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Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The Cooked and the Raw: Jeff Parker/ Eric Revis/ Nasheet Waits - Eastside Romp / Jeff Parker ETA IVtet - Mondays at The Enfield Tennis Academy

By Stuart Broomer

Jeff Parker’s work can be characterized by the happy meeting of clarity and unpredictability. Together they make his work accessible, illuminating and sometimes hard to pin down. Witness these two recordings -- both clear, both accessible, both, too, to some degree describable as low-key -- yet defined by very different premises, one a tight-knit set of pieces made in a singular meeting in a recording studio, the other a generous collection of excerpts from hour-long jams at a regular Monday-night gig.

Jeff Parker/ Eric Revis/ Nasheet Waits - Eastside Romp (RogueArt, 2022)

Eastside Romp was recorded in 2016 in Pasadena, California by an egalitarian trio of all-stars: Parker, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits. The equality extends to the compositions—two each by Parker and Waits, one by Revis, one a collective composition and one by Marion Brown. It’s tidy too, like a classic LP. The first three tracks total a little over 19 minutes, the second a little under.

Marion Brown’s “Similar Limits” gets things started, a bright, bouncing, almost calypso-like anthem here, its scintillating theme separated by slightly irregular interludes. Once past the brief theme, Parker’s sound turns to a series of electronic mutations, a lead voice, yes, but always bouncing through the heightened presence of Revis and Waits. Parker’s “Wait”’ follows, a sombre ballad, his glassy sound hanging atop the low bass line and almost ceremonial drumming, but sometimes mutating here, too, until by the end an electronic tremolo is engaged, his notes pulsing in a way suspended between speed picking and electronic artifice. Next up is Waits’ “Between Nothing and Infinity”. That, too, is slow, opening with Revis’s yearning bass solo, prefacing Parker’s statement of the theme at dirge tempo. There’s something about the music’s reverent architecture that might support more expansive development.

Side two picks up with Revis’s “Drunkard’s Lullaby”, which, intriguingly, is at a bounce tempo, Revis and Waits setting the pattern before Parker enters, his sound thickly processed to introduce the theme before he launches a solo that is part rhythmic punctuation, part skronk. “That Eastside Romp”, collectively credited, begins with Waits’ complex Latin-based rhythm, picked up first by Revis, then Parker, his short rhythmic motifs gradually stretching to longer, almost circular lines, before his sound mutates to something resembling an electronic log drum, bass dropping out, drums simplifying to exit. Waits’ “A Room for VG” returns to the elegiac tempos that dominated the first side, with faint drum taps, cymbals and rustles, and sustained bass notes decorating Parker’s theme statement. Parker’s concluding “Watusi” is a lightly funk-tinged line, comfortably framing the program along with Brown’s “Similar Limits”.

Eastside Romp’s shifting range and moments of revery make for moving, thoughtful music making, though my own preferences will run to the extended, spontaneous movement of the ETA 4tet.

Jeff Parker ETA IVtet - Mondays at The Enfield Tennis Academy (Eremite, 2022)

Turn to Mondays at The Enfield Tennis Academy and you’re in another world. Recorded live (it’s apparently Parker’s first live record) between 2019 and 2021 at a bar in Los Angeles’ Highland Park neighborhood that’s named for the principal setting of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (and Parker’s ETA 4tet named, in turn, for the room). As producer Michael Ehlers points out in a press sheet, It is “largely a free improv group —just not in the genre meaning of the term.” Mondays… will include all the things that free improvisation leaves out, modes, melodies, key centres and regular (though often multiple) rhythms; in effect, the musicians are free to include the conventionally excluded.

It’s a kind of perfect opposite of Eastside Romp clear tunes rarely define a piece, there’s no solo order, actually few solos, no formal beginnings or endings – instead substituting the extended jam for the tight knit composition. It’s a two-LP set, each side an excerpt from a long collective improvisation, a kind of electronic jazz version of hypnotic minimalism with Parker and saxophonist Josh Johnson both employing loops to build up interlocking rhythmic patterns and a kind of floating, layered timelessness, while bassist Anna Butterss and drummer/ percussionist Jay Bellerose lay down pliable fundamentals.

Often and delightfully, it answers this listener’s specific auditory needs, a bright shifting soundscape that can begin in mid-phrase and eventually fade away, not beginning, not ending, like Heaven’s Muzak or the abstract decorative art of the Alhambra. It can sound at times like, fifty years on, Grant Green has added his clear lines to the kind of work that over 50 years ago filtered from Terry Riley to musicians from jazz, rock and minimalism. Though the tunes are described as excerpts, we often have what seem to be beginnings, the faint sound of background conversation and noise ceding to the music in the first few seconds, but the “beginnings” sound tentative, like proposals or suggestions. The most explicit tune here is the slow, loping line passed back and forth between Parker and Johnson that initiates Side C, 2019 May-05-19, the earliest recording here.

The music is a constant that doesn’t mind omitting its beginnings and ends, but it’s also, in the same way, an organism, a kind of music that many of us are always inside and that is always inside us. All kinds of music stimulate us in all kinds of ways, but for this listener, Jeff Parker’s ETA Quartet happily raises a fundamental question: what is comfort music, what are its components, and could there be a universal comfort music? Or is comfort music a universal element in what we may listen for in sound? Modality, rhythmic and melodic figures/motifs, drone, compound relationships and, too, a shifting mosaic that cannot be encapsulated? The thing is, any music we seek out is, in our seeking, a comfort, whether it’s a need for structures so complex that we might lose ourselves in mapping them, or music so random, we are freed of all specificity, but something that may have healing properties.

This is not just bar music, but music for a bar named for art that further echoes in the band’s abbreviated name. Socialization is enshrined here. There’s another crucial fiction, too, maybe closer, The Scope, the bar in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 with its “strictly electronic music policy”. Consider, too, the social roots reverberating in the distant musical ancestry, that Riley session with John Cale, Church of Anthrax, among many … or the healing music of the Gnawa … or the Master Musicians of Jajouka with Ornette Coleman on Dancing in Your Head. And that which is most “natural” to us in the early decades of the 21st century? … Jamming, looping, drones…So perhaps an ideal musical state might be a regular Monday night session with guitar, saxophone, loops, bass and drums…the guitarist and saxophonist using loops, expanding the palette and multiplying the reach of time, repeating oneself with the possibility of mutation or constancy. In some long ago, perfect insight into a burgeoning age of filming and recording, Jay Gatsby remarked, “Can’t repeat the past? Why, of course you can!”

We might even repeat the present or the future.

2-LP set available from Eremite Records; CD edition & EU x2LP edition available thru Aguirre records, Belgium.