4 Songs, 37 Minutes

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Ratings and Reviews

4.7 out of 5
3 Ratings

3 Ratings

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A terrific record from a guy who plays the enigmatic backstop even when out on his own

At first hearing, Jeff Parker’s solo record doesn’t take much from the recent revival of Tortoise on The Catastrophist, or from his work on Rob Mazurek’s remarkable Some Jellyfish Live Forever, or even from the sunkissed soul of his own The New Breed, but it’s clear after a while that there’s a common energy behind all of these. It will be hard for a while to think of Parker as a Californian musician, so thoroughly did he seem embedded in Chicago’s new music, but things haven’t changed that much with the move to Los Angeles, and Parker’s extraordinary ability to glue a group together and provide a foundational authority to each track is precisely what makes this beautiful LP so compelling.

Whatever precisely is meant by the album title, it seems to signal that the move west isn’t some grand unshackling but simply a new address and maybe the start of a spell in which Parker has to fall back on his own resources a little: namely his Gibson ES335, his ZT amps and a Boomerang Phrase Sampler. The title track sets a mood for the album as a whole: thoughtful, inward, but highly disciplined and contained. The rhythmic energies Parker draws on are always deceptive: 12/8 figures that feel like stretched out three-quarter, regular fours that turn out to have no discernible count whatsoever.

On “Slight Freedom” and even more obviously on the second side opener [percussionist] Chad Taylor’s “Mainz”, he plays with time, creating a sense that a musical structure is being revealed in stop-action photography, but very slowly and amid real-world goings-on rather than the sterile anticipation of a studio. One of the best things about Slight Freedom is the feeling that the whole thing is being busked somewhere in public.

Something similar happens on a deadened, hungover, utterly bereft cover of “Lush Life”, which seems to reveal close familiarity with John Coltrane’s but which dispenses pretty much completely with the Billy Strayhorn melody. Parker’s on his own, but observed, like the guy mumbling at the end of the bar who might be dangerous or who might just be very, very sad.

Something similar on a super-clever deconstruction of Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids” – these kids have “nuthin’”, remember – which might just be a sly commentary on the Instagrammed emptiness of moneyed life on the far Western littoral. Parker never shows his hand completely so you can’t be sure.

There are long passages of drone or dissonant hum through the set. Rhythms emerge which don’t seem to have a functional role. Thinly sketched lines turn out to have the strength of hawsers. Nothing quite as you expect. A terrific record from a guy who plays the enigmatic backstop even when out on his own. -- Brian Morton, The Wire

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