Aaron Parks makes music that tells stories. There’s a narrative quality to his compositions that seem to carry a throughline to some beautiful truth about the universe. It’s hard to say what the propulsive quality is behind his work, but it’s always been there– in his Blue Note debut, Invisible Cinema, released ten years ago; in his work with James Farm; is his trio alongside Ben Street and Billy Hart; and now with his group Little Big which he’s been preparing for their debut release for some six years now. Aaron Parks Little Big — the group of Parks on keys, Greg Tuohey on guitar, David Ginyard on bass, and Tommy Crane on drums — continues with that beautiful storytelling quality Parks began a decade ago with his highly lauded debut to create new tales to cherish on their self-titled album out now on Ropeadope.
Maybe it’s something about the turns in these compositions. Sure, any jazz song will typically begin with the head, move on to its modulation of it through improvisation, eventually come back to the head and find a stopping place, but these tunes find some new turn in that return to the head. They arch up, find some new section to relate, some new corner to unfold. Take the closing of “The Trickster”, starting like a ballad and building into something more powerful through Tuohey’s soloing before coming back to the head… changed somehow before Parks’ piano shimmers the song into the ether. Or take “Professor Strangeweather”, rolling along on the track Crane on the drums is amiably laying, grooving through Ginyard’s bassline while Parks is increasingly freaking out on the keyboards. Or how “Aquarium” seems to find something new to be as if literally categorizing life underwater. It’s a quality about stories, how they have their clearly defined beginnings, middles, and endings. There may be surprises, but they still exist on a clear, discernable path.
Yet through all of this, there is Aaron Parks, making beautiful music as he always has. He’s always been around as a player and accompanist, but this new release is a return to form that has been highly anticipated by those who fell in love with Invisible Cinema some ten years ago for some and a simple natural progression for an artist who has always told beautiful stories through music. This may just be the latest iteration of his group of storytellers, and they’re a fine group at that.
Aaron Parks Little Big self-titled debut album is out now on Ropeadope.
aaron parks – piano, keyboards
greg tuohey – guitar
david “dj” ginyard jr. – bass
tommy crane – drums
all songs written by aaron parks (invisible cinema music, bmi)
produced by aaron parks
mixed by chris taylor & daniel schlett
recorded by daniel schlett at strange weather
mastered by greg calbi at sterling sound
executive producers – aaron parks & tommy hawk wilson
creative consultant – judie stein
additional keyboards by eliot krimsky
additional production by chris taylor
additional engineering by zach brown
assistant engineers garret deblock & kiri stensby
assistant mastering engineer steve fallone
album photography by aaron parks
album design by aaron parks & ania parks
album layout assistance by kaya marks
band photography by deneka peniston
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.