Jeff Parker: The Relatives

Jeff Parker
The Relatives
Thrill Jockey


Jazz guitarist Jeff Parker is cool like the other side of the pillow--cool in that his playing is so precise and frugal, cool in that he can seem as emotionally noncommittal as the guy who responds to the question "Do you or do you not love me?" with, "Well, it's definitely one of the two." As a member of Tortoise, Parker helped figure out what vintage fusion would sound like with the solos excised. (The answer: pretty good, especially late at night. Unless it's late at night and you're driving through Wisconsin, in which case the music will put you to sleep and you'll crash your car and possibly die.) He cuts loose more on his solo work, but he's never ostentatious. On "Istanbul," the opening cut from The Relatives, he puts liquid runs on top of the tune's eerie folk-jazz foundation, but leaves Miles of space between his note sprinkles. Lots of players would be horny to noodle all over the brooding chord progressions bassist Chris Lopes has cooked up for "Sea Change"; Parker instead offers neat voicings, a piercing take on the melody, and a few two-note ahems of dissonance.

Along with its democratic leader, The Relatives features Lopes (who doubles on guitars and brings his flute to the party on the winsome "Beanstalk"), drummer Chad Taylor, and Sam Barsheshet on old electric pianos. Thanks largely to the Rhodes and Wurly, there's a strong, not necessarily illegal scent of the late '60s and early '70s here. "Mannerisms," the album's highlight, takes the dignified drive from Miles Davis's "In a Silent Way/It's About That Time" and adds bonus volume. Several of Parker's blues licks during this tune have inspired me to scrunch up my face in vaguely orgasmic expressions, which is what I want from any blues lick that refuses to give me 300 bucks and a neck rub. Parker's tone takes on some grit for "Mannerisms," and his trusty wah-wah pedal is put to use here and there on The Relatives. Mainly, though, he favors a clean tone closer to Kenny Burrell or Grant Green than Sonny Sharrock.

I'm less convinced by the group's swing reinvention of Marvin Gaye's "When Did You Stop Loving, When Did I Stop Loving You," the meandering centerpiece from Gaye's post-divorce album Here, My Dear. That's a lovely, caustic tune, but all I hear in this version is a hint of the loveliness. If all divorces were this mellow, there'd be a marked increase in panhandlers with law degrees. By the time the merely atmospheric title track rolls around, Parker and crew have gone from being modest aces with nothing much to prove to being modest aces with nothing much to say.

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