American pianist Aaron Parks approached his latest UK tour with a degree of trepidation. On previous tours, he had tended to include a number of standards on his setlist, tunes that even the most casual of jazz fans would recognise. On this occasion, the set weighed heavily on new tunes, many of which were being road-tested for the first time. “They’re brand new songs,” he told Kind Of Jazz, “and they’re still taking shape. I hope it’s OK for the audience!”
His concerns seem to have been misplaced. Reviews from his concert in Edinburgh suggested the new tunes had been well received, and they also met with a warm reaction at London’s King’s Place.
The pianist – who turned thirty-two that day – was joined on stage by bass player Ben Street (who has played with John Scofield, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Sam Rivers) and the legendary drummer Billy Hart (Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner).
At the beginning of the concert, Parks introduced the band, and then announced that he would begin with two new songs, before going into Wayne Shorter’s Marie Antoinette (from Freddie Hubbard’s 1962 classic, Ready For Freddie). The first song had not yet been named, but was apparently inspired by an island near to where the pianist grew up. The song had a pleasing melody, and featured some gorgeous brushwork from Hart as the song opened. Parks then played a brief, romantic interlude, before going into Melquíades, named after one of the gypsies that appeared in Marquez’s One Hundred Years Of Solitude. The music seemed to be inspired by the literature, with a narrative of its own, Hart again adding splashes of colour that helped to propel the music.
The pace picked up with a playful, frisky Marie Antoinette, which featured an excellent solo by Street, which produced a roar of approval from the drummer, and a warm round of applause from the audience.
Two more new songs followed. The first of these, Song For Sashou, was my favourite of the new tunes, and will hopefully feature on the forthcoming album. Alice, inspired by the late Alice Coltrane, was more restless and shifting in nature, but also very popular with the crowd, who appreciated the excellent interaction between the three musicians.
Most of the standards played that evening were not particularly well known. Find The Way is a song from Rosemary Clooney’s 1963 album, Love, which featured a wonderful arrangement by Nelson Riddle, whilst George Shearing’s Conception – which I have not heard in some time - also got an airing. At the end of the show, Parks seemed to surprise his band members by playing While We’re Young, a joking reference to the fact that he was now one year older.
Two other new tunes that warrant a mention were Eleutheria - the Greek word for liberation or freedom - which featured some vital playing by Parks, and some lovely cymbal work by Hart, and Adrift, which was more cinematic in style, building to an impressive crescendo.
Park has suggested that the piano trio is not necessarily his preferred format, but despite his reservations, it is clear that he has plenty to say. Street and Hart clearly relate to the new tunes, both nodding with approval as one of them contributed something new. Parks himself is also excited by these developments, and notes that the band brings something fresh every night.
The trio plans to enter the recording studio after this tour, and it will be interesting to see what emerges. Arborescence (2013) was a very different beast to Invisible Cinema (2008), and the new album – also on ECM - looks set to be quite different again. This probably suits the pianist’s restless nature, but from a selfish perspective, I’d love to hear more of this fine trio, and watch them evolve further.