Suite for Max Brown - Jeff Parker (Album Review)
Updated: Feb 6
Released: 24 January 2020
Album Rating: 4/5
Favourite Songs: Gnarciss; Go Away; Max Brown
Jeff Parker’s Suite for Max Brown is a cheery and wholesome record, flitting and flirting between the realms of jazz and hip hop. The multi-instrumentalist has pooled together the full extent of his craft and worked with a combination of brilliant musicians - including Paul Bryan on bass, Makaya McCraven on drums, Josh Johnson on alto sax as well as his daughter Ruby Parker to provide vocals - to create a thoughtful tribute to his mother Maxine Brown.
Many know Jeff Parker as the long-time guitarist for the Chicago-based quintet Tortoise, whose genre-bending style feeds into the spirit of the album. Reflecting on the record, Parker remarked that “I’m always looking for ways to be surprised…when I make music…I’m trying to get away from [patterns] – the things that I know”. To help avoid falling into musical monotony, Parker constructs his compositions through producing beds of beats and samples, followed by laying down either a guitar, keyboard and percussive lines before inviting his friends to improve over what he has produced. Some may think that this style of working could remove the heart and feel of the record. Yet, the record brims with soul, compassion and tenderness.
Suite for Max Brown is an informal companion piece to Parker’s widely renowned 2016 record The New Breed. Parker's latest release follows on from where The New Breed left us, as Ruby Parker greets us with beautifully layered vocals paired with a soft hip-hop-inspired bed beneath. The fittingly named ‘Fusion Swirl’ sees Parker channel the power of repetitious bass and humming synth lines to create an infectious and hypnotic affair. ‘Fusion Swirl’ is a viewpoint into the way he which Parker creates his compositions and arrangements, as it feels very loop heavy, but also the way in which he cleverly uses textures with space to create contrasting moments of climax and calm.
Along with nine original compositions, Parker has also included a soft variant of John Coltrane’s ‘After the Rain’, as well as a fantastic reinterpretation of Joe Henderson’s ‘Black Narcissus’ called ‘Gnarciss’. ‘Gnarciss’ glows with style and charm, beginning with a popping hip hop drumbeat as Rob Mazurek provides a bouncing trumpet line which is mimicked by Parker’s synth. ‘3 for L’ is a slower moment of the album, characterised by Parker’s lazy blues guitar and Jay Bellerose’s laid-back drums. In sharp contrast, ‘Go Away’ is a faster groove-heavy tune set by Makaya McCraven’s drums and Paul Bryan’s bass whilst Parker’s pinging guitar sits neatly over the top. The tribute to Parker’s mother, ‘Max Brown’, is the final song on the album. The homage begins with dark synths, percussive clicks and Parker’s gliding guitar, whilst the sax of Josh Johnson and the trumpet of Nate Walcott pass the main melody between them. Filled with intricate individual lines which swell and fall, the final composition is sophisticated and rich, a wonderful way for Parker to finish his tribute to his mother.
Suite for Max Brown is an enchanting tapestry of reflection, manifestation and love. Weaving together loops, beats, memories as well as the essence of jazz (both past and present), Jeff Parker has produced an imaginative work which is an eloquent homage towards his mother. Parker’s record is a must-listen work which sets an optimistic setting for 2020 and the decade ahead.
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Track Listing & Personnel:
1) Build a Nest (feat. Ruby Parker) Jeff Parker - drums, vocals, piano, electric guitar, Korg MS20 Ruby Parker - vocals
2) C’mon Now Jeff Parker - sampling, editing
3) Fusion Swirl Jeff Parker - electric guitar, bass guitar, samplers, percussion, vocals
4) After the Rain Paul Bryan - bass guitar Josh Johnson - electric piano Jeff Parker - electric guitar and percussion Jamire Williams - drums
5) Metamorphoses Jeff Parker - glockenspiel, sequencer, sampler, Korg MS20
6) Gnarciss Paul Bryan - bass guitar Josh Johnson - alto saxophone Katinka Kleijn - cello Rob Mazurek - piccolo trumpet Makaya McCraven - drums and sampler Jeff Parker - electric guitar, JP-08, sampler, midi strings
7) Lydian, Etc Paul Bryan - bass guitar Jeff Parker - electric guitar, pandeiro, midi programming, etc.
8) Del Rio Paul Bryan - bass guitar Jeff Parker - electric guitar, mbira, sampler, Korg MS20, drums, electric piano
9) 3 for L Jay Bellerose - drums and percussion Jeff Parker - electric guitar, Korg MS20
10) Go Away Paul Bryan - bass guitar and vocals Makaya McCraven - drums Jeff Parker - electric guitar, vocals and sampler
11) Max Brown Paul Bryan - bass guitar Josh Johnson - alto saxophone Jeff Parker - guitar, Korg MS20, JP-08 Nate Walcott - trumpet Jamire Williams - drums