Jeff Parker: The New Breed

Jeff Parker, a guitarist best known for his work in the experimental Chicago rock band Tortoise, favors a clean tone with a judicious hint of delay. He’s a master of soulful phrasing, fluent but never flashy, and tends to present himself as the straight man in musical situations that could tilt in any direction-toward loopy grandeur, or growly delirium, or deep-in-the-pocket groove.

Parker titled his first album in four years The New Breed, after an Afrocentric clothing store owned by his father, Ernie Parker, in the 1970s. There’s a reproduction of a cracked and faded photograph on the album cover: Ernie stands beaming, clasping hands with a pal in front of the store. If records also happened to be sold there, they might have sounded a bit like this one.

The New Breed has its origins in a spate of old home recordings and beat-centric tracks that Parker rediscovered after moving from Chicago to Los Angeles a few years ago. He fleshed out some of these scraps into compositions, and convened a band: the multireedist Josh Johnson, the drummer Jamire Williams and the bassist Paul Bryan, who also engineered, mixed and helped produce the sessions.

The result is a sort of farm-to-table instrumental hip-hop album-reminiscent of a producer sampling 1970s soul-jazz, but with a live band playing the samples while keeping a boom-bap idea in mind. (It’s out on International Anthem, the same Chicago label that has released music of similar concept by the drummer Makaya McCraven, with Parker in the band.)

In addition to electric guitar, Parker is credited playing Wurlitzer electric piano, Mellotron, Korg synthesizer and assorted samplers, along with drum programming. So it’s striking how seamless everything sounds. “Here Comes Ezra” has a chiming, coolly oblique guitar line over a synthetic beat: It’s the track that most evokes Tortoise, serving as a reminder of just how much Parker has brought to that band’s sonic identity.

Elsewhere the frame widens. “Jrifted” opens with a waft of flutes and reeds, becoming a gluey slow jam; “Executive Life” has a disjointed beat and bassline under a soul-jazz melody, like one of Madlib’s dalliances with the Blue Note catalogue. The album’s only cover is “Visions,” a blush of haunting tranquility by the vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, made for Blue Note in the late ’60s.

The playing throughout is erudite and relaxed, with more concern for the whole than any shining solo turn. But as a closer, Parker offers “Cliche,” a vocal feature for his daughter, Ruby Parker, who smoothly handles some tricky intervals in the melody. “He told me ‘The end is coming,'” she sings. “I responded: ‘That’s a cliché.'”

Advertisement

Purchase this issue from Barnes & Noble or Apple Newsstand. Print and digital subscriptions are also available.