The concepts which evolved into Suite For Max Brown, prolific guitarist Jeff Parker’s tribute to his mother, were engineered during his fall 2018 residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito. Parker, a member of Chicago-based experimental rock outfits Tortoise, Isotope 217, and the recently reunited Chicago Underground Quartet, juggles modernity with antiquated forms of what Miles Davis once called social music: Presenting a 21st century Romare Bearden-type jazz collage IRL.
Using digital cut-ups, Parker tweaks pre-recorded improv jam sessions into the future, highlighting the past 50 years of progressive Black music. With swelling acknowledgments to John and Alice Coltrane “out” and “free-jazz” archetypes, Guru-era “Jazzamatazz,” and two different strains of Madlibs’ ingenuity swing—”L.O.V.E.” and “You & I (Madlib’s Love Phase Mix)” from 2003 and his Yesterdays New Quintet series—this 11-song movement highlights the culture through a refracted jazz lens. You can paint the bravery in the hue of Chicago savage. It gave birth to the avant-garde Art Ensemble of Chicago, attracted Sun Ra to live there for a spell, gave birth to a ‘sane’ Kanye, and unleashed the blues and house music on the world. Meditate on that résumé. Now breathe.
Hey… The third coast gets it. Risk continually breeds a soaring musical IQ, and uncommon artistic DNA is forever embedded in creativity. So Parker, master guitar player, and musician of all stripes—post-rock, jazz, fusion—goes into the lab. Samples music from his library of recordings. Chops ’em up, making loops and beats in his spare time.
Just think for a second: Would Mingus, Art Blakey or Sonny Sharrock start dicing up drum breaks and bass lines, if provided the technology in their heyday? Why not. Itʻs about achieving the sound you hear in your head. Nobody played like Miles before Miles and so, he changed music. Several times.
So, like his International Anthem labelmate Makaya
“Fusion Swirl” and “Go Away”, two songs embedded with a “keep it moving” bass line and a densely compacted Elvin Jones-type drum uproar, start to differ as they progress. Parker goes one-man-band fanatical, running electric and bass guitar duties, samplers, percussion, and vocals, on “Fusion Swirl.” It’s briefly front-loaded with caterwauling, guiros, and clangs—then its hullaballoo comes to a halt midsong. Letting the guitar drone take over, casting some kinda Sonic Youth sorcery of the mellow, leading us appropriately into the ambient warrior heart of the John Coltrane cover, “After The Rain.” If you’ve had a shit week like the rest of the planet, and need a sec to emote, it’ll trigger big salty ones falling from your eyes.
Whereas in “Go Away,” which features Paul Bryan on bass and vocals, McCraven
All of this leads to the best track, “Max Brown,” 10 minutes in heaven that just flies by. The 1970s Stevie Wonder analog synth complexion, encased within a subdued Soulquarians mellow bounce, trumpet and sax solo pleasantly overlapping, hitting a solemn, communal moment.
These beat-driven arrangements were first touched upon by Parker on his 2016 release, The New Breed, a tribute to his late father who passed away while the record was being made. “The New Breed was a clothing store he owned when I was a kid, a store in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where I was born. I thought it would be nice this time to dedicate something to my mom while she’s still here to see it. I wish that my father could have been around to hear the tribute that I made for him. The picture on the cover of Max Brown is of my mom when she was nineteen.”
As a means of making this, too, a blessing of a record, he involves his child, Ruby, to vocalize on the opener “Build A Nest,” that smacks of Lifehacker wisdom. Hearing the 17-year-old ease-out “Build a nest and watch the world go by slow,” you get triggered to immediately study the regal cover photo of Parkerʻs Mom, Maxine Brown. At that moment both projects align, illuminating the notion of home.