Timing is everything for 24-year-old pianist Aaron Parks, who knows the importance of hooking you in and getting straight to the point. Thus, Parks' Blue Note debut, Invisible Cinema, opens with its most powerful tune. Called "Travelers," the song serves as a six-minute establishing shot, combining painterly piano melodies with a rhythm that sweeps you right up. Enter drummer Eric Harland, with a forceful sixteenth-note drum pattern that places the accents on every sixth note. After about three bars, bassist Matt Penman slinks in on an offbeat, adding syncopated riffs that make the rhythm sound cool and asymmetrical. From there, the story could go anywhere: Imagine an opening scene with Marion Crane speeding along the Interstate, or Agent 007 chasing a bombmaker through the jungles of Madagascar. Parks' piano brings in the romantic element: impressionistic chords; abstract harmonies; dynamics that show real sensitivity but still propel the song forward.
Blue Note is billing Invisible Cinema as an effrontery on traditional conceptions of genre — a kind of Radiohead-meets-Brad-Mehldau, as interpreted by some of the best jazz musicians in the game (Harland and Penman both hail from SFJAZZ Collective; guitarist Mike Moreno is a fixture in the New York scene). It's modern and episodic, with each song providing its own self-contained narrative. Rock number "Nemesis" puts the spotlight on Moreno, while Parks lays down an eighth-note rhythm on the piano by tapping an octave with one hand and comping with the other. "Roadside Distraction" is a country song with gospel changes and slide guitar. Parks closes out with "Afterglow," a solo piano track that acts like the last shot in a film — one final soft-focus glimpse of our leading man, before he walks off into the night. It makes a nice fade-out — beautiful and deeply sad, so that when the record stops and the lights come up, you're still left in the world of the film. Clearly, this is Parks' major star turn, though much of the story has yet to unfold. (Blue Note)
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