“Build A Nest” manifests this approach from the outset, opening with some straight-ahead jazz chords on piano before launching into an unforgivably fat groove laced with colourful vocal samples and a soulful chorus on the part of Ruby Parker, marked by a slight, trippy delay for doubly mesmerizing effect. The interlude “C’mon Now” is tagged onto the end of “Nest” to add to this hypnotic, Dilla-esque affair, switching gears into Return To Forever on loop with “Fusion Swirl”. Eventually the seemingly endless bass and breakbeat cease and leave the track in a glorious freefall, a floating layer of synth descending into feedback with the bass, lightly distorted though nevertheless well-placed and colourful helping it along.
“After The Rain” merges the fusion direction of “Swirl” with more traditional jazz elements, a free-flowing, roaming tune lightly akin to having the first 30 seconds of “Acknowledgement” on ‘Trane’s A Love Supreme elongated out to nearly 5 minutes in length. The spooky synth interlude “Metamorphoses” breaks the relaxing mood, the slickly funky “Gnarciss” following and shifting the album’s hip-hop currents up front for a full-out showcase. Strings, horns and all, the tune comes off like Dj Premier dinking about with pieces of “Vein Melter” and the interlude in “Chameleon” from Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters album while scaling back a good chunk of his usual streetwise grit for the sake of the vibe. “Lydian, Etc.” serves as a 56-second layover to the next destination, a brief pause of Korg-laden African rhythm that quickly dissolves into silence.
“Del Rio” trails off of the dynamic set by “Lydian”, keeping things chilled out with an easy marimba melody and some light, tasteful guitar work. “3 For L” comes in on the brushes, taking things down to a corner coffee-shop level of mellowness while spicing things back up again for a colourful guitar feature. “Go Away” returns to Return To Forever by reprising “Fusion Swirl”, bass line, synth, drums and all. The final track, simply titled “Max Brown” dwarfs the rest of the tracklist in duration at 10 minutes and 36 seconds, but its extensive length is far from an excuse to fill time. “Max Brown” maintains a consistent, laid-back groove throughout, a simple, rimknocking number cruising at Freddie Freeloader pace and an opportunity from front to end for those listening to zone out from the surrounding world. Fittingly, instead of abruptly ending the track fades gently away, not interrupting the vibe but carrying it out as far as it can go and phasing it out before it becomes exhausted.
Jeff Parker can count another feather in his cap with Suite For Max Brown. With minimal toiling, he takes the well-treaded mix of hip-hop, jazz, soul, funk and whatever Afro elements one can throw in the pot to great effect and proves that, whether dealing in the futuristic or the familiar, innovation has no expiration. It goes without saying that the spot he holds as part of the Association For The Advancement Of Creative Musicians is well-earned, and this record certainly helped to advance that cause moving into the new decade.