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Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Sunday, 03 November 2013 02:01

Aaron Parks - Arborescence

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  Aaron Parks returns to nature and delivers a magnificent solo piano album

Arborescence is the remarkable new solo album by thirty year-old American pianist, Aaron Parks. Parks was something of a childhood prodigy, enrolling at the University of Washington at the age of fourteen, and later transferring to the Manhattan School of Music. He was then taken under the wing of trumpet player Terence Blanchard, appearing on fine albums such as Flow and A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina). More recently he has performed as part of James Farm, with saxophonist Joshua Redman, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Eric Harland, who released their debut album on Nonesuch in 2011. 

Arborescence represents a considerable departure, however. It is his first solo piano album, but rather than present a number of new compositions he chosen to record a series of semi-improvised pieces. The album title is designed to reflect the way something grows, like the branches and roots of a tree – growth that might seem haphazard, but allows the tree to reach water and light. In the same way, these new compositions gradually evolved in the studio, eventually growing into the delicate, dream-like themes that appear on the CD.

The title may also reflect Parks’ upbringing. He spent his formative years growing up on Whidbey Island, one hour north of Seattle. “I spent a lot of time on the beach there and in the woods nearby,” he recalled in a recent interview. “The childhood imagination ran riot.” The album includes pieces entitled ‘Asleep In The Forest’, ‘Squirrels’ and ‘A Curious Bloom’, themes that he suggests are “like something half dreamed, half remembered”. 

Arborescence was issued by ECM Records, and as a consequence, one cannot help but consider some of the great solo piano recordings released on that label by the likes of Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett. In fact, the album was recorded at Mechanics Hall in Massachusetts, which is known for its fine acoustics, and only found a home on ECM at a later date. Despite this, I still hear the influence of Jarrett in these recordings, from the loose structure of the pieces, to the way in which Parks occasionally sings part of the melody. The ‘singing’ is less of a distraction here, however, and feels more natural. One can also pick out elements of Paul Bley’s more melodic recordings. But Parks has found his own voice here. This is a mature, subtle, delicate album that deserves a place amongst the great solo jazz piano recordings. An essential purchase.

Read 2855 times Last modified on Sunday, 03 November 2013 10:14

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