I’m a year late to this party, but I’m so glad I finally arrived. Jeff Parker’s Suite For Max Brown is nothing short of brilliant. A coming together of jazz, hip hop, experimental sound collages, and an almost futurist psychedelia that brings to mind the best of 70s fusion that sought to open our brains as well as our ears. Parker builds his record on classic jazz spirit, but never settles into those shoes long enough that we figure out where’s he’s taking us. It’s both a dense and heady record, but one locked into heart and soul.
Jeff Parker is no stranger to experimental music. Parker has played in the post-rock mammoths Tortoise, as well as being a founding member of Chicago outfits Isotope 217 and Chicago Underground Trio. Besides those monumental bands, Parker has worked with Georgia Lewis, Smog(Bill Callahan), Joshua Redman, Jason Moran, and Meshell Ndegeocello to name just a few.
Suite For Max Brown is a collaboration, with many amazing musical minds coming together to help create Jeff Parker’s musical vision. But this is definitely Jeff Parker’s vision. Opener “Build A Nest(featuring Ruby Parker)” is teeming in 60s/70s soul and is carried on hip hop vibes and tinkling piano before Parker lays down some serious guitar chops. This is a coming together of all the vibes you should be expecting on this record. “Fusion Swirl” has an almost breakbeat rhythm that gets some serious heft with Parker pulling bass duties. This song absolutely slays on so many levels. It amazingly ends up hitting funk and experimental notes while keeping your brain moving with that killer rhythm. There’s something quite melancholy and nostalgic about the short but sweet “Del Rio”. The minor key lilt in the electric piano and vibes puts me in mind of Wilco’s “A Magazine Called Sunset” for some reason. The song feels like reminiscing on the shoreline. “3 For L” has a Mingus feel to it with some very tasteful guitar that brings to mind the great Kenny Burrell.
Album closer “Max Brown” sounds more in line with Parker’s Isotope 217 days. Virtuosic guitar lines accompanied by synth and sparse percussion and horns. This is Thundercat territory, kinetic and absorbing. I feel Parker is channeling what jazz can be, not what it is or has been. He’s writing a new way to communicate in jazz.
There are two covers here, Coltrane’s “After The Rain” and a take on Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus” called “Gnarciss”. Both pay their respects to the originals while building something completely new and forward-thinking.
With Suite For Max Brown I feel as if I’ve been invited to a celebration. Parker commands the songs here with his deft guitar work, but as a multi-instrumentalist he colors his record in glorious psychedelic swirls. He turns a jazz album into something completely different. With help from Ruby Parker, Rob Mazurek, Makaya McCraven, Paul Bryan, Josh Johnson, Nate Walcott and many more, Jeff Parker transcends what we know of jazz and gives us something thoughtful, emotional, and something to truly celebrate.
9.5 out of 10