Music Review: Jeff Parker – Suite for Max Brown (International Anthem/Nonesuch, January 2020)

There is a lot to love about this record, but my current favorite thing about it is that it asks me to pay attention to women twice: Jeff Parker’s mother, Max(ine) Brown, who the album is dedicated to and who graces its cover, as well as his daughter, Ruby Parker, who sings on the opening track. I love to imagine being thee Max Brown, and hearing music as the story of the generations of your family through the generations of your family.

I am late to both Jeff Parker in general and this specific record, so let’s begin. I’m not a “jazz critic,” and this record is way too layered and combinatory and beautiful to waste much space and time making references to other sounds and artists or describing in depth everything Jeff Parker is doing technically on this record. I have no idea what Jeff Parker is doing technically on this record and I have also never bought or listened to a record because of the technical description of something a musician did. I write about how music makes me feel and what it makes me think about. Let’s go, let’s go!

Jeff Parker has long been working with other musicians, but he just recently started putting out solo work. His father died while he was working on The New Breed (2016), so that album ended up being dedicated to him. Following that, he wanted to make a record specifically for his mother while she is still here to experience it. He had started working on sample-based music a while back, finding it easy to work on while on tour with other musicians, but it had just amassed and sat around until he decided to start experimenting with combining these songs he had built electronically with his own live instrumentation and the addition of many other improvisational musicians that he works with. (You can read more about his process in this interview with Downbeat.)

I have been vacillating intensely between more confrontational and political music and music that helps me calm down and remember the beauty of human experience. (Think everything is too crazy right now for music to be important? Cross-check American history in 1964 with the records that came out the same year.) This is decidedly the latter; a highly recommended blanket for your ears in the storm. We begin with this opener which establishes a sort of internal, recessed location from which we see and hear the world going by. I really love the repeating line: “there are no trap doors if you believe in fate.” It gives us permission to sit back inside, which is also exactly what it makes us want to do.

Then we take off on a lovely musical tear. Ranging beautifully and wildly between lush, meditative jazz and more funky, upbeat, and hip hop-inflected songs, Parker has truly reached the top of the form he has been pursuing for some time. Here are some highlights:

This is a huge contender for album of the year for me. Listen to the whole thing and purchase it here.


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