Jeff Parker – The New Breed (2016)

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It’s a bold title to be sure, but look at Jeff Parker’s associations: Tortoise, Mayaka McCraven, Rob Mazurek, Fred Anderson, Scott Amendola. This guitarist from Chicago now calling L.A. his home has a history of occupying the adventurous, forward-looking side of jazz. That hadn’t necessarily meant his own works matched these associations in pure intensity and daring, though his last offering under his own name Bright Light In Winter (2012) suggested a composer and performer capable of a lot of shrewd nuances just below a mellow surface.

As well done as it was, Bright Light only suggested the extent of Parker’s capabilities as a leader; The New Breed (June 24, 2016, International Anthem Recording Co.) realizes it. An ambitious attempt to create improvisational jazz out of — and around — hip-hop, soul, rock and electronica, Breed could well be a companion disc to McCraven’s breakthrough album, In The Moment, though Parker’s ideas have been bouncing around his hard drive at least since the late 00’s.

Parker was present on about half of McCraven’s live-tracked new school/old school gumbo that was largely created on the spot, which perfectly suited the talents of McCraven and his band. For Parker’s own stew the songs spring to life from a bedrock of samples and fragments of figures extracted from old home recordings, and he called in a completely different set of similarly adept performers to bring his ideas across the finish line.

These ideas don’t take their time getting across; only two of the eight selections run past 4:40. One of the longer numbers opens up the The New Breed: “Executive Life” possesses a melody line that’s post-bop, while the beat is hip-hop and the sampling is trip hop. The theme is put together with parts from Parker and alto saxophonist Josh Johnson that are tightly woven together with Jamire Williams’ drums and Paul Bryan’s bass establishing the modern groove. But eventually, a hypnotic ambience takes center stage, enabling everyone to play freer in this trance state.

“Jrifted” is the other lengthy track, the ‘jazziest’ of this bunch, featuring snazzy old school improvising by Parker and then Johnson that neatly lay over the samples, loops and Mellotron churning in the background (also dig Bryan’s bass guitar wandering on a parallel path). A guitar fragment is then looped and played back repeatedly like a record skipping, except that the samples and Williams’ drums continue forward.

Parker hadn’t at all lost his fondness for laid back presentations: his soft, chiming, unfettered lines are backed by the simple metronomic programmed beat on “Here Comes Ezra,” which adds a hypnotic element. Just as it appears that this was going to be an easily discernible song, Johnson adds a dissonant element right at the end, opening up a new front that gets left unresolved. Even Williams’ funk-filled backbeat is slowed down to a lazy gait for “How Fun It Is To Year Whip,” which is peppered by Parker’s unforced but thoughtful guitar lead. Parker tabbed Bobby Hutcherson’s 1968 deep cut “Visions,” even sampling vibes (Hutcherson’s?) for the song. Throwing off an impressionistic glow as in the original, Johnson and Parker harmonize on the slowly unfolding lead progression with Jay Bellerose sitting in on drums. About three minutes in, it temporarily shifts to a bridge that’s heavier and even rocks before flipping back to the theme.

The call to get up and dance comes from “Get Dressed” a funky, one chord stomp, and Parker loosely jams over this tough groove. “Cliche” is a highly melodic number rendered over a sloshy beat, featuring Parker’s daughter Ruby on vocal at first uniting with Johnson’s sax prior to Johnson pulling away to solo.

The whole notion of bringing jazz into the 21st century by combining it with 21st century music forms is easy to do but hard to master. Few are in a better position than Jeff Parker to pull this off with all the finesse of jazz intact, and he does just that with The New Breed.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron

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