Released eight days after the pianist turned 30, Aaron Parks’ Arborescence is understandably preoccupied with growth. If one’s first solo album is a rite of passage, this expansive, impressionistic outing sounds like a vision quest. For 50 minutes, Parks wanders through dreamlike landscapes, unafraid to have ideas before he knows what they are. Moments of realization throughout bring these 11 improvisations into focus—with transient cadences, lyrical upwellings and shifts in rhythm—flashing the forest for the trees.
Arborescence moves, if more by imagination than any formal sense of direction. “In Pursuit” is a six-minute experiment in repetition, with stubborn notes and phrases percussed insistently to incantatory effect. “Squirrels” is a short but detailed essay in jazz vernacular, pitched at a pace that recalls the zippy chittering of its namesake. Even the more spacious tracks (“Asleep in the Forest” and “Elsewhere”) develop their own kaleidoscopic torque.
Shelving Parks’ knack for odd meters, Arborescence unfolds largely outside of time. Indeed, the pianist sounds at ease in the present tense, inflecting his notes with immediacy and infinitive simplicity.
Parks’ second major-label release (his first for ECM) is his most mature record to date. It is also his softest; there are no traces of his indie-rock edge from Invisible Cinema. That Blue Note album, released five years ago, marked a temperamental change for Parks, who had churned out his first four albums between the ages of 16 and 19. For Parks, slowing down has plenty to do with being in high demand. Arborescence proves it’s also a function of the clarity and diligence that comes with growth.