Aaron Parks has never left us. It’s been a while since he has released a major album as a leader, but he’s been around. Upon his return to the for in his 2013 ECM debut, Arborescence, he improvised solo, feeling as passionately through his fingertips as always, but it’s his new release with the fantastic trio of bassist Ben Street and the powerful force that is drummer Billy Hart that we can really be glad Aaron Parks is back with his new album, Find the Way.
Parks has always played beautifully, finding brilliance and the ability to bowl over while seeming doing so through quiet waves, like being overwhelmed by the incoming tide that is sure to come in as certain as the moon is in the sky, but its gradual power surprises nevertheless. The same could be said of Billy Hart, who seems to have his own gravitational force on the drum kit for players and ears to naturally orbit. One would think with a force this powerful, the orbit would decay and everything around would crash into him, but such also is Hart’s temperance as to never be negligible as a player while never overpowering, even if he so easily could, like Superman fighting anyone but Darkseid.
Much like their set last July at the Montreal Jazz Fest, these songs are as emotionally stirring as storm clouds rolling over Texas plains. The way “Adrift” starts, with Hart’s rumbling throughout, expressive with so much room to move about, particularly in the opening and closing of the tune, is a clear indication of where this all is going. Parks plays with the confidence of leading this group while still deferring in places to where the legendary Hart and formidable Street can take charge. However, this doesn’t sound like an errant session, they do indeed sound like a good and proper trio. They had a good deal of time and performances under their belt before this recording and have had some more after. It’s not an aged configuration, but it’s no less solid.
And this is certainly Parks’ trio. The bulk of these songs are Parks’ compositions– illustrative, expressive, with his tendency to play with tonal pairs. It’s not like he isn’t any less out in front, and confidently so, in this trio of heavy hitters, though not hearing his trademark, Keith Jarrett-esque singing along is maybe a bit of a let down, though where would it fit? Would it sprinkle in with the thunderous “Alice”? Dust the slow, steady killer “Hold Music”? It could probably fit amidst the airy notes of “First Sight” or pair alongside the closing title track, but I don’t mind too much. Aaron Parks often plays the piano like he’s just bursting with these feeling that have to come out on these black and white keys, and his humming and singing is like an extra release valve. Perhaps with Ben Street bouncing back and forth on the bass and with Billy Hart making the drums feel things drums never felt before because they never gained sentience before Hart breathed life into them as God breathed life into Adam, Aaron just didn’t have to open up his throat to great groanings, maybe the piano was enough.
That’s how Find the Way is. It’s a beautiful album. It’s just ten songs. It’s a quite perfect piano trio album that doesn’t have compunctions about being weird and angular. It’s not trying to change the face of jazz, or even of music; it’s found its moment and is living in it purely. Aaron Parks, Ben Street, and Billy Hart are a great trio together, and the beauty they make together is enough.
Find the Way, the new album from pianist Aaron Parks, is out now on ECM Records.
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.