Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

September/October 2010: Allan Harris

Aaron Parks:
Out-of-Body Experience

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“Precocious” is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Aaron Parks. At 15, he was attending the University of Washington, doing a triple major in computer science, math, and music. He did not plan to pursue music professionally, but soon after university, he was performing and recording with many of the top jazz artists in the world, including Terence Blanchard, Gretchen Parlato, and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Now 25, Parks recently released his debut album, Invisible Cinema, on Blue Note Records, probably the most prestigious jazz label in the world.

Youthful accomplishments aside, Parks is a mature artist with a subtle touch, a fluid technique and a strong sense of melody and drama. His playing sounds natural; listening to him, I am swept away by beautiful melodies and masterful storytelling, and I am rarely aware of his technique, though he has plenty of it. This is in contrast to many young artists who give the impression that they are giving a lecture on harmony, form, and history. In Parks’ playing and compositions I hear strains of Bach, Radiohead, Björk, and Brad Mehldau, seamlessly blended into a personal and compelling musical vision that I am happy to return to again and again.

Invisible Cinema is a stellar debut album. As the title suggests, its primary concern is to tell a story. Parks says, “I was thinking about actual cinema, and this album has a story line that I wouldn’t spell out to anybody, because I want to leave it open to interpretation. But for me there’s a narration in the sequence and song titles and everything.”

The opening track, “Travellers,” sounds to me like a lonely nomad traveling to exotic lands, and “Peaceful Warrior” sounds like a medieval knight who inspires his fellow warriors with his inner strength and peaceful actions. I also sense a theme of solitude and contemplation throughout the album. These, however, are simply my subjective experiences of the album. The joy for the listener lies in creating a unique, personal interpretation.

Parks describes the experience when “you’re playing and you completely lose yourself, and the music plays you… I think everyone who plays improvisational music tries to reach that state.” Listening to Parks, not only do I hear him having this experience, but I share in it myself. It would be great to experience this live here in Winnipeg.

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