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05/19/12

Jeff Parker Trio
Bright Light in Winter
Delmark Records

On Nicole Mitchell’s excellent 2011 album Awakening, guitarist Jeff Parker’s performance sounded like a collision of Grant Green’s crisp tone and James Blood Ulmer’s vocabulary. But Parker, probably best known as a member of the post-rock band Tortoise, has absorbed so many styles and worked in so many situations that he really comes across as an individual with vast roots.

Considering his busy schedule, it’s no surprise Bright Light in Winter is only Parker’s third album as a leader. Bassist Chris Lopes and drummer Chad Taylor have almost as much input on this session as their leader, since they wrote two and three pieces, respectively, for the album. The equal participation can be felt throughout their performances, which feel engaging whether Parker is strumming warm jazz chords or bordering on harmolodics.

At times the music becomes spare and understated, but the trio rarely lets the momentum drop. Lopes’ “Occidental Tourist” begins in a subdued but subversive mood, as Parker gently alternates between single-note lines and some graceful chords, all in 7/4, which swings convincingly. The song fades just as the group seems to stretch out, which leaves you wondering what else they had on their minds. In “Swept Out to Sea” Parker’s solo borders on free as he flies over the rhythm section. Taylor’s playing gets metronomic on a few tracks, but something always keeps it from getting rigid. “Change” has Lopes playing the melody, only to find him dropping out to add texture on a keyboard. The lack of low end never becomes an issue here or in the gentle “Morning of the 5th,” on which Lopes plays flute and lets Parker fill the gap in the low end. Expect to see Bright Light on some best-of lists in December.

Originally published in May 2012
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