Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Leon Parker: The LEO (Embodi Jazz Maker/Ropeadope)

A review of the drummer's first album as a leader since 2001

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.
Leon Parker: The LEO
The cover of The LEO by Leon Parker

With a minimal drum kit and a maximal groove, Leon Parker carved a niche for himself on the jazz scene of the mid- and late ’90s. Via sideman gigs with Jacky Terrasson, James Carter, and others as well as four albums of his own and one co-led date with guitarist Charlie Hunter, a likeminded ally, Parker seemed destined for stardom in the jazz-adjacent wing of the jam band circuit—part of the next wave after Medeski Martin & Wood. Instead, he abandoned the domestic scene for life in Europe and, save a handful of sideman dates, wasn’t heard from for a while.

The LEO marks his return, and in many ways he picks up where he left off, with sophisticated, lean grooves and buoyed by a stellar cast of collaborators. The recording leads with “Radio Play,” in which Parker is joined by vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant—who interpolates elements of “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” abetted with gleeful scatting—and saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart, whose gentle rejoinders lead into Parker’s scatting and percussion. Saxophonist Mark Turner checks in for a rousing take on the Thelonious Monk classic “Evidence.” Harmonica player Grégoire Maret and pianist Aaron Goldberg contribute probing guest spots on “Ambrosia.” Joshua Redman, an early colleague of Parker’s, drops in for a rambunctious spin on “Sweet and Lovely.” 

One of the collection’s highlights is Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away,” which features vocalist Mélanie Dahan first capturing the spirit of the song and then making it her own. Parker’s ascetic elegance is best showcased on “Duet,” a graceful piece featuring superb playing by Tom Harrell. With so many guest stars, it’s easy to imagine that The LEO was many years in the making, but it was worth the wait.

Learn more about The LEO on Amazon & Apple Music!

Before & After: Leon Parker (Members Only)