Suite For Max Brown (International Anthem / Nonesuch)
Jeff Parker & The New Breed
Released January 24, 2020
Jazzwise Top 20 Releases of 2020
JazzTimes Top 20 New Jazz Releases of 2020
Composer and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Parker’s Suite for Max Brown will be released on January 24, 2020 via a newly formed partnership between International Anthem and Nonesuch Records. The album, named for and dedicated to Parker’s mother, features nine original songs as well as “Gnarciss,” an interpretation of Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus,” and John Coltrane’s “After the Rain.” Parker plays the majority of the instruments on the record and also engineered most it at home or during his 2018 Headlands Center residency in Sausalito, CA.
The album follow’s Parker’s critically praised 2016 record The New Breed, which, as the composer says, “became a kind of tribute to my father who he passed away while I was making the album. It’s named for a clothing store he owned when I was a kid. I thought it would be nice this time to dedicate something to my mom while she’s still here to see it. Maxine Brown is her maiden name and everybody calls her Max. The picture on the cover is her when she was nineteen.”
Parker’s bandmates on Suite for Max Brown, dubbed the New Breed, include pianist-saxophonist Josh Johnson; bassist Paul Bryan, who co-produced and mixed the album with Parker; piccolo trumpet player Rob Mazurek, his frequent duo partner; trumpeter Nate Walcott, a veteran of Conor Oberst’s Bright Eyes; drummers Jamire Williams, Makaya McCraven, and Jay Bellerose, Parker’s Berklee School of Music classmate; cellist Katinka Kleijn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; and his daughter Ruby Parker, who sings on the opening track.
Parker says of his new album, “I used to deejay a lot when I lived in Chicago. I was spinning records one night and for about ten minutes I was able to perfectly synch up a Nobukazu Takemura record with the first movement of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and it had this free jazz, abstract jazz thing going on with a sequenced beat underneath. It sounded so good. That’s what I’m trying to do with Suite for Max Brown. It’s got a sequenced beat and there are musicians improvising on top or beneath the sequenced drum pattern. That’s what I was going for. Man vs. machine.
“It’s a lot of experimenting, a lot of trial and error,” he admits. “I like to pursue situations that take me outside myself, where the things I come up with are things I didn’t really know I could do. I always look at this process as patchwork quilting. You take this stuff and stitch it together until a tapestry forms.” Parker is known to many fans as the longtime guitarist for the Chicago–based quintet Tortoise, one of the most critically revered, sonically adventurous groups to emerge from the American indie scene of the early 1990s. The band’s often hypnotic, largely instrumental sound draws freely from rock, jazz, electronic, and avant-garde music, and it has garnered a large following over the course of nearly thirty years. Aside from recording and touring with Tortoise, Parker has worked as a side man with many jazz greats, including Nonesuch labelmate Joshua Redman on his 2005 Momentum album; as a studio collaborator with other composer-musicians, including Brian Blade, Meshell Ndegeocello, and fellow International Anthem artists Makaya McCraven and Rob Mazurek; and as a solo artist.
1. Build a Nest (Jeff Parker) 02:13
2. C’mon Now (Jeff Parker) 00:25
3. Fusion Swirl (Jeff Parker) 05:32
4. After the Rain (John Coltrane) 04:45
5. Metamorphoses (Jeff Parker) 01:48
6. Gnarciss (Joe Henderson) 02:12
7. Lydian, Etc (Jeff Parker) 00:55
8. Del Rio (Jeff Parker) 01:38
3 for L (Jeff Parker) 04:47
10. Go Away (Jeff Parker) 04:58
11. Max Brown (Jeff Parker) 10:36
Jeff Parker: drums, vocals, piano, electric piano, electric guitar, Korg MS20, sampling, editing, bass guitar, percussion, glockenspiel, sequencer, JP-08, midi strings, midi programming, pandeiro, mbira
Ruby Parker: vocals
Paul Bryan: bass guitar, vocals
Josh Johnson: electric piano, alto saxophone
Katinka Kleijn: cello
Rob Mazurek: piccolo trumpet
Makaya McCraven: drums, sampler
Jay Bellerose: drums, percussion
Nate Walcott: trumpet
Jamire Williams: drums
Recorded at at Headlands Center For The Arts in Sausalito, California, and at home in Altadena, California
Produced by Paul Bryan and Jeff Parker
Engineered and edited by Jeff Parker
Engineered, edited, and mixed by Paul Bryan
Mastered by Dave Cooley
Design & Layout by Craig Hansen
I love everything about this album from Chicago multi-instrumentalist and Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker, which is dedicated to his mother, Maxine. It’s a masterclass in subtle musicality and joyful tinkering that reflects Parker’s love for hip hop producers Madlib and J Dilla as well as jazz, blues and experimental rock.
The album picks up where his 2016 release, The New Breed, left off, with a vocal feature for his daughter, Ruby. There’s a strangeness and an innocence about the way she delivers the lyric (an ode to slowing down, building a nest and watching the world go by) that matches the engrossing jumble of toy piano sounds and lo-fi beats in the background. It’s a sonic collage – the musical equivalent of one of those David Hockney landscapes pieced together from hundreds of individual Polaroid pictures that don’t quite align – and it sets the tone for the rest of the album.
Like the creased photograph of Max on the cover, Parker’s tunes are full of fascinating idiosyncrasies and perfect imperfections. We hear hesitant guitar lines, detuned saxophones, lopsided grooves, sprinklings of kalimba, glistening synths and beats riddled with out-of-time handclaps and the lazy cluck of a tongue, which give the record a wonderfully human fallibility. Parker constantly wrong-foots and surprises you, using sonic sleight-of-hand to introduce new elements while making you wonder if they’ve been there all along. And then he strips everything away and lets you sink into a beautiful melody or a passage of bluesy guitar that he plays with the unhurried ease of someone sat alone in a rocking chair on their front porch. This is hugely inventive and absorbing music. I couldn’t stop listening.
Thomas Rees (Jazzwise)