Aaron Parks’ Blue Note debut has generated the sort of unrealistic expectations that very few young jazz musicians have been saddled with these days. Best known for his work with Terence Blanchard, the 24-year-old Seattle pianist has been repeatedly dubbed a visionary by critics, and hailed as among the new generation of jazz pianists who are not only influenced by hip-hop, but also indie rock. Now the time has come to determine whether these claims to contemporaneity derive from anything more than the fact that Parks cites Radiohead as an influence.
On the evidence of Invisible Cinema, those claims are hardly spurious. True, Parks still works within the confines of a conventional jazz lineup—guitarist Mike Moreno, bassist Matt Penman and Charles Lloyd drummer Eric Harland, in addition to his own acoustic piano. And he doesn’t adopt any electronic accoutrements, such as a DJ, that signify a musician’s up-to-date-ness. But his rhythms will indeed make more sense to hip-hop and rock listeners than to trad jazzers.
That’s partly because of the role Parks sets for himself as bandleader, which is somewhat spotlight-shy. Moreno steps to the front more often, carrying the melodic and improvisatory road, with Parks playing supporting rhythms that generate mood and control the increased tension. It’s also because he builds his compositions with a sense of drama that’s arena rock–derived. But ultimately, such concerns are beside the point. As far as melody goes, Parks spreads out some himself on the lovely ballads "Praise" and "Afterglow." And throughout the album, the central jazz idea of creation through improvisation shines through.