Skip to main content

Jazz Guitarist Jeff Parker Crosses Musical Genres On 'Suite For Max Brown'

Parker's breezy new album, which mixes live music with vintage synthesizers, draws on R&B, early hip-hop, droning electronica, jazz-funk, Afropop and flailing '60s-rock solos.

07:35
This recent segment plays exclusively on
Why is this?
Due to the contractual nature of the Fresh Air Archive, segments must be at least 6 months old to be considered part of the archive. To listen to segments that aired within the last 6 months, please click the blue off-site button to visit the Fresh Air page on NPR.org.

Contributor

Related Topic

Other segments from the episode on March 25, 2020

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 25, 2020: Interview with Michael Pollan; Review of the album Suite For Max Brown.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. When guitarist Jeff Parker lived in Chicago, he played all kinds of big and small shows with all kinds of creative musicians. Parker now lives and works in Southern California, but jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Parker still has that go-anywhere attitude, as a new record confirms.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF PARKER'S "GNARCISS")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Jeff Parker's "Gnarciss," his cheeky revamp of Joe Henderson's "Black Narcissus" with Rob Mazurek on piccolo trumpet. It's from Parker's breezy album "Suite For Max Brown," a demonstration of how jazz mixes it up with other musics these days. Jeff Parker never did heed jazz borders, coming up in category-resistant bands like Tortoise and the Chicago Underground. The guitarist has chops and great timing but is rarely a showboat. He can pare back his line like a backwoods blues man.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF PARKER'S "3 FOR L")

WHITEHEAD: Jeff Parker gets something like a jazz guitar tone, but he's not so interested in jazz guitar music. It's one ingredient in a style that also draws on R&B and early hip-hop, droning electronica, jazz funk, Afropop and maybe flailing '60s rock solos like on "Eight Miles High." This is "Go Away" with Paul Bryan on bass guitar and Makaya McCraven on drums.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF PARKER'S "GO AWAY")

WHITEHEAD: The drone running through that like a bright stripe and that looped vocal cry, these are not straight jazz choices. The album "Suite For Max Brown" is billed to Jeff Parker and The New Breed, but mostly that's just Parker, maybe with a helper or two. Tinkering at home, he uses vintage synthesizers and stretchy sampling software to sketch the music and add primary color. Then he might have live musicians put some meat on those synthetic bones. That's what trumpeter Nate Walcott and drummer Jamire Williams do over a metronomic beat on the track "Max Brown," a human-machine hybrid.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF PARKER'S "MAX BROWN")

WHITEHEAD: Dualities abound on Jeff Parker's "Suite For Max Brown" - human versus machine, the droney versus the jumpy, the raw and the cooked, the home tinkerer and live musician. The record's even co-produced by two labels, Nonesuch and plucky indie International Anthem. Jeff Parker invokes his days as a crate-diving club DJ, a job where you can juxtapose beats from all over as long as they serve or creatively stem the flow. The leadoff track on this album named for Parker's mother, Maxine, features Jeff and his daughter Ruby Parker on layered background and foreground vocals. It piles up the poppy textures.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF PARKER'S "BUILD A NEST")

RUBY PARKER: (Singing) Everyone moves like they've someplace to go. A wise one told me they were disconsolate. There are no trap doors if you believe in fate.

WHITEHEAD: The kind of genre-bridging Jeff Parker does on "Suite For Max Brown" seems utterly normal here in the 2020s. This new normal permits any combination of musical languages at any time, without privileging one over another. That's not exactly a new idea, especially among Chicagoans. New ideas are hard to come by, but since the raw materials keep changing, recombinant music does, too. We are hard to shock nowadays, but Jeff Parker gives it a go.

On John Coltrane's moody "After The Rain," a glossy electric piano takes us to the brink of smooth jazz before Parker's guitar walks us back. In this permissive age, it seems nowhere is off-limits.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF PARKER'S "AFTER THE RAIN")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead reviewed Jeff Parker's new album.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director is Audrey Bentham. Our engineer today is Adam Staniszewski. Our interviews and reviews are produced by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie, Thea Chaloner and Seth Kelley. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF PARKER'S "AFTER THE RAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

40:16

Cooking During COVID-19: Family Meals And Fantasies Of Future Dinner Parties

As billions of people around the world face stay-at-home orders because of COVID-19, family dinners — and breakfasts and lunches — are resurgent. Former New York Times food editor Sam Sifton calls the shift to family meals one of the "precious few good things" happening as a result of the pandemic.

09:14

Lisa Mezzacappa's 'Cosmicomics' Riffs On Italo Calvino's Scientific Surrealism

Mezzacappa's new sextet was inspired by stories from the late Italian writer. Cosmicomics is alive with slippery music, light-touch humor and sounds that curve through time and space.

36:30

'She Wrote Her Own Rules': Kerry Washington's 'Little Fires' Role Reminds Her Of Mom

Growing up in the Bronx as the only child of an academic and a real estate broker, actor Kerry Washington remembers her family had two cars and a dishwasher in their apartment — which meant, "in my neighborhood, in my context, we were rich."

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue