Aaron Parks returns with his second album for ECM Records, Find The Way. His debut, Arborescence, was one of our favourite albums of 2013; semi-improvised, dream-like, a product of his vivid imagination. The new album was recorded back in 2015 with his touring trio, consisting of bass player Ben Street, who has worked with the likes of John Scofield and Kurt Rosenwinkel, and legendary drummer Billy Hart, who needs no introduction.
Speaking to Parks at that time, it was clear that he was somewhat uncomfortable with the concept of a piano trio; he felt less exposed playing with a bigger ensemble, like jazz supergroup James Farm, and seemed to feel that the traditional trio – playing familiar standards – was a path well-travelled.
Most of the tunes that appear on the new album were road-tested on that tour, and were well-received by European jazz fans. From a structural standpoint, many of the tunes are loosely-structured, and hard to describe; this is not an album you’ll be humming on the way to work – but don’t let that put you off.
There is an elusive, ethereal quality to his playing, and whilst most tunes are based on an original melody or idea from Parks, you get the distinct impression that he was happy to follow Hart off the beaten track, taking the melody to pastures new. Parks himself uses a different analogy, suggesting the rhythm section offer an “oceanic” quality, offering waves that he can choose to ride or dive into.
The pianist was influenced by Shirley Horn, in particular her use of space, and the modal compositions of Alice Coltrane; Alice, one of the album’s highlights, was named after her, and gradually builds on a simple piano motif over the course of several minutes.
The opening track, Adrift, perhaps illustrates the ‘oceanic’ element of the trio, the piano ‘riding’ Hart’s drum waves. There’s an underlying melancholy to Song For Sashou, which was one of the highlights of the band’s London show in 2015, whilst Unravel, as the title suggests, sounds more improvised in nature - whilst maintaining a sense of underlying melody.
Melquíades was named after one of the gypsies that appeared in Marquez’s One Hundred Years Of Solitude. The music sounds as though it was inspired by the literature, with Hart adding splashes of colour that helped to propel the narrative.
The album’s only cover is the title track, a little-known tune from Rosemary Clooney’s 1963 album, Love, which was arranged by Nelson Riddle, and brings the album to an elegant close.
Parks was clearly intent on producing a unique trio album, drawing on his own influences – from music, nature and literature – and the experiences of his band – who come from two quite different generations. In so doing, he has produced an album that demands your attention, and rewards with each listen. This may be music that’s hard to define, but listen, and you'll enjoy the rewards.